Another Planet (Christchurch)

Photo by Edward Swift

I look down Hereford Street and see what is left of the Christchurch Cathedral but I am distracted by a building to the right of my vision where someone stuck inside has spray painted ‘HELP’ on a beam, visible through a window. A colleague tells me stairwells collapsed and people were winched out by rope.

Near The Statue of Remembrance, The Tap Room depicts a moment frozen in time – shattered crockery and glasses litter the floor and the tables are no longer in line, but remains of meals remain on tables waiting for their eaters to return 11 months later, tabs presumably still open.

The new Re:START converted shipping container mall on Cashel Street brings signs of life and hope. Shops and brands I would love to see all in one place in Auckland. Then you remember this was one of the worst hit areas of town. The buildings have already been demolished and people died here.

Across the cordon we watch cranes taking down the Grand Chancellor. Still standing proud is the Westpac logo at the top of a building yet to be taken down.

It has been 15 years since I was in Christchurch (with the exception of the airport) so I have little attachment to what once was or how it has changed. But if it was Wellington’s Manners Street or Featherston Street at the centre of this cordon I would be incredibly sad.

I remember as an 11 year old, watching gondolas punt down the river. They are now gone, the city side of the river overgrown while the other is still well maintained – like the Avon is the division between where daily life goes on and where only bulldozers go.

You can drive around parts of Christchurch and forget there has ever been an earthquake here, then suddenly there is a fence on an angle, a boarded up window or a road which was once flat and straight but is now undulated. Keep driving and the abandoned houses begin with overgrown front lawns, emptiness through windows, cracks on exterior walls and missing chimneys. There is silt everywhere. Who even knew the word ‘liquefaction’ before September 2010?

We drive through New Brighton and Parklands considering what has been deemed ‘Red Zone’ and to be demolished, compared to what is deemed repairable. But there are signs of life going on – people still put their bins out on rubbish day.