Thursday, February 24, 2011


Pic by James Reader © 2010 Fairfax New Zealand Limited
I am feeling so stunned and sad about the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand yesterday. Like many in the blog community I thought of Ally immediately, a fellow blogger who is the only person in Christchurch that I know. She and her family are safe, and hopefully will remain so as aftershocks continue and normal life is totally disrupted. I will let Ally tell her own story when she gets the chance and feels like sharing.

New Zealanders are such wonderful, resourceful and no-nonsense people. I was really touched and inspired by the few bits of footage I have seen of the chaos, with people rescuing each other, looking after each other, and people calmly just taking on jobs that need to be done.

Australians ignorantly give Kiwis a lot of crap. From listening to some people here talk you might think NZ is some sort of little Australia, just with mountains instead of deserts and Maoris instead of Aborigines. And ten years behind the times. I visited in 1995 and discovered how wrong that is. There are many similarities, but the people are so switched on, energetic, aware and alive. There was a lot of talk here in the 80s and 90s about making Australia the "clever country" - I came home from NZ thinking we had a long way to go to catch up to them, despite having four times the population.

Elf and I chose NZ for our honeymoon in 2001, and started in Christchurch. I took Elf to see Lyttleton, a really beautiful old port town perched on a slope over the hill from Christchurch. I think much of what we saw is just dust now. We saw a wedding in the Cathedral - unusual because there was no congregation. We bumped into the happy couple the next day on the train to the West Coast. They were from Texas, and had come to NZ to get married as far away as possible from their difficult families, and because the fly fishing was excellent.

Sadly the Cathedral is now a ruin, like many other buildings around the centre of the city. Others look OK but are unstable and will be demolished. Christchurch is going to need to be totally rebuilt. This happened years ago to a town on the North Island called Napier. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1930, and totally rebuilt in the current Art Deco style. It is now a magnet to people from all over the world who go to see the architecture. I don't know if we in the 2010s are capable of building a beautiful new city that people are going to admire in eighty years.

Maybe one reason that this is so shocking is that Christchurch is so English in a lot of ways - tidy, conservative and reserved. It's just not very 'Christchurch' for buildings to be collapsing, roads buckling, sewage and gas spilling, people trapped, screaming, panicking. It's the sort of thing that happens in Japan, or America, or Indonesia. The fact is that Christchurch is a very English city set down on a sandy silty plain, sitting on the edge of the Pacific "rim of fire". It's a volcanic place. It might look like Sussex but deep down its more like a big misplaced Hawaiian island.

I haven't mentioned the death toll. It's far from finalised, but it is said to be over 200. If you know anyone who died, I am so sorry.

No comments: