I spent the first 22 years of my life in Christchurch, New Zealand, that most English of cities in the Antipodes. I’m a fifth generation dyed-in-the-wool one eyed Cantabrian. In a few short years, I will have spent equal parts of my life living in Australia and New Zealand, and then Australia will gradually edge ahead. But Christchurch will always be my “home”.
The River Avon runs through the centre of the city, under the Bridge of Remembrance. My maternal great great grandfather, George Witty, was a politician who passed a law making the Avon a sanctuary for ducks. The original greenie, you might think? Nope, he was a duck hunter! He was the fourth owner of “Avonhead”, which was one of the first properties built in 1850, after the arrival of the first fleet. The suburb Avonhead takes its name from this property.
My beautiful city is known for its heritage buildings, like the Museum, the Arts Centre on the site of the original University, the Botanic Gardens and Christchurch Cathedral, smack bang in the centre of the iconic square. If you’ve ever been to Adelaide, you’ll feel right at home in Christchurch, as Adelaide was built on the same city plan.
That was before Christchurch turned into Shaky Town following the big earthquake on 4 September 2010. Boyo and I visited family in Christchurch in January 2011 and we were deeply saddened by the damage we could see, but heartily cheered by all the repair and restoration work we could see going on, invigorating the economy and making my beloved city beautiful again.
Until Mother Nature turned into a bitch again, and the big shake of 22 February 2011 occurred. 185 people lost their lives and the CBD is still cordoned off a year later. Many houses were destroyed and entire suburbs stand as virtual ghost towns as people pack up what possessions they have left and move away.
My grandparents’ house, built by my grandfather when he was 17 and working with his father as a relocator of houses, still stands, yet liquefaction has hit them hard. Granddad has lost two mobility scooters to the mountains of silt that appear after every decent jolt, and they have been helped many times by the Farmy Army and the Student Army, who arrive with bobcats, shovels and buckets to carry away the mountains of silt.
So, what am I thankful for? On the face of it, there doesn’t seem much to be particularly cheery about. What I am grateful for is that all my immediate family are safe and sound. Houses have been lost but everyone is still alive. The future is uncertain and my Grandma compares it to living in a war zone and tells me that she’s happy so long as she has power and a flushing toilet. It’s the little things in life, isn’t it!
I haven’t been back to Christchurch since the Big One hit. I adore my city but I’m too scared to take Boyo there. I struggle with this, but the words of my brave and wise Grandma ring in my ear. “Please don’t come and visit us – I have enough people to worry about as it is, and I know you’re safe in Sydney.”
Kia Kaha is a Maori term used by all New Zealanders – Maori and Pakeha – and it translates as “Stay Strong”. It has been used widely in New Zealand and perfectly sums up the stoic and staunch Cantabrian spirit. Kia kaha, Christchurch. Kia kaha.