Ten Mt Pleasant Residents have told their stories about how the February 22 earthquake affected them, you can find those stories here http://tinyurl.com/3ezsmgw . If you would like to have your story told please write to us at email@example.com and we will post your story on the Mt Pleasant web site.
Mt. Pleasant Oral History Series
Katherine and John Peet Sophie Gray Van Olst
John and Nedra Johnson Cath Van Olst
Denise & Debra McCulloch Martin Anderson
Lindsay Fenwick Roy Montgomery
Phillip Ridge Tom Davies
Katherine and John Peet
Interviewer: Susan Kornfeld
Katherine and John Peet
I visited the Peets at their Soleares home on a lovely Saturday afternoon. They were working in the garden. Although they do not spend the night in the house, they come nearly every day. Until land issues for properties above their own are resolved and fixed, their home will not be safe for sleeping.
I’ve reconstructed their story from detailed notes taken at the time of the interview.
Katherine and John Peet
Both: On February 22, we were both at a meeting on the top – fifth - floor at Community House in the central business district (141 Hereford Street). We’d taken the number 3 bus to get there. We were well into the meeting and having our sandwiches when the earthquake struck. We were literally thrown off our chairs by the incredible swaying.
Katherine: I remember this big thump and an enormous push from down below. The trampoline analogy I’ve heard since is very apt.
John: From under the table, the six of us had a 3-second meeting and decided to quit, so we grabbed our essentials and took off down the back stairs. The back door lets out into a small alleyway that leads to Hereford Street one way and the Square the other. We saw flying stones and bricks on Hereford St and not so much debris in the direction of the Square, so we went that way, only to be met by the wreckage of the Press Building and the Cathedral.
Both: We saw several hundred other people amid the dust, gathering around in the open area. Everyone wanted to be as far from buildings as possible. We spent several minutes there and then walked out to Colombo St. to make our way home. We went to the bus exchange but soon realised that this earthquake was a big deal. A cop outside of the square was hurrying people along. We offered help as able-bodied volunteers, but he declined, saying that emergency teams were on their way. He asked where we lived, and when we said Mount Pleasant, his expression changed. He said we should get home to our neighbourhood to help out there. He obviously had heard about all the damage.
Katherine: I became a bit thrown by all the damage we saw. And then we passed a car with limbs hanging out and I realised we were passing dead bodies. I got a bit wobbly. Traffic was at a standstill so I opened the door of a taxi and asked if we couldn’t just sit for a while. We ended up sharing the cab ride for a while with a woman who was headed to South Shore.
We started to digest the extent of damage. I was focused on communicating with family—letting everyone know we were all right. I texted our kids. Our daughter in Toronto texted back that the Ferrymead Bridge was down. She knew more about what was happening than we did.
John: We both functioned in our distinctive ways. Katherine was communicating and I shut off outside distractions to focus on where we were going and how to get there.
Both: The taxi dropped us off at the Lyttelton roundabout and except for another very short lift we walked down Ferrymead to Mount Pleasant. The road was running with water, with a lot of silt in it. Lots of people were doing the same, many looking quite shattered, and we recognised several of them. The Ferrymead physiotherapy team was standing outside their building and they all looked quite white.
We made our way to our car, right where we’d left it by the bus stop at the bottom of the hill. Soleares Avenue was blocked by a slip, and Maffeys Road was badly cracked. A taxi driver came down it and said that the crack was the worst of it; we should be able to drive up it. So we did and came down Soleares Ave to our house. It was a devastating picture.
The trip home took three hours, most of it on foot, so we’d had time to absorb the general damage.
Katherine: When we got inside our house (through the wide-open front door) I was gutted by the scene in the kitchen. The sideboard had also disgorged its contents - our memories. Things we’ve gathered on world travels, a set of communion glasses that I inherited. I’ve always been interested in social history so people have always given me such things. Then there were the preserves, wine and paper all mixed up downstairs.
John: Our studies are downstairs and our books and papers were everywhere. Chaos. It’s taken Katherine and me hours and hours to just get a semblance of order. It gets depressing. We work for a while then go back to our rental place and try to do something different.
Both: The first thing we did, though, at the time was the initial clean up and getting normalised. We got out the camp stove, some candles, a jerry can of water and put a meal together. And then went to bed. After checking on the neighbours.
