Christchurch Earthquake Remembered

Anyone from Christchurch would have had a feeling of remembrance as the 4th anniversary of the February Earthquake was commemorated last weekend. It is quite a personal thing really, a day that changed the lives of everyone in and from the garden city.

Thankfully, I was not there for the quake. I had been down the week before to see my ailing grandmother, who at 96 and despite her desire to enjoy another summers day with a glass of wine or beer, was coming to the end of her days. As we always did when attending our home town, Frith and I liked to hang out in our favourite coffee shop , Espresso C1 on High street and visit our favourite shops. For Frith it was Eclectic on Manchester street, and for me to visit my jewellery outlets. The Vault on Cashel mall was the first outlet that started my career. Maureen, the long time manager has assisted so many jewellers into the N.Z retail market. Her ability to identify trends is legendary and I was a lucky recipient of this opportunity as they became my leading N.Z retail outlet. Another gallery to visit was Form gallery. Owner,Koji Miyazaki, with a trained eye for exquisite detail, has built his gallery from scratch, with a strong collection of n.z artists. And of course a visit to see Helen out at The Redhouse in Redcliffs who remains one of the most professional shopkeepers I have had the pleasure of dealing with.

Christchurch was the town of our childhoods. I arrived as a ten year old and loved the city from the start. As a young teenager I had a job as a delivery boy in the central city. We were like the original cycle couriers , delivering goods all around the central city on our bikes overloaded with parcels held together with bungee’s. We never stopped at red lights, always weaving our way  through the traffic, onto footpaths , down alleys. I still remember a fellow courier being hit and crashing across the intersection in the picture. Luckily ok but grazed all over. Of a snowstorm with thick heavy flakes settling in the dusk as we ran the last parcels. All for $5.67 /hr. Then I worked as an usher at The Westend , a picture theatre in the corner of the Square by Chancery Lane. I used to love sitting in the Square after the movies watching all the carry on as people waited for the last busses to every corner of the city. I loved the freedom of a small city. The streetkids , often lost in their glue bags , but still friendly enough to say hello. Sad.

The city had come of age in recent years, the inner city alleys were being rediscovered by bars and restaurants, and many a good memory remains of overcrowded gigs at the Dux, the Caledonian Hall with Pumpkinhead, EST. Our city was our favourite hangout. My last memories are of a night out to see The Pixies. Hanging out  before and after at Blue Monday on Willow Lane to hear the Raquets, a drink at the Twisted Hop.

All this ended on the day of the Earthquake.

My first thoughts on hearing the almost immediate news on the RadioNZ at lunchtime were of my family, my mother working in an older high rise in the central city, of  Maureen and Nadia at the Vault as the news of the damage on Cashel street rolled in. I had a sickening feeling and everyone’s lives changed. Friths mother Jenny, sitting with a group of elderly bridge players , watched out the window with champagne glasses in hand as the church opposite just sank to the ground. My friend Nick trekking the railway lines to get to his daughter from her school amidst the total gridlock across the city. And the mud. Christchurch was always built on a swamp, and the swamp rose to try and suck the damage into her bowels. Life was formed from the primordial mud of Papatuanuku, and she tried to reclaim the land that is hers.

My grandmother survived for a few days , and I made it through the inner city military cordons to hold her through her last breaths. For my family as for everyone, surviving the earthquake was one event, surviving the aftermath is another.

The initial resilience as neighbours banded together, was reminiscent of Europe in the wake of WW2. The mud was everywhere and the people of christchurch dug and dug to remain above the surface. A city without power, water and sewerage is a desperate place. And yet the city survived. Here in Golden Bay as in many places, refugees were accommodated as families tried to work out how to cope with the catastrophe. Children coming to terms with a changed environment.

And so the Fourth anniversary passes. Christchurch is a reborn city. The people resolute and determined to rebuild what has been lost. I really salute them. I could never endure the chaos in the aftermath, but they have. It takes an enduring spirit to survive such events. So many people have lost something or someone, some lost everything. Everyone lost something. People from Christchurch seem to be over talking about it, they just want to move on. Many are still waiting for repairs. It is troubling that so many of the pooper suburbs are still waiting. Unfair.

Form Gallery survived, now in Sydenham, the new High street. Maureen opened her own store, Hapa, in the Restart Container Mall. I continue to work with both these stores.

For me , it is the loss of old city I notice the most  The characters who inhabited these precincts for better or worse. The buildings who had borne witness to the emergence of our nation.

For the most part that is now all gone, and will survive only in memories. It is a new city that emerges.  Talking to my mother on the day of the anniversary she too lamented, “ I miss the old city”. Me too. :)

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