Hometown Glory Gone

Warning: this is not a cheerful post. Some people may find its content disturbing.

My Dad was English; he grew up in Ashington, Northumberland, a miner’s son. He emigrated to New Zealand when in his early teens, in search of a better life. I like to think he found it. I seem to have returned the Mother Country’s compliment: I hope it was a fair trade. He met my Mum there, a Dunedin woman of Scottish descent; her grandparents were Glaswegian.

They married, settled & raised a family – us – in Christchurch. Yes: Christchurch. That Christchurch, the one that’s been on the telly & in the news.

My home town. New Zealand’s 2nd largest city. Where I spent the first 25 years of my life.

It used to be “The Garden City”, full of beautiful gardens, parks & rivers.

It used to be known as a world centre of rugby: the dominant ‘Super’ rugby team, the Crusaders, were based there; it’s produced many many great All-Blacks.

It used to be known as the gateway to some of the world’s most beautiful scenic & adventure, & more recently ‘The Lord of the Rings‘, locations;  & the main air-link to Antarctica.

It used to have a beautiful central gothic Cathedral as it’s city symbol.

This one:


Now it’s ‘that place where they had the earthquake’.

147 dead, including a 7-month-old baby, many still missing. There were people in that beautiful Cathedral spire: none came out alive. Much of the city centre is rubble; bodies lying, covered, in the streets as rescue squads concentrated on trying to save those trapped in the wreckage. Most of the city without water, much without power.

AP New Zealand Herald Mark Mitchell

Flooding, landslides, houses destroyed by falling rocks. Many streets impassable due to cracks & liquefaction. Outbreaks of gastroenteritis due to poor sanitation. Hospitals overflowing, the injured flown to hospitals all over the country. Rescue squads flying in from all over the world, the military drafted in, tanks in the streets.

Martin Hunter Getty Images

These things happen in ‘other countries’: China, Haiti, Bangladesh, Thailand. Not in quiet little old New Zealand, not in my beautiful home town, my Christchurch.

I feel as if a part of my life has been ripped away from me, forever; like I’ve lost a piece of my heart. And I have, really.

Hannah Johnston Getty Images

Kiwis, no matter where they are in the world, always retain a sense of place, of origin, an eternal identification with their home country. We will never forget the community spirit that NZ often enjoys, that is rarely found in older, bigger countries. My fellow ex-pat ‘Vegemitevix’ has expressed this far better than I ever could.  Right now the whole nation is pulling together to help, regional differences forgotten.

As a school-boy I cycled past the beautiful Avon River 10 times a week for 7 years, past a much-used & much-loved old wooden footbridge, a local landmark . We used to hang out there on weekends. It was destroyed in the September ‘quake, then rebuilt. The may  need to do it again.

Hera Herajdottir

When I left home & started work I cycled into work along the smooth well-maintained streets

Asher Trafford
Asher Trafford theatlantic.com

past houses, shops & churches

Dan Shelley

up the ‘main drag’,  Colombo Street

Richard Bishop

& into the city centre

Martin Hunter Getty Images

then into work. (The red & yellow ‘Post Office’ sign on the left, below? I worked there for 2 years; my first job)

Reuters / TV3

On sunny days, of which there were many, I’d often eat my lunch in the spacious & beautiful Cathedral Square, the city’s beating heart; many times on the Cathedral’s steps. Mostly rubble there now.

REUTERS/Don Scott/Christchurch Press

I used to love to visit a city landmark near my flat, even attending services there: the city’s beautiful Catholic Basilica:

AP / NZPA / David Wethey

So much destruction, so much death, so many lives ruined.

I’m just thankful that the friends & family I have there are unharmed. I’m also aware that many were not so fortunate.

A cousin’s son worked in the CTV building, until just a few months ago when he left to start his own business. Post-quake he was up all night trying to do what he could there for any of his former colleagues. There were no survivors.

AP New Zealand Herald, Brett Phibbs

I’m grieving for my devastated city & its people. So much of what comprised 25 years of my life: gone. And a part of me with it. Christchurch will survive, of that I am sure. But it will never be the same – and neither will I.

The New Zealand Prime Minister has set up an international Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. If you’d like to donate you can do so here

I’m sorry for the change of tone in this blog; I had to ‘get this off my chest’. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.


10 thoughts on “Hometown Glory Gone”

  1. What has befallen Christchurch is quite terrible. Such devastation and sad loss of life. I hope (as I’m sure the world does) that the people of New Zealand’s second city can rebound from this cataclysmic event, move forward and regain its glory.

  2. Your despair is understandable but NZ is not like Haiti.

    We’ve gratefully accepted help from other countries and more will be needed, but government – central and local – health professionals, engineers, police, army, navy & air force, Civil Defense, voluntary agencies are all working as they should on rescue and recovery and already it’s making a difference.

    The University of Canterbury Volunteer Army has mobilised thousands of students and other volunteers who are clearing silt from homes and properties and helping people.

    There are countless more stories like that of people helping people and the city.

    There is also hope and determination – Christchurch is wounded but it is not dead, it will recover.

  3. This was not an uplifting post, as you said, but I’m so glad you shared. I, living on the other side of the world, had no idea of the complete devastation and you shared a personal side of this tragedy that I have not see. So heartbreaking and I can imagine the grief that it has caused for you. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Just wanted to say – that with everything I’ve heard or read about the earthquake since reading this I keep thinking back to your photos and your memories and it’s by far the best personalized story I’ve come across.

  5. As you know I understand your pain, and grieve myself for poor New Zealand, and yet it has been heartening to know that we are still the resourceful nation of can-do people who can twist a piece of number 8 wire into anything desparately required. Thank you for writing so poignantly (and for the shout out!) Kia Kaha. Vx

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