Posts Tagged ‘earthquake’

As I walked towards the river early yesterday morning I thought how lucky I am to be free of most responsibilities. When you’re no longer in paid work every day is like a holiday, especially when the weather is warm and sunny. As I continued along among beautiful trees, surrounded by the song of birds and cicadas I found I was feeling heavy, both physically and emotionally. A friendly fluffy dog approached me with tail wagging, and a monarch butterfly flew by, yet neither of these lifted my spirits. I looked up and saw the waning moon outlined in a clear blue sky, reminding me that there is always darkness somewhere.

Tiny moon in the sky

The date being 22 February was the reason for my heaviness. The earthquake anniversary is always a sombre time. At 12.45pm I took some flowers and went over to The Bricks beside the river, where five local people had gathered. One woman had brought a bag full of dahlia flowers which she shared. After 12.51 and some silent contemplation we each threw our flowers into the river to the disgust of the ducks who thought we may have brought treats for them. A sign on the riverbank warned the water is currently polluted and contact should be avoided.

We quietly dispersed, and after lunch on the patio I snoozed for an hour, then listened to the radio which informed me protestors and police were in a standoff outside Parliament, and Putin had moved troops into Ukraine for “peacekeeping” reasons. I longed for some encouraging news.

I’m glad the earthquake day has passed
and hope we’ll get good news at last

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Today marks eleven years since our city was shaken and forever changed by earthquakes. On each of the ten previous anniversaries I’ve been involved in facilitating a commemorative gathering beside the Ōtākaro/Avon River. We decided last year that we would make that the last one, and this year, because of Covid, there is no civic service either.

Tenth earthquake anniversary

Memories of the earthquake are planted deep inside the psyche of all who were here at that time. It was an experiential event that can never be fully understood by anyone from outside. While there’s no formal local gathering today, I expect I will wander over to the river, toss in a flower, and contemplate what happened, some of which I’ve recorded in this verse:

Before and After

Throughout the years before the quake
before the city’s mighty shake
our land we thought would never break
turned out to be a big mistake!

Once Rūaumoko got in action
the ground soon turned to liquefaction
with gravity in counteraction
it shook things up more than a fraction

So many houses gone a-tilt
whole neighbourhoods have been rebuilt
some suffer still survivors’ guilt
remembering the blood that spilt

And now eleven years have passed
since that day left us all aghast
the need to set things right was vast
our Red Zone now is fully grassed

There was a citizens’ committee
set up to plan for our new city
but then the Government got shitty
and over-rode them – what a pity!

But after all the ballyhoo
we finally have something new
a lovely river path, that’s true
and playground where the kids run through

Our town will never be the same
with much lost heritage a shame
new buildings sometimes earn acclaim
but few will merit long term fame

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I’ve been thinking about Before and After, because that is the topic for our first poetry group meeting next year. For those of us who live in Otautahi Christchurch time is often measured by whether it’s BQ, before earthquake, or AQ, after earthquake. The quakes that shook our city also shook up our lives, and much has changed since. Some people have had new houses built, others have moved to different areas. So much dates to BQ or AQ. Those who’ve moved here AQ don’t have the same experience or understanding.

The tangible remains of earthquake disruption are slowly growing fainter. The uninspiring official memorial remains, as do the poignant 185 white chairs on the site of St Luke’s Church. Now the 10th anniversary has passed ceremonies will become fewer, but the date of 22 February 2011 will never be forgotten.

Time is relative, and some events remain fresh in our memories while others fade. As another calendar year draws to an end I wonder if our perception of time may be changing.

I wonder whether in future we’ll come to think of BC, before Covid, and AC, after Covid. Will there ever be an AC?

It’s close to two years since Covid entered our consciousness, and it seems life may never return to the way it was before. After Covid, if it ever comes, will be different from before Covid, as AQ is different from BQ.

Is there a poem I could write
to show the fore and after sight?

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Today, the ninth anniversary of the major Christchurch earthquake, I was privileged to again lead an informal commemoration beside the river.  We were pleased that so many local people came.  I’m not sure of the number – at least 40.  Several told me how much they appreciate the opportunity to remember in this way.  Always a poignant occasion, I felt emotional during the two minute silence, and when I tossed a flower into the river while the piper played Abide with me.  I suspect the emotion will always be there on this date.  There’s a woman currently doing a study that suggests there have been changes in the brains of those who experienced the earthquakes.

Afterwards everyone was invited to a barbecue lunch at the Community Cottage.  Rain had been forecast for the middle of the day, but the sun shone, and we sat in the shade of a large gazebo enjoying live music.  The rain, much needed and very welcome, started to fall in the late afternoon.

Later as I sat doing the daily Code Cracker I realised that the first word was seismic, and the word earthquake also featured.  Good to have this oblique extra acknowledgement of the day.

Years ago when I was a Brown Owl 22 February was celebrated as Thinking Day because it was the birthday of both Lord and Lady Baden Powell.  I asked a current Scout leader whether this is still so and he told me they now call 22 February Founders’ Day – not sure whether they still use the day as an occasion to think, but in Christchurch we certainly do.

On this our special day of days
our memories come in different ways

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Stephen and I went on a Behind the Fences tour of Christ Church Cathedral, as part of the Beca Heritage Festival.  A group of 24 assembled by the police kiosk in the Square, and had our names ticked off the list.  Only three of these tours are scheduled, and I was glad I’d booked early.  A couple of people who hadn’t booked turned up and were politely told there was no room for them.

It felt privileged to be allowed through the gate and into the area which has been off-limits since February 2011.  We’d all been told to wear long sleeves, long trousers (no dresses or skirts), and enclosed flat shoes suitable for rough surfaces.  One man who was wearing shorts to below his knees was given overalls to put on, and we were all issued with hi-vis vests and hard hats.  All of this is required on the site because of Health and Safety regulations, and nobody under 18 was allowed on the tour.

The marshals were members of the Cathedral Reinstatement Project team, and our guides were two Cathedral Vergers, Jenny May who is Heritage adviser for the reinstatement, and Chris Oldham the Cathedral Administrator.

Commencing the tour with Jenny and Chris

It felt quite emotional to be walking on ground that has been forbidden to us for more than eight years, and to have a close-up view of the earthquake damage.

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Parts have been covered with plywood to make them weatherproof, and some of the treasures have been removed.  The statue of the Risen Christ which stood near the front door has been put into storage.  It’s expected that the reinstatement will take 7-10 years, and is still at the planning stage.  I could well be 80 years old before the reinstatement is complete.  All the bells but one survived their fall.  They’ve been refurbished and will be part of the reinstated building.  Halfway through, and at the end of the tour, a recording of the bells was played – nostalgic as we often heard them from home if the wind was blowing in the right direction.  This recording is played at midday every Friday.

There was no charge for this tour and no request for donations, although we were each given a pamphlet which included information about donating.

On the way back to the car park I was accosted by a Radio New Zealand journalist, asking whether I’d be buying a ticket for tonight’s Powerball Lottery, where the prize is $38 million.  I told him I’d never bought a Lotto ticket and disapproved of gambling (you may hear me on Checkpoint this evening).  I did say that when I was in paid work Lottery had paid part of my salary and I’d appreciated that.  I thought afterwards that the Cathedral reinstatement may well be hoping for financial support from Lottery.

We went inside Cathedral fence
the project planned there is immense.


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It was my privilege today to lead the Earthquake commemoration at The Bricks beside the Barbadoes Street Bridge.  It’s the third time I’ve done this, representing the Avon Loop Planning Association who host this annual event.  After a brief introduction, I sounded a gong for two minutes’ silence, then a piper played Abide with me while we threw our flowers into the river, remembering the changes the earthquakes brought into our lives, and thinking of our hopes for the future of our city.

Piper Gordon McAlpine

This area of the river has special significance for both Maori and Pakeha.  It was the site of the pa of Tautahi for whom Otautahi/Christchurch is named.  On the other side of the bridge is Te Wai Pure, a sacred stream which flows into the Avon, and which has been used by Maori for ritual purposes since Tautahi and his wife Riki were married there.

The Bricks cairn marks where the Deans brothers landed because their boats couldn’t go any further and this whole area was the focus of early Pakeha settlement.  It is also where the tidal waters of the estuary meet the fresh waters of the Avon, a fitting symbol of the bi-cultural heritage of the Avon Loop.

The effects of the earthquake eight years ago are still being felt by many of us, especially children as an article in today’s Press describes.  People who came to The Bricks appreciated the opportunity to be part of a low key commemoration and to come back to the Community Cottage afterwards for refreshments.

We can’t forget eight years ago
when all our lives were altered so


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This is an amazing book about an amazing family.  Chessie covers the story from the birth of her parents, through an African honeymoon, isolation in the Tokelaus, the experience of major earthquakes in Christchurch and Kaikoura, and the family’s determined support of each other through many challenges.

Much of it is set in places that are familiar to me.  The chapter on the Christchurch earthquake makes breathless reading and brought back many memories.  Reading about the feeling of fragility that lingers after the trauma made me wonder whether I should be reading this at all.

Another theme is the overwork and stress of G.P.s, especially rural ones, together with the difficulty of admitting when one is facing burnout and needs help.   The whole book gripped me.  I am in awe of the skill and understanding displayed by the young author and wonder what she will choose for her next subject.

‘As Chessie’s family make it through
I wonder what else she might do.’


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The Rose Historic Chapel in Colombo Street has reopened after earthquake repairs, and the public was invited to visit this afternoon.  I remember walking past in March 2011, when earthquake damage meant you could see right through the building.  Today it looked as good as new.

Rose Chapel

Apparently someone painstakingly collected all the pieces of coloured glass and the exquisite stained glass windows, reputedly some of the best in Canterbury, have been lovingly restored.  I especially like the one that’s dedicated to the memory of the Gardner family.

Gardner family window

I have fond memories of taking weddings in this chapel and it was good to visit today and sit and listen to Helen Webby playing the harp.  There were crowds of people and I’m sure the chapel will again be popular for ceremonies and concerts.  It’s wonderful that one of our historic buildings has been brought back.

“This fine stone chapel now restored
a project we can all applaud.’

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I love this sign on a seat outside the old High Street Post Office (now C1 Espresso).  It commemorates the Christchurch that was bulldozed by bureaucracy in 2015.

Nearby is an older plaque commemorating our first public water supply in 1864.

On the footpath there’s a barely legible sign which says “there’s nothing to see here.”

Perhaps this path, complete with bronze corgis, should be renamed revolution corner?

“This rebel area of town
could turn convention upside-down.”


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The national earthquake memorial is huge.  The marble wall looks bland from across the river.

But close up there’s lots to see and contemplate.

I did wonder about the blank parts of the wall.  It’s almost as though they’re waiting for more disasters to be inscribed.  The Mauri with its constantly running water is a great idea.

No memorial will suit everyone, and this will meet many needs.  I still find the 185 chairs more moving.

“For me, the chairs just say it all
and I prefer them to the wall.”

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