Thursday, April 14, 2011

Back to the future...?

Christchurch, unlike New Zealand's  other main centres has a charm that depends largely on features built or planned by man. The calm and dignity of the city owes much to its early buildings. and Christchurch's history can still be traced in the many examples that remain. 

In the days after the quakes, citizens of the world saw more of what was happening in Christchurch than did most its residents who were without electricity and access to media images. Even when the lights and images returned, we saw what had happened to our central city at a distance, on a screen, mediated by photographers, journalists, city councillors, civil defence personnel... We were living our own quake stories in our various communities, but, given the cordon around the central city, we were excluded from participation in that evolving story.

Seven weeks after the 22 February quake, we are creepingly gaining access to the heart of Christchurch. I have increasingly felt the need to see the city in its damaged state before too much is demolished. I fear an erasure that will have me wondering 'what was there - and there - and there...?'  Because I suspect that where we live and work, we don't often see. I remember taking part in an anti-Vietnam demonstration through the heart of Christchurch while a student and, because sightlines were forced up on account of the thousands of people, engaging with the often overlooked second stories of the lovely old retail and commercial buildings.

So this morning I drove into town, parked in Gloucester Street, just short of the Civil Defence headquarters at the Art Gallery, and walked in a once very familiar part of the city. I went down Montreal Street and past the old Christchurch Girl's High building in Cranmer Square where I was a student. It is being demolished.

I walked across Cranmer Square to the old Normal School, now Cranmer Courts.

Then past the Provincial Council Chambers where I used to guide when a university student. The glorious Stone Chamber in ruins.

The old university complex, now the Arts Centre, where I began my university study.

The streets were empty and silent. I expected to feel sad, bereft. But I didn't. I didn't really feel anything (except cold in the autumn cloud) and I'm not sure why. I belong to the Historic Places Trust, I have taught history, I have loved and lived with these buildings most of my life. Perhaps it is the enormity of the event, or the inevitability of demolition following the second quake, or the fact that some of these 'iconic' buildings are likely to be restored/rebuilt. Perhaps too I am willing to acknowledge the fact that nature has the upper hand - that this sweeping away is an act of nature and a part of the cycle of history.

Finally, for the moment, there were some images that caught my fancy....

...and one sad bunch of now dead flowers, on the barrier in front of the Bridge of Remembrance, that moved me.


  1. Oh, this is sooo heartbreaking---those beautiful old buildings---but your taking it on as an "act of nature and part of the cycle of history," gives it some perspective at least.

    Evenso, I can't help feeling guilty for enjoying our beautiful spring on the the other side of the world when y'all are in such a mode of grief and recovery.

    Blessings to you all.

  2. Geoff is trying to get into the council offices today and grab his stuff out. There's a half doz carton of duck eggs which I sent in with him a few days before the quake. They've probably burst by now hehe poo stinky :)

  3. OMG - duck eggs would be high alright Niki! Nothing worse than a bad egg (except a bad potato maybe). What a shame.

    Deb we are enjoying our beautiful autumn here. There is absolutely no need for guilt. I will have to post an 'autumn in Governors Bay' picture to reassure you.

  4. It is sad to see the photos, but I can understand why the dead flowers drew emotion from you. Those were for people, not destroyed buildings. Nice to meet you by way of Niki's blog.

    Thoughts in Progress

  5. Hi Jane,

    I'm another visitor via Niki. I'm terribly sorry to see what's happened to these beautiful buildings. Were you fighting to save them, you'd make an excellent advocate. Your photos show their beauty, and you certainly made me want to roll up my sleeves and pitch in.

    As it is, they look beyond salvage. So as I said, I'm sorry you've lost them. But in a selfish way, I'm sorry for me, too--that they fell before I made it there to see them.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and photos.

    q: quarter 'til midnight

  6. Thank you for your thoughts Mason and Joe. My cousin and I went to a very well-attended meeting last night designed to give local people input on the rebuilding of Christchurch. High on most wish lists - a sustainable, eco-conscious, safe CBD that mixes residential with business, retail etc. and uses wood as its no 1 construction material (stone and brick suffered badly in the quake). It is an amazing opportunity if we can seize it...