Saturday, August 2, 2014

In the Suburbs - Four Years On.

There was a wild nor'west wind blowing this morning when I set out for North New Brighton and Bexley to see what's become of these two earthquake-ruined suburbs over the last six months. I've visited these areas - and many others - regularly over the last four years, since the first earthquakes, and it's been both intriguing and deeply saddening to watch their decline.

As shocking as the earthquake damage seemed in the beginning, it wasn't until much later that for me, the real impacts hit home. When roads flooded on a regular basis, when people moved out, when the first homes started to be demolished - that's when it struck home that the Christchurch earthquakes had had impacts that would set this city back decades.

These streets in North New Brighton and Bexley show the grimness of the residential aftermath. Yet to be fully wiped clean of ruined houses, yet to be graded smooth and planted over with fresh grass seed, these red zones have a desolation and a loneliness that is difficult to describe. You can't capture the devastation fully on camera but you can certainly 'feel' it and see it, as you drive through.

My own home is currently being repaired by EQC and because of that I think, I have become a little blase, a little complacent. It's not that I've forgotten these ruined places or the former residents whose lives have been turned upside down; but with long-awaited house repairs comes a singular joy - a sense of disbelief actually, that you're finally on the road to recovery and with each fresh coat of paint, it's easy to be side-tracked from others' grim reality. 

Today these suburban places lifted me out of my complacency.
They slapped me in the face with the toughest of emotions - loss, grief, anger, abandonment, loneliness, despair - their vast tracts of mud, broken roads and skeletal trees all the sadder in midwinter.

There are new habitats here now.
The ducks, the bossy plovers and the proud pukeko - they all stride across the gouged-out roads with a new confidence, with a sense of territorial ownership that brings you up short. It's odd and unexpected and charming all at once.

In many places, the roads - if they can still be called that - are barely recognisable. They're deeply rutted, often flooded and a trap in waiting for the under-carriage of cars travelling too fast. Not that you see many of those in these areas now either. There may be an occasional sightseer, or perhaps a former resident returning to their old neighbourhood. 
It's hard to know what turmoil of emotions must be confronting them as they drive through these abandoned, creepy streets. With rotting rolls of carpet and abandoned furniture strewn along street edges,  and graffiti rampant, there's no longer a sense of residential safety here. It's ghostly almost, eerie.

The ruin is heartbreaking, the sense of loneliness palpable.
The overgrown, fenced of children's playground, the single brown velvet chair at the end of a culdesac with its stuffing torn open - both metaphors for the rupture of suburban comforts.

Now permanently flooded roads - nothing really to do with rainfall; a few remaining boarded up windows, broken fences; sagging, disconnected, broken power lines; shattered glass and stolen supermarket trolleys stranded in mud and puddles, torn net curtains - almost more powerful and visually jarring now, almost four years after the first earthquakes, than they were in the beginning.

I sit here now, in the comfort of my temporary EQC accommodation in the heart of Merivale knowing that my own house further east is on the mend. I should be happy but I feel the deep and indescribable sadness - that sadness that descends so often and so unexpectedly on so many Christchurch people; and I realise at last, that it may never go away.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Four Houses, Four Families, Four Stories

I have hundreds of photographs of abandoned red zone houses in Christchurch.
I only have forty or so recorded stories from some of the earthquake-battered people who once lived in them - people who then, in the thick of thousands of after-shocks, were only too willing to talk about one of the most shattering and damaging experiences of their lives.
I often wonder now, as I walk or cycle through these sad, sad abandoned residential areas, what has become of all of the people - not only the ones I interviewed but all the others too. The thousands who have made off to other places.  I wonder what they have taken with them - what memories, what dreams and aspirations, what physical treasures that were too important to leave behind
With every passing week, more and more of these abandoned red-zoned homes are being demolished.
What were once busy suburban communities filled with spinning clothes lines, screaming kids, yelling parents, loud stereos and idling cars, have been reduced to flat, barren tracts of land scraped bare of their suburban histories. Every gone. The few saved trees and the freshly sown grass no replacement for family life.
It's a good thing that so many people have gathered these family stories.
Because before long, we will need to be reminded of them - reminded of the families who once made up the once-vibrant communities of east Christchurch; reminded of the merciless power of Nature to wreck and reshape the human spirit.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The City Revisited

I haven't spent much time in inner city Christchurch over the last six months.
I've been trying to ignore our earthquake ravaged city.
I've been trying to ignore the fact that, after three and a half years, my house is still not fixed.
I've been trying to ignore everything to do with the earthquakes - the slow progress, the sad stories, the outrage, the anger, the despair, the very futility of it all.
I've just been trying to get on with my life.
Now my house *is* about to get fixed and I'm elated.
It feels like a new beginning. It feels like I can finally leave the earthquakes behind.
But then I see this wall and it seems like an ugly metaphor for all the people still waiting, all the people whose voices still haven't been heard.
And I pick up my camera again to illustrate that, despite positive stories of new buildings, flourishing street art and quirky temporary projects, inner city Christchurch still has a VERY long way to go before it regains even a glimmer of its former charm.
See for yourself.

The demise of the Christchurch City Council chambers
Tuam Street
The end of an era
When was your last moment of wonder?
When was the last time you felt 'all right'?
Under control, buoyant, excited, inspired?
The Bridge of Remembrance
Not how most people remember it

The interior of Starbucks.
The daily newspaper open, unread
A tiny capsule of broken history
Shopfront City Mall
Skinny Jeans
The shiny and new
Reflecting the broken and barren
A Havana-esque moment
Oddly endearing

Once a hotel
Now an ugly pool
A languishing corner

Three old beauties in various stages of ruin
The Post-it notes of memory
Fading fast

Ruptured retail
Would you feel 'all right'
If you lived here
With this?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Spring in North Canterbury

In Pink

In White

"Spring is sooner recognised by plants than men."
Chinese proverb

"Of course everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colours, there would be an unbelievable shrieking in the heart of the night."
Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Welcome to Christchurch

Welcome to Christchurch - the Copthorne Hotel, welcoming guests since ages ago

Advancing like an ancient dinosaur

Ninja - Ready for anything in Christchurch

History in the Making

Barbie - and the night out that went very, very wrong


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