*Kia Kaha is Māori for ‘stay stong’*
I take a lot of photos on my travels. Probably more than I should, but I like to have a record of everything I see. My friends in Australia would laugh at me when I came back from visiting my home town of Christchurch with hundreds, sometimes thousands of photos. They would question me as to why I would take so many photos of the place where I grew up.
They don’t question me now.
I’ve always been proud to be a Cantabrian; born and raised in the city of Christchurch, in the Province of Canterbury in New Zealand. The rest of New Zealand has a saying about those of us from Canterbury – that we are ‘one-eyed‘. I am proud to say that I am definitely a one-eyed Cantabrian, although this didn’t manifest itself completely until I moved to Australia.
Moving to Brisbane, Australia in 2002 was a lot harder than I imagined it would be. A lot of people assume that Australia and New Zealand are basically the same country. That couldn’t be further from the truth – that is like saying that America and Canada are the same country or England and Scotland are the same. Proximity to each other doesn’t not mean we are the same in our history, culture or way of life.
I got really homesick in the first six months after my move. Every day on my way home from work I would sit on the bus and watch planes fly over city. I would dream that I was on that plane flying home to my beloved Christchurch. It was a very hard time for me and one I didn’t fully understand.
I first went back to Christchurch about six months after my move to Brisbane and it was the best thing I think I could have done. I realised that Christchurch was still there, she wasn’t going anywhere. The places and things that made her so familiar were right where I had left them. I returned to Australia feeling better about the move that I had made and realised I was on the right path for my new life.
One time I went home I borrowed a friend’s point & shoot digital camera. I seems weird to me now that I didn’t have one of my own at the time. I went around all those places in Christchurch that I had been numerous times before and took photos. A lot of photos! I didn’t know what I was doing photography wise but I just snapped away. The Cathedral, Sign of the Takahe, the beach.. pretty much everywhere I went I took photos.
On subsequent visits over the years, I took more and more photos. I tried different photography tips and tricks. I ventured out of the city and travelled around the South Island taking photos everywhere. People would ask me “why do you take so many photos?” and “what do you do with all those photos of the same thing?”. I think my response was always the same “It’s my city and I want to photograph it as much as I can”
September 4th, 2010 I was home, along with pretty much my entire family – I think only a niece & nephew weren’t there. It was my mum’s 80th birthday and we had planned a big afternoon tea for her at her local church. The night of September 3rd had been freezing. I think there was even hail. My sister, her family and I were staying in a holiday camp on the edge of the city and we had had fish & chips for dinner on that Friday night. We all headed to bed with my sister & I planning on getting up early to head to the supermarket.
4.35am we were all shaken from our beds. One of my great nieces thought her sister was having an epileptic fit; my sister thought her daughter was shaking the bed. But we soon realised that no, it was an earthquake. A 7.1 on the richter scale earthquake. As quick as we could in the 40 seconds the quake lasted (it felt like a lot longer at the time!), we aimed for the doorways. One of my great niece’s I think was in shock and I couldn’t get her to the door so we sat on the bed waiting for the earth to stop shaking.
Afterwards my first thought was of my mother. She was alone in her house about 15-20 minutes where we were. Everyone I was with was ok, shocked and scared but ok. Not long after the quake – within 5 minutes, I decided to jump in my sisters car and drove to mum’s place to see if she was ok. I remember driving along and wondering why there were so many cars coming towards me. Then I realised that I was driving towards my mums place, near the beach. Now I realise it was probably a stupid thing to do because we had no idea what the roads were like, if there was a tsunami about to happen. We didn’t know anything!
I got to my mums place I think in about 5 minutes flat. Walked in the door and there she is, in her nightie coming through the hall. Her reaction when she saw me? “Oh hello”. I will never forget her calm attitude that morning. Then one of my brothers rocked up. To say that situation got even weirder, is an understatement. My brother is an outdoorsy type, he often goes tramping, rock climbing etc, so he turned up with hands free lighting on his head like he was about to go through a cave or something. It was kind of a surreal moment with my mum as calm as and my brother looking like he was staging a rescue mission.
That day was one of surreal moments (and I don’t use that word lightly!). Had to get petrol in my sister’s car as we were still having the party but out at our brother’s farm. My great niece and I drove around the city trying to find an open petrol station, which we did and had to wait in a queue for about 30 minutes. We drove to the party venue to put a notice up to say the party wasn’t happening – not that I think many people would have expected it to.
After the freezing, hail filled night before and the rude awakening that morning, September 4th had become a really gorgeous early spring morning. We almost couldn’t believe that what had happened that morning had actually happened.
But it had and the city that I grew up in, the city that I thought would always be that safe harbour in any storm in my life was changed forever.
Five and a half years later the city that I knew growing up is mostly gone. There were subsequent aftershocks of course. As a 7th August 2012 (nearly two years after the initial quake), there had been over 11,000 aftershocks of magnitude 2 or more. Including a few 5 or more magnitude ones in 2011, a 6.3 magnitude quake in June 2011 and of course the devastating 6.3 that struck at 12.51pm on February 22nd 2011 that killed 185 people. Even as late as Valentine’s Day this year, the city was rocked by another 5.9 quake hit the city shocking many of it’s residents.
Around 80% of the central business district of Christchurch has been destroyed or so damaged the buildings have had to be demolished. Whole suburbs have been razed to the ground. The part of the street where I grew up is now empty land. Some people, including one of my brother’s are still in limbo over insurance claims. People have moved out of the city because of the stress numerous aftershocks have caused them and their families. Everyone knows someone who was hugely effected by the quakes, whether it be their house or a friend’s house. being destroyed or they knew one of those who perished.
But that thing that makes people amazing the world over, hit residents of Christchurch and New Zealand as a whole – resilience. Mates helping mates; strangers helping strangers; the amazing Student Army that would jump in and help out anyone, no questions asked. Despite the horror and devastation that has been felt because of those earthquakes, the people of Christchurch are fighters. They have proven that despite everything, there is still humour to be found.
Yes the city that I knew is long gone but now, almost like a phoenix from the ashes, a new city is rising. A new plan to revitalise the city is underway. New buildings are going up. new houses have been built and new suburbs created. Christchurch is different now, but so are her inhabitants. There is a future to be built in Christchurch and a past to be remembered and respected.
I still go home all the time and I still take a lot of photos but now, no one asks me why.