Last week I went to Christchurch for work for a night. It is the first time I have been back to Christchurch since late 2010 when I was there briefly between the September and February earthquakes. We had a house there and we called by to check it out when we were passing through town to see ow the tenants were faring, and to check on the reported damage.
As we drove through the city that day things didn’t look too bad. A few of the historic buildings near the centre of town were being braced, and there were a few issues with the roads. But as we know, the real carnage hit in February of 2011.
We lived in Christchurch for six years in the early 2000s, and our kids did a whole lot of their growing up there. For me personally it was a mixed bag. Personally I found them quite lonely years, although we did have some great family times. But profesisonally it was really fulfilling, as Christchurch City Libraries was and still is without a doubt the best public library network in the country, and I was proud to work there.
But love it or not, one thing for sure is that it was an absolutely beautiful city. The old stone buildings and the gardens were lovely. Sadly little remains, apparently. I say apparently, as even on this visit, I didn’t really feel up to going into town, and the airport end of town where I stayed was, on the whole, relatively unscathed. Certainly there are few evident reminders today in that part of town.
As we flew in from the north and I looked out the plane window, all I could remember were the good family times. We were a pretty tight unit, due to the difficulty in making close friends. I saw Redcliffs where the kids first went to school. I saw the hill we lived on, there was little that was recognisable of the city, but I remembered the central city library on Gloucester St that is no more, soon to be replaced by a flash new building on the Square. I remembered picnics on the Ashley River, trips to Hanmer Springs and Akaroa, visiting His Lorship’s dad in decimated Kaiapoi. For once I remembered the good times and the things I had liked about Christchurch.
But what astonishes me today about Christchurch above all is the resilience of the people. They are the most pragmatic people I have ever encountered, based on what they have been through. Having attempted to deal with the Earthquake Commission ourselves for a couple of years before throwing up our hands, giving up, and taking the financial hit, I honestly don’t know how the people of Christchurch have coped. I committed to phoning them every day for three months after His Lordship gave up, and I thought I was getting somewhere. They finally made out a cheque and sent it off – but guess what? THEY MADE IT OUT TO THE WRONG PERSON!
To have to deal with the emotional trauma and physical damage day in and day out, and then try and wade through the bureuacratic red tape hung everywhere by EQC would push the sanest person to the limit. I am in awe of what so many have dealt with, and continue today to deal with, while watching their city largely torn down and very slowly rebuilt.
So on this visit, I remembered the good times. I stayed right opposite my old work at Upper Riccarton Library, although I didn’t visit, and I stayed in my room and ordered Uber Eats for dinner, and then travelled to the outskirts of the city the next day for work. Call me a coward if you will, but I wasn’t yet ready to see what has become of the city, let alone the vast wastelands that lie to the eastern side of town that look like they have been hit by a chemical attack as some part of a scorched earth policy.
And Christchurch City Libraries also must take a bow for their library rebuild project that is ambitious and innovative. Even your temporary libraries and the well thought out re-arrangement of how core services would be delivered were a triumph. You continue to lead the way.
Maybe when the rebuild is over I will go and take a real look. And hopefully it won’t look like a 21st century version of Milton Keynes. But for now, people of Christchurch, I take my hat off to you for the fortitude, resilience, and absolute courage you have shown in rebuilding both your city and your lives.