Sunday, September 5, 2010


Poor Canterbury. Understandably shattered. And lousy weather predicted for today.

I have fond memories of Christchurch. I enjoyed my time at university there in the 1950s. Town and gown intermingled. For my last three years I boarded at Rolleston House just across the road from the click-tower, damaged in yestwerday’s quake.

Across the avenue were the Botanic Gardens. I didn’t swot there, I did that in the hostel, but during breaks I’d meandered there. The circular rose-garden was a source of peace, the archery lawn a sense of grace, the glass-house a sense of the exotic. They were in their full glory in spring-time. Then at the far-end there was a fiery blaze of azaleas. But most spectacular would be the daffodils across the Avon.

I courted there, I mused there, I wandered there. Cherry blossom and later rhododendron added to the season’s sense of burgeoning bounty and magnificent colour. Alas, this catastrophe will create not that sense, but rather one of foreboding and dismay. The so-solid earth is not so stable after all. Even from this distance (both in time and space) I feel rather shell-shocked myself.

The cathedral still stands. It was my childhood symbol of the city. It lorded over the trams, Godley’s statue, Warners Hotel, the Press office, the Post Office and the various picture theatres. Mum used to park my brother and me in the Grand (continuous movies) while she’d go off for her own shopping. The idea of going to the city centre to see a movie is long gone.

In later visits I’ll confess to irritation at the intrusion of high rise buildings around the cathedral. The quake has demolished several nearby buildings that were there in my student days. I biked past them, not only during my student years, but for a subsequent two more years after I’d finished university. During this time I flatted in Avonside an area hard hit by the shake.

Mum’s retirement to Burnside in 1965 meant many visits so I saw the city change – a process like speeded-up-film. I realise my mood is akin to grief. And like all grief it has components of the loss of one’s own past. But also the knowledge of the human capacity to respond to a challenge. I wish all well who grapple for the city’s future.


  1. I was born and brought up in Christchurch; I went to school and University there. I hope I don't sound querulous when I say that I didn't like the city - frequent visits to family in Auckland made me desirous of hills, decent beaches, interesting bush, and above all, a warmer climate. I wish them all the best now; so many lives will have been hugely changed. Thank heavens, my sister and her husband are fine.
    I wonder if my favourite haunt, The Gresham, is unscathed?

  2. Alexia

    Ah, but I was born and bred in rural Canterbury. To come from Auckland was to downsize. To me Christchurch was exotic and exciting when I was a young man. I see the latest fear is flooding from the Waimak. In my youth there was considerable discussion about the possibility of that river bursting its banks and scouring through the city. Poor people.