Poetry Month, April 2018: Christchurch and Lyttelton, New Zealand; 5 Poems; Pre- and Post-Earthquake
City of Christchurch
Settled on the edge of the Canterbury Plain with a background of the Port Hills, this city was a pretty, tranquil spot on the River Avon. Its Cathedral was the unmistakable emblem of Christchurch, with its delicate brickwork and elegant tower.
A short distance from the city are sandy beaches, resorts and, through a tunnel under the Port Hills, the thriving port of Lyttelton, a historic town of weatherboarded houses, family shops and chandlers. It is on the north-western end of Banks Peninsula. Hilly, wide streets look out over the natural harbour, across to stunning scenery of estuary, bays and hills.
Then came the earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011. Though not as strong as the September quake, February 2011’s occurred on a shallow fault line, close to the city, near Lyttelton and so caused much more damage, further described below.
Going back there in December 2017 to spend a month or so with family, we could see the aftermath of destruction, reminders of lives lost and the empty plots where people’s houses once sheltered happy families surrounded by well-kempt gardens. Seven years on, there is still much to be done and many are still waiting for insurance pay-outs, rebuilds or extensive repairs. The sadness is palpable but stoicism wins through.
I was most shocked by the difference in Cathedral Square, having seen in the 2009 New Year there and going back in December to find a ruined cathedral, scaffolding shoring up that and many other buildings, and an oppressive air of emptiness and loss.
Tributes to the dead, injured and affected are evident throughout the city, in forms of graffiti, sculptures, paintings and parts of broken buildings coloured to camouflage the destruction.
Christchurch Cathedral before Earthquake
Cathedral as we saw it after part Demolition
Crumbling Christchurch Cathedral
Immaculate structure reaching to the heavens,
admired the world over for its grace and elegance,
now debased, torn, scattered in piles
through earth-scraping shock, sacredness defiled.
Cream and grey, delicate balance,
thrown to the depths, gaping through, plunging down,
liquefaction swirls, hides pitfalls,
scaffold tries to uphold, enthralled.
What do we do, faced with such pain?
Just a building? No, emotional strain.
Built to glorify God, to be uplifting,
now torn apart, forbidden, drifting.
Sometime this will follow the Phoenix,
rise from the ashes, re-meld the bricks,
then the spire, again reaching high,
will point to heaven, pierce clouds to blue sky.
Houses once stood here, now vanished,
sheltered mothers, fathers, cherished
all within them, safe from storms,
until the quakes came, changed all form.
Now we see the green grass covering
hints of gardens, rose-bushed, staring
back as our intruders’ eyes
trespass, hearing past owners’ cries.
Driveways gape, uneven, broken,
torn by quake into thoughts unspoken.
Who can say what the families feel?
Do they pass by, do they reel
thinking of a happy past,
reliving the day when, noisy and fast,
the ground heaved up and spewed up rubbish
leaving a landscape dead and ravished?
Many have left, unable to face
remaining in such a dangerous place,
or so it seems, but who can blame them?
Another life, away, might calm them.
One day they’ll rebuild the homes,
safer structures for when quakes come,
for come they will but all will be wiser,
instead of surprise, the future’s finer.
Empty plots will fill with joy,
grass will be covered with homes and toys.
Families with hope will belay fear
and live in safety far down the years.
Emptiness in place of Homes
Epicentre of earthquake emerged close by,
people ran and people cried.
Buildings fell, some just lop-sided,
people helped each other.
Shops and theatre, cafés and homes,
trembled whilst the earth did foam
with liquefaction deadly, the dome
of hills provided shelter.
Structures built on solid rock were firm,
though others fared less well in turn.
Ships in port, though, rode the storm,
provided food and succour.
Connecting tunnel, down for two days,
quickly repaired to clear the way
for help and supplies to fast allay
the fears of all affected.
Now the land where an edifice stood
merely bares a picture of wood,
showing what was once a good
and sturdy place to work.
Inhabitants walk, heads held proud and high,
knowing that these times will pass by,
that all will heal and they’ll no more cry,
the future can be rosy.
New Zealand Antarctic Expeditions and Research
The inscription on the Sled Dog statue (below) reads:
'New Zealand Antarctic Society Sculptor - Mark Whyte 2016:
This statue celebrates the contribution of Lyttelton to exploration in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. The sled Dog symbolises the courage, commitment and comradeship of all those involved in this continuing endeavour.’
The dog's nose points to the training and research centre, across from Lyttelton, from where expeditions set out to Antarctica, with their sled dogs.
Faithful dogs trained for the Antarctic,
setting out from across the bay,
faithful to their exploring owners,
trained to help along the way.
New Zealand Antarctic Society members,
dedicated to research miles away,
risking life and limb to find out
what the ice and cold could say.
Brave men and brave dogs they were,
facing hardships and cruel weather.
Still these days the work continues,
monitoring conditions and temperature.
We should celebrate such devotion,
for without them what would we know?
All corners of the earth need attention,
under water, heat, or snow.
Sled Dog Statue
A chair for each one the earthquake took;
just pass by and take a look.
Far more impact than a list in a book,
this sight just makes you cry.
White for purity and innocence,
helplessness, just there by chance,
all shapes and sizes at a glance,
working or passing by.
Armchairs, soft chairs, sun-bed open,
baby’s high-chair, bar-stool chosen,
no regard for age, all frozen
in that time of death.
There they remain in ethereal grace,
reminding us of each’s face,
changing for ever this stricken place,
gone but leaving breath.
For they remain in others’ hearts,
their stars will shine and love impart,
they still exist in living art,
as long as we remember.
Ethereal White Chairs
An Account of the Earthquakes
‘At 12.51 p.m. on Tuesday 22 February 2011, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake caused severe damage in Christchurch and Lyttelton, killing 185 people and injuring several thousand.
The earthquake’s epicentre was near Lyttelton, just 10 km southeast of Christchurch’s central business district. It occurred nearly six months after the 4 September 2010 earthquake.
The earthquake struck at lunchtime, when many people were on the city streets. More than 130 people lost their lives in the collapse of the Canterbury Television and Pyne Gould Corporation buildings. Falling bricks and masonry killed 11 people, and eight died in two city buses crushed by crumbling walls. Rock cliffs collapsed in the Sumner and Redcliffs area, and boulders tumbled down the Port Hills, with five people killed by falling rocks.
Although not as powerful as the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on 4 September 2010, this earthquake occurred on a shallow fault line that was close to the city, so the shaking was particularly destructive.
The earthquake brought down many buildings damaged the previous September, especially older brick and mortar buildings. Heritage buildings suffered heavy damage, including the Provincial Council Chambers, Lyttelton’s Timeball Station, the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral and the Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. More than half of the buildings in the central business district have since been demolished, including the city’s tallest building, the Hotel Grand Chancellor.
Liquefaction was much more extensive than in September 2010. Shaking turned water-saturated layers of sand and silt beneath the surface into sludge that squirted upwards through cracks. Thick layers of silt covered properties and streets, and water and sewage from broken pipes flooded streets. House foundations cracked and buckled, wrecking many homes. Irreparable damage led to the demolition of several thousand homes, and large tracts of suburban land were subsequently abandoned.
The government declared a national state of emergency the day after the quake. Authorities quickly cordoned off Christchurch’s central business district. The cordon remained in place in some areas until June 2013. Power companies restored electricity to 75 per cent of the city within three days, but re-establishing water supplies and sewerage systems took much longer.’
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Ann Carr