Our younger son, Ben, came down the next day from Arthur’s Pass - he couldn’t get through on the 22nd. He brought a lot of drinking water. That plus a neighbour’s pool gave us water for both drinking and cleaning, so our little community here around us was well supplied. He also brought a chemical toilet. He spent quite a few hours digging long drops for various neighbours. John's brother and wife also came and helped with the clean-up. They had had no damage and had power, water and sewerage all the time.
Our other son in Wellington is a civil engineer. He came Wednesday in time for an evening meal, with tarpaulins and plywood and food from Kaikoura. We cooked a lovely meal on the barbecue and had some good wine. Our sons thought we were making it through everything in style.
Katherine: By Thursday morning this room was pretty much as you see it now. We’d cleared it out and cleaned it. William, the older son from Wellington, then wanted to know what he could do to help. I told him to look around as a civil engineer. Two hours later he said to our other son's girlfriend who was helping clean up downstairs, “I don’t know how to tell Mum and Dad about the situation.” But he called a family conference and said the house is liable to possible damage due to landslip and we should be out within two hours. Ben is in Search and Rescue at Arthur’s Pass, and gave us a very good list of what to gather up and take. It was extremely helpful. Basically, it was “Nothing you can buy with money.” Stuff like files, meds, anything precious. So we packed up and went over to Ilam and stayed with John’s brother.
The next day we made a trip back to get stuff. We had to be ready to leave on William’s call. He was standing outside keeping an eye on the house and land. I was in the bedroom looking for my Grandmother’s tapestry bag when I heard the sound of ground moving. But then William said it was okay. We wouldn’t be in immediate danger in the day because we would know if the house were going. But being asleep here at night would be dangerous
John: It’s frustrating because it would be senseless to do any significant work of reconstruction here until the land above us is remediated. It’s unstable. It’s understandable that this all takes time, but frustrating nonetheless. Cracks riddle the land and the retaining walls are bulging or drunken. Off balance. It’s all fixable, though.
Katherine: A week after the earthquake the neighbours had a street party. Most of them had moved out by then but they came back for the party. It was a great time to catch up. In the meantime we’d been checking on people we knew, people living alone.
Things that have been good for the community are the updates Linda Rutland started emailing and the Mt. Pleasant Community Centre and Rate Payers Association AGM. I’m the local president of U3A. Half of the members don’t have email, don’t know how to access the Web. So we’ve set up a buddy system to spread information that comes on the Internet or through email. That way everyone stays informed. Leafleting letterboxes is labour intensive and we’re labour depleted here right now.
Essentially, there’s a real need for recognition that people are not connected. Things like the Farmers Market at the Centre are valuable. It’s urgent to get the Centre fixed. It’s an important symbol of community—and also a War memorial.
Interviewer: What image most sticks in your mind?
John: For me, it is getting out of Community House and seeing the shell of the Press Building—it was leaning at an angle. The dust everywhere. A Dresden-like image.
Katherine: The inner city devastation. The person’s arm out the window of the crushed car. It was the first time I realised I was walking past people who had been killed. Then there was the noise of the bricks popping off—like popcorn. They were just missiles. You couldn’t avoid them and that’s why everyone was trying to get to the middle of the road, to any open space like the Square. The noise is what made us run for the back stairs. With all the dust and noise on Hereford Street I knew we didn’t want to go out the main door.
And as we got home, the view from the letterbox: the concrete block cladding had fallen off, all the broken windows…
Interviewer: How have your lives changed?
Katherine: We’re both suffering from earthquake brains: hot, tired, not making good decisions. I get emotionally upset when I come down here. I’m not on top of myself, not really.
John: We’re both functioning as well as we can in our rental place. We have broadband, we’ve taken insurance files, other important papers, and our computers with us. We’re keeping going. Both of us are involved in NGOs.
Katherine: It’s like a ghost town here, though. The other day I wanted some milk. I went from house to empty house. No one was there.
One of the hardest things is hanging around waiting for EQC to make its judgement. So you can’t go away, can’t travel. You can’t just put it aside. Plus, there aren’t any venues. The Court Theatre is gone. Half of the places we would attend are gone.
There’s a basic lack of connection between the central city and the suburbs. It’s concerning about who’s making the connections between the CBD and the suburbs. How can people get to town? Kids in music organisations, other organisations—how can they function? There needs to be a priority to get interest groups re-established. The CBD should be the CHD instead – the Central Human District—focused on what could be done to make it alive again.
Both: The Northwest part of the city is getting more and more elite. That’s where concert venues are, that’s where people are going. It will be difficult going for Mount Pleasant and Redcliffs and Sumner.
Katherine: It’s going to take a big effort at connection. On the long walk home I remember the streams of people—many of them holding their cell phones like teddy bears.
Mt. Pleasant Oral History Series
John and Nedra Johnson
Interviewer: Susan Kornfeld
John and Nedra Johnson
Walking down to the Johnson’s house I passed several houses on this quiet street that had suffered a lot of damage and were unoccupied. The Johnson’s house, however, seemed fine. A short retaining wall of large boulders immediately in front of the house had shaken loose, leaving very large rocks just to the side of the porch. Lifting them back up will be a big chore. The Johnson’s house is filled with wood furniture that Mr. Johnson made. In a back room is a large dollhouse he made—a hobby he enjoyed until a recent shoulder injury restricted his arm movement. Dollhouse furniture and furnishings were spread out over a bed—almost all of it crafted by Mr. Johnson –Johnnie, as his wife, Nedra calls him.
Their garage is full of woodworking and other tools. Clearly Mr. Johnson is a skilled workman and handyman.
Mr. Johnson is disabled and requires a wheelchair. When not in the wheelchair he often sits in an armchair in the lounge. Of course, he was not able to get out of his chair when the earthquake struck.
Nedra Johnson is a dedicated gardner. She is a retired copy editor from the legal field. She also edited Ogilvie’s second history of the Port Hills. She joined us for most of the interview
As far as I can ascertain, the epicentre was right behind our house. The two houses behind us are absolutely demolished. In the previous quake we had a few things come off the shelves but thought, ‘Oh, us hill dwellers don’t suffer from earthquakes like the other areas.’
I was sitting in my chair and Allen, a friend maybe twenty years my junior, was sitting in the opposite one. I was watching the beams to see if they’d come down. They were rolling. I couldn’t do anything about it [with my disability], so I just watched every surface swept clean. I said, “Allen, that’s a big one.” Everything shifted. The telly tipped and Allen picked it up. It and the computer turned out later to be working, although we didn’t have electricity for quite a few days. Fortunately I have a small generator in the garage. A couple of neighbours stayed in our house in the downstairs flat. The front of their house fell out. The next day my son flew down from Tauranga and brought a bigger one.
Earlier, before the September earthquake, Pegasus U3A was selling emergency wind-up torches. I kept it by my bed and it was there for the September quake. But it was stuck. I couldn’t wind it. So I finally jumped out of bed and ran barefoot down the hall to get a torch—not even thinking at the time about broken glass.
Everything came off the wall. All 74 pictures came down. Nedra lost all her spices. The garage is full of tools but a lot of them were secured. One shower door, plate glass, jumped out and ended up leaning against the wall unbroken. On Thursday we went to Akaroa and let the kids clean the house out.
I had a lot of stores in my storehouse—jams, tomato sauce, preserves. It was just such a mess that I couldn’t face it. They ended up just sweeping it up and hauling it off to the dump. The spices, recipe books and other stuff all went. You can’t blame them—I’d have done the same thing. One thing, though. My favourite recipe book is gone. The other day I wanted to make guacamole and realised I didn’t have the recipe anymore. It’s one I’ve used for twenty years.
I wasn’t scared. I was calm. I’m old and I take a lot of pills for blood pressure, various conditions and then also mind benders to stabilise what’s left of my mind. I’d had at least twelve pills that morning. The doctor, though, says I’m the most phlegmatic person he knows. And he’s known me for a long time. But in general, if I’m in a stressful situation I just sit down and nut it out.
I was in Dux de Lux having lunch with four or five others from Rolleston U3A. We’d finished and were ready to go when the earthquake struck. I don’t remember hearing noise but I do remember tables, chair, glasses and everything flying and falling. One lady was holding my arm so tightly it hurt. The staff started shouting, “Get out! Get out!” and everyone left. We walked out by the Art Centre and saw the damage, rubble still falling. There was concrete and fallen walls. We wondered about bodies.
Our cars were at the Rolleston car park so we walked there and went our separate ways. I drove across the Armagh Bridge into a traffic jam. When I got as far as Colombo St. my car stopped and wouldn’t go. The man behind me came up and very nicely said I should turn it off and start it again. I did but the car still wouldn’t go. And he said, again very nicely, “It would be helpful if you took your foot off the brake”.
It took me two hours to get home. I had to go over the hills. I’ll never get the picture out of my mind of when I came home. There were Johnny and Allen just sitting there looking a bit in shock, the window behind them blown out and everything fallen out, huge piles of stuff and breakage, and all the cabinet doors open.
Allen left here at 3:30 and didn’t get home until 8:30. Took him five hours to get to his house on Marshlands Road. I think he was close to a breakdown. His wife had to take him back here a few weeks later to get rid of his demons.
The house was well built. The builder thought it was over-specified. But it came through well.
I’m renaming myself Pollyanna—seeing something good in everything. In the past I often looked in the cabinet and thought about the china – my mother’s stuff and our Japanese collection. But now I don’t have to worry about what to do with it. It’s all gone.
As far as how life might have changed, I’m living more simply. I’m more aware of putting things up. I don’t trust putting good things up. The walls are still bare. It’s nature I’ve lost trust in, not people. I’ve become more philosophical—what will be, will be—but less relaxed, I think.
I just started knitting again. Writing. I’ve been prioritising a bit better. I’ve just gotten to the garden—there’s lots to do and some very large rocks that I don’t know how we’ll get back in place. In the garden I find I’m concentrating more on doing one thing at a time instead of going off to take care of anything that I see needs doing. I’m more focused.
Mt. Pleasant Oral History Series
Denise and Debra McCulloch
Interviewer: Susan Kornfeld
April 22, 2011-04-17
Denise and Debra McCulloch
Denise McCulloch formerly lived on Morten’s Lane
Mother and daughter
I interviewed Denise and her daughter at Denise’s new apartment. Denise is an artist and I was pleased to see lots of her work around the apartment. I’d interviewed her last fall for the Mount Pleasant Oral History project when she was still living in her home on Mortens Lane. After the February earthquake I drove up there to see how she had fared but the entire block was cordoned off. Her house looked extremely damaged and so I was quite worried about her. But no one I talked to knew what had become of her. A few weeks later I was delighted and relieved when she stopped by my house to see how I had fared. We arranged the following interview at that time, and Denise arranged for Debra to be there as well.
It happened at lunchtime. I always go for mail at half past twelve, so I’d walked up to the road. There were two letters and I had one in each hand. The ground shook so hard it threw me into the garden. I still had the letters in my hands but I grabbed onto a tree—which came out in my hand. When I got up off the ground I could see my house was gone. I knew it was over. The aerial had smashed down, the chimney had crumbled and everything looked broken. Next door fifteen-year-old Morgan was hysterical. She came to me and I put my arm around her and calmed her down. There was a young Maori man working there and I asked him to turn off my electricity. He did, and when he came back to us I asked him what the house was like. “You don’t want to know,” he said.
My husband and I had that house built in 1947 and he made sure it would stand up to an earthquake. He’d been through one, so made sure any concrete was reinforced and that everything was done right. In a way, I’m glad he didn’t live to see it today. But the garages are still standing and he built those. So my car was all right and luckily I had my car keys. There was a ladder fallen on the car, but the young man lifted it off. Morgan got her little dog and the two of us went to the school. I always knew it was a Civil Defence meeting point so that was a natural decision. I was very calm.
At the school they were very good to me. I saw my granddaughter Jo. She’d walked up the hill because the bridge was out. “Hope in,” I said, “and I’ll take you home.” She lives on Soleares Ave. So I took her home and she gave me a duvet and a pillow. I went back to the school and spent the night in the car. There three hundred people there that night.
Everyone was so shocked that they weren’t yet talking to each other. People were coming with torches all night. Children were running free, mostly having a good time.
Mom called me from someone’s cell phone to say she was all right. But a little later I got a text from school that said she’d gone. That was when she took Jo home, but we didn’t know that, didn’t know where she was. So the next morning my brother-in-law came and we went to the house to see if Mum was there. It was all buckled, no windows were left—they’d all imploded—and the conservatory where she liked to sit was completely buckled. If she’d been inside she would have been killed. We had to force the door open because of all the smashed things piled against it. Sixty-four years of things—it was all there on the floor. Getting through the house was like climbing a hill—up and down over mounds of broken glass and things. I was calling for Mum the whole time, wondering if maybe she was in the bedroom. But she wasn’t there. I stood in the house a moment looking around and then burst into tears. All the memories, there, all broken and damaged.
We made our way out and went to school. I found Mum and burst into tears again. Mum went to my sister’s place in Dunsandel. There was a lot of stuff broken in mine, plus there were a lot of aftershocks.
Two days later I drove here [the Stanmore apartment] and asked for an apartment: “Whatever you have, to rent or to buy.”
“Wait four hours,” they said, “and we’ll have one for you.” So here I am. It’s perfect. I’d been thinking about moving here—they have these independent apartments, then a rest home and then an intensive-care unit. But I’d thought it would be another couple of years before I came.
We went up to the house every day for Mum and picked up all there stuff: paintings, furniture, pictures, some plates. Quite often I’d go up there and just sit. But it had been deteriorating with the shocks. Last week I saw another wall came off. Now it’s too dangerous to even go in. We had to leave the big furniture—the cabinet ware with lined drawers, the Queen Anne bed. The baby grand piano. So many things.
Possessions are nothing. Love is everything. The memories. We had the best years in the world there. It was so private. The kids would bring friends home and they’d slide down the hill in tins in the snow. We had the land so we had chickens. We’d ring their necks and have them for dinner. We even fattened up a pig. All the firewood we got there and it was always stacked by the stairs.
We always had people there staying. Such lovely holidays.
I was at Christ’s College where I work when the earthquake hit. As we scrambled to the front big things were crumbling and falling. We’d just had $90,000 worth of Welsh tiles shipped over and installed. We ran outside and just saw the place crumble. Our handbags were handed out to us through the window. A half-bed truck trove by with a tarpaulin. We could see legs sticking out and knew that someone had died.
The noise really got to me. It was worse that a steam train going through. All the buildings there are heritage and the ceilings are very high. The chandeliers wee swinging higher and higher until they swung into the windows, breaking each other. Each chandelier had six lights and then there was the bang, bang, and crash, crash. Everything shook so much.
The most valuable things for me, though were my cell phone and the little radio the power company gave everyone after the September quake. Those were the most dear things because they were contact.
Perhaps the biggest lesson is the awareness that you can’t take things for granted. Power, water—everything—it’s not always going to be there. Anything can happen. It makes you appreciate what you have got. Make the most out of life.
Moving here was the most life-changing thing for me. I moved in three days after the quake. It’s wonderful. I have company, security, and I’ll never have to move again.
Mt. Pleasant Oral History Series
Interviewer: Susan Kornfeld
April 20, 2011
NOTE: Mrs. Fenwick called me for a brief phone conversation.
On Hilltop Lane, out of 16 homes only 3 are occupied. Our house was badly damaged and for 8 days we drove out to Prebbleton to stay every night, coming back to the house during the day. We decided after that to stay here even though half the house has leaks. It took three weeks to get power.
The school had a tent city and it was well organised. Two 80-year-old neighbours of ours went and stayed in tents because their homes were destroyed. There were male and female Portaloo areas. Somehow the school got 10 Portaloos right away—the first in Mt. Pleasant until recently. There was plenty of food that people had brought to the school. My husband was home at the time and two ladies came by saying that there was lots to eat if he wanted to come over. I think people just emptied out their freezers—the food was going to go bad, anyway.
There was a water tank truck parked near there. Someone who normally worked in the parks, maybe from City Care, was assigned to it. I think her name was Tanya. It was deadly boring for her and often hot, so neighbours made a point of stopping by to chat with her for a few minutes every time they walked by.
Mt. Pleasant Oral History Series
Interviewer: Susan Kornfeld
Mt. Pleasant Road
Mr. Ridge and his partner Rosemary Dahl live on a section of Mt. Pleasant Rd. that was hard hit by the 22 Feb. earthquake. Some neighbouring houses are red-stickered, the road is severely damaged from subsidence and cracking, and cars carefully negotiate around repair crews and obstacles. On the day I visited him, a crew was repairing the water main above his house.
Mr. Ridge welcomed me into his home and made coffee. A well-travelled man, he has had wide experience in both business development and publishing. He and Rosemary have lived in the house for two years.
Just before the earthquake a couple of neighbours and Rosemary decided to hold a neighbourhood party. We had it here where everyone could gather around the swimming pool and barbeque. We just chilled out. It was lovely. We exchanged emails and phone numbers and got together a few more times. The pool was a nice 26 degrees so people enjoyed that. Then the earthquake happened and that put a damper on it.
One of the things that originally attracted us to Mount Pleasant was the impression we’d gotten from the Residents Association that there was a good sense of community here. But when we made the move two years ago we didn’t find that true on the neighbourhood level. But it was developing and had developed over that summer. One thing that did come out of the earthquake was that although some people left, those that stayed have a strong bond. Some people have moved permanently, others temporarily. In this vicinity there is only about thirty percent occupancy now. Houses are red stickered, there are land stability issues. Some places may never be remediated.
From our deck you can see a lot of houses—over a hundred probably. I used the spotter to see when and where power came back one. On Sundays I took count of how many bins were put out and realised that only about thirty percent of people were left. That percent hasn’t changed much.
After the earthquake we stayed here a few days. It took us a couple of days just to clean things up. There wasn’t any water in the house so we used the swimming pool for cleaning water. Urban Search and Rescue teams came through going into properties. We met a couple of guys from Hurunui. These teams were the only contact we had with people. The first day, though, the 23rd, we had a barbeque to see how people were. It was somewhat solemn. Some were traumatised.
Rosemary’s daughter had organised a trip to Auckland for us, so on the following Saturday we went away for a few days and came back Wednesday. For the first two weeks after we got back we had a terrible sense of isolation. The people from the barbeque were gone, as were so many others.
When the earthquake struck I was at CPIT on the 5th floor of S Block. It’s mounted on rubber pads, so while it was shaking violently I didn’t feel in imminent danger. Books and monitors were coming down, and when I looked the window and saw a pall of dust rising over the city I knew it was serious. Everyone was milling around outside. I made my way to St. Asaph and Madras and looked up High Street. People were running in the middle of the street with masonry falling off the buildings.
I had my cell phone so phoned Rosemary, who was home. She’d been in our office. The bookcase collapsed and she managed to bury herself under the desk. It had been terrifying. I said I’d come home. Luckily I’d grabbed my keys and wallet, so got my car. I made it as far as Moorhouse, which was gridlocked. But National Radio was providing excellent coverage. Ferrymead Bridge was out, they said, so I decided to go up to Summit Road and get home that way. There were large boulders everywhere and only a few cars. Just above the gondola a huge landslip had blocked the road. There was a group of cars there and people just wandering about uncertainly. I decided to drive down Bridle Path. Two or three other cars followed me. There was a stream of people coming up the Bridal Path trying to get to Lyttelton. It was very striking to see. I heard later that several people on that route had been killed by boulders.
Eventually I got home. The pipes here had burst and Rosemary had been trying for several hours to staunch the flow. I walked in saw the amount of damage: the kitchen was covered with contents. Everything was broken. The place was totally thrashed. Everything was such a mess you could hardly walk into the office.
What sticks in my mind most happened about a day or so after the quake when I was going up the steps to the road. It was quiet but then I heard the sound of this big, large, lazy bumblebee gathering nectar from the fuchsias. The sheer normalcy of it! Amid the devastation the bumblebee was just doing its thing. That, and the silence. Not the sound of traffic, not even the sound of birds. That silence looking around. Everything sort of destroyed. In a way it had the feel of that post-apocalyptic Nevil Shute novel.
I’ve been going for walks around the neighbourhood. You see houses abandoned, their doors open and curtains flapping through the windows.
Things like this do define your life. We’ve put our plans on hold for a long time. It’s going to take five or eight or ten years to work through it. Perhaps shorter. But right now we’re looking toward immediate priorities—safety, flooding water, central heating. We have rental properties and five of eight tenants have left—either abandoned or renegotiated their leases. So there’s that and all the other concerns that must be dealt with on a daily basis.
Another thing is that an event like the quake changes your perception of life. Immediate priorities will change. Beyond that, you certainly can’t take anything for granted. Priorities and perceptions – like with Japan. It’s not in the paper anymore. It’s as if everything is okay there now. We’ve moved on. But that’s part of being human.
Mt. Pleasant Oral History Series
Sophie van Olst
Interviewer: Susan Kornfeld
Sophie van Olst
5th Year student, Mt. Pleasant School
Mt. Pleasant Road
Sophie is Kath Gray-van Olst’s daughter who was kind enough to speak to me after school at her house. Her mother was there and joined us from time to time along with Maverick, the family puppy. Sophie was in Mt. Pleasant School’s Room 10 when the earthquake struck, the only one that ‘lifted up’.
Sophie Gray-van Olst
One of my friends, Rebecca, was showing me a picture when the rocking started. At first I thought, “This is a big aftershock!”, but then I realised how big it was and that I’d better get out. I grabbed Rebecca and ran out of the classroom, jumped off the ramp and did the turtle. After we all did that, the teachers got us down to the big field. About an hour and a half later we got out beanbags, blankets, and pillows for us to feel more comfortable. My mum came and helped because she also helps at school other times. She gave me a cuddle and then went to help other kids. My dad and brother came later and then we all went home. We brought two tents back. Everyone brought food and drinks so the school had a big barbie tea.
A couple of weeks before, we’d had pretend sort of drills. They could happen any time. Teachers would call out “Earthquake!” and you had to get under your desk. But this was different. We had to run out of the building. The earthquake sounded different – very, very loud. I couldn’t hear the broken glass or all the books falling off the shelves. While I was in the turtle position I was thinking that this one was very big. I was peeking out, watching the ground move. There were waves in the ground. When everything quit shaking we went out in the field to wait for our parents. I was very lucky with my mum being at home. Some kids had to wait a long time. Some kids had been up in the fort and it was very scary up there they said.
I was huddling with kids in my class. Lots of them had grazed knees from dropping to the ground in a turtle. But it was really good how people got us to stop thinking about the earthquake and play games like soccer. The principal said to us, “Everything is okay. All your parents will be okay.”
But I had a feeling that my house would have collapsed. That worried me. And Dad and my brother were in town. I knew I was okay and my mother was okay. It was just them I was worried about. My dog was okay, too. He came with my mum. He was really, really good. He took my mind off the earthquake and he cuddled up with other kids, too.
There’s a really good view from our school and we could see fires in town. There was a lot of smoke and dust from fires and buildings that had collapsed.
There were some good parts. After people all had a good cry we needed to get a little normality. We were playing games and that felt good. Being scared and going through the earthquake made us all closer. It didn’t matter who it was, we just huddled together.
My dad finally came and then took us home. I took a couple of steps inside but then another aftershock came. I said, “I’m not going in the house,” and stayed outside. My dad gave me a blanket and then my brother came outside and sat with me. He’s thirteen and I don’t think he was as scared. He just kept me company. To me, the house was a danger zone and I didn’t want to be in it.
It felt really different when we went on a holiday. There weren’t any cracks in the road. This used to be such a smooth place here, a smooth road. Now there are a lot of bumps and cracks.
I do think about things more. When I’m on the track going up the hill I worry about earthquakes. I try not to go near glass now, especially during aftershocks. And what I most remember is seeing inside my house, how everything was piled out from the cupboards, everything broken, all the special things—the old things Mum and Dad had collected. Everything was all on the floor.
Afterwards my friends and I checked each other’s houses to see what happened and what was left. Some of them moved away, although one did come back today. I think, though, that if you were away during the earthquake you’d feel like you missed out. You’d miss being part of the stories and how if feels. It’s almost a special feeling. I wouldn’t want to have missed it.
My favourite thing after the earthquake was probably going round to each other’s houses and playing. There wasn’t school for a while so sometimes we’d have a sit outside and just think about how lucky we were that we weren’t hurt and our families weren’t hurt. And then we’d take our minds off it by playing with pets and stuff.
We went to Ashley Gorge to get away from all the rocking and cracks. We went with quite a few friends we hadn’t seen, so it was really cool to talk about it. My teacher from last year had lots of get-togethers at her house and it was really good to see people there that I hadn’t seen for a while.
What I really remember most are the waves in the ground and all the noises. It’s very unusual to hear all those noises. And I would tell other people that if you’re in a big earthquake like that you feel like you’re going to fall over. You’d think you could just run out of the building but it’s not that easy.
Mt. Pleasant Oral History Series
Kath Gray-van Olst
Interviewer: Susan Kornfeld
April 29, 2011
Kath Gray-van Olst
Mt. Pleasant Road
Kath welcomed me into her home the evening of April 29th. She and her husband have two children, a cat and a dog. Their house has significant damage but is safe to live in—although for some time after the quake the family spent nights in the camper van outside. Kath is active at Mt. Pleasant School, doing relief teaching, being in charge of an after-school programme and also serving on the Board of Trustees.
Kath Gray-van Olst
At the time of the earthquake I was working from home. I hadn’t yet had lunch when with no warning the earthquake struck violently. The house was shaking so hard I couldn’t believe it stayed up. The computer screen slammed face down on the table and I jumped to the nearest doorway, facing into our glass conservatory. The extreme shaking created a deafening noise as the windows around me imploded and exploded. Beyond the windows was a steep grass bank outside the conservatory. As I watched I saw what looked like waves—big land waves—coming towards me. I waited with the full expectation that the hill was going to come crashing through the conservatory and engulf me.
I couldn’t run behind me. Everything had fallen into the doorway and blocked that escape. When the shaking stopped I ran barefoot through the conservatory and over what seemed like miles of broken glass. Later when I checked, I saw I’d had no cuts at all! I ran across the decking and back into the house from another entrance to collect my puppy, who was petrified. I shut him in the car and, still barefoot, ran to the local primary school. On the way, I heard a neighbour’s dog crying. It’s a big husky and he had leapt over some trees, still attached to his chain, and gotten trapped in the midst of the bushes. I couldn’t leave him, so I freed him and put him back in his yard. As I continued towards the school a car passed me. The driver threw me a pair of jandals—men’s size but still very appreciated!—and I hitched the rest of the way to school.
When I got there I saw 350 children sitting huddled on the field where there was quite a bit of wailing. Teachers were trying to get them to calm down, bringing out blankets and getting them to hug each other. My daughter was there but I told her I had to go and comfort as many other little people as possible.
I realised this would be a long haul. It would take a lot of parents quite a while to get there. Then people from the surrounding area started arriving. Many were older, but others, too. Some brought tents over on their utes. Some of the elderly were quite vulnerable: some needed meds and didn’t have them, some were cold. Young mothers with babies arrived without food or nappies. We organised as best we could, and tents were being put up until 8:30. People were taking dogs home on broken chains.
In all of this the principal played a huge role. He asked people with special needs to gather in one place and then took a list of what their needs were. It included stuff like bedding, blankets, and nappies. Then he asked who had access to their houses and would be able to get the items. He basically married the problems up to the solutions available to people there. I went around with a clipboard and took a blanket count to make sure they were properly distributed. We got gym mats out and put them down as beds. Some people could have gone home but preferred to be around others, so they went back to empty their freezers, bring barbeques, and do whatever was needed.
I’d managed to send my husband a text. He’d been in his building downtown on Tuam Street and had had to run out while stuff was falling off walls and the ceiling. He managed to get his car. He was thinking that Mt. Pleasant would be okay, as it had in September, but he gradually realised how bad it was. Ferrymead Road was full of water and silt and cars nosedived in sinkholes. He went around through Heathcote and when he drove under the overpass on Martindale Road there was a derailed train hanging over it. He just kept going. He saw houses that had pancaked and got very, very concerned.
The atmosphere at school went up and down. Some parents hadn’t been able to get there until quite late so their kids were very worried. We were slowly getting the picture of the extent of earthquake damage from parents who had run all the way from town to get here. One man had stopped to pull people out of the crushed bus. Someone else was on Lichfield mall and had seen people who had been killed. A high school bus with kids from Linwood was just coming home when the earthquake struck and the kids saw the façade of the Ferrymead barbeque factory collapse. Some bridge workers stopped the bus as it was about to cross the bridge. There was a gap opened up on it, maybe a metre wide, so no one could drive over it. The bridge workers ran with the children and had them jump the gap. Otherwise they’d have had a hard time getting home.
The kids formed little groups of friends and went to check out each others’ houses. It didn’t take them long, though, to make their way to the tent city. They were scared. Then there was the big wait. It took many parents a long time to get to the school and we were all worried. One set of parents wasn’t there till 11:30. It was very frightening. But they all came. No one was lost.
My husband and I were helping put tents up. I run an after-school programme there, so I ran in and raided the programme snacks, got a table, and chopped up fruit. We had that plus bread and what people brought from their freezers.
One older lady with cerebral palsy came with a little dog. She couldn’t stop shaking no matter how many blankets we put on here. I know it wasn’t all from cold. Her daughter finally came and found her and took her away. One man was a cancer patient and had a cocktail of pills he needed but was afraid to get. Someone later came for him as well. The biggest problem was that people hadn’t had time to leave notes when they left their homes, so their families didn’t know where they were.
Meanwhile my puppy had been waiting in the car for a long time so I went to take him home. When I got back here there were people just walking up and down the street looking around at all the damage. The little boy next door had stayed home sick that day. He’d had to climb out the window. He had his dog with him, a medium size schnauzer. I said, “Get in the car and come to the school with me. Bring your dog.” There were several dogs there. My own dog was good therapy. I went around to distressed students and said, “My dog is scared, can you give him a pat?” He stopped a lot of kids crying.
A few weeks before the quake Bridget, who lives across the street, set up a potluck with another neighbour, Rosemary. