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Busy at Bushtown . . . Bushtown volunteers Joy McIvor (left) and Ann Dennison are looking forward to next weekend's events. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

A ”living history” exhibition will give people a glimpse into Waimate’s past next weekend.

Bushtown’s Steam Up day next Sunday is the project’s major open day of the year.

The South Canterbury Traction Engine and Vintage Steam Club will be powering the sawmill as well as a variety of working machinery.

Other displays include woodturning, miniature rail and woodchopping, and a variety of historically-themed stalls and entertainment.

Bushtown secretary Ann Dennison said the group had made steady progress since 2008, when the gates were built and a heritage totara forest was planted around the perimeter of the 7ha block.

“There is a lot of local support for Bushtown,” Mrs Dennison said.

“Ten to 12 years ago, this site was empty, now it is filling up.

“It is going to tell the story of how Waimate and the surrounding districts were.”

Bushtown committee member Joy McIvor said totara forests around Waimate had provided the town with its first economic boom in the mid-1800s.

By 1878, five sawmills were operating in the town, with a strong market for totara timber to build the road between Christchurch and Dunedin.

That came to an abrupt halt when a fire ravaged through the native bush, burning most of the forest and more than 70 homes.

Although Bushtown took its name from the pre-1878 era, the aim was to incorporate aspects of Waimate’s entire history, Mrs McIvor said.

“The idea is to set up chronologically, so you can walk around through the ages.”

The project relies on volunteers, who put in 5000 hours of work last year.

“I would like to see a lot more younger people come on board, but they will in time,” Mrs McIvor said.

“There is a lot of history to be told here.

“I think in a rural area, having the space to tell the story is important.”

The Steam Up day begins at 10am on March 8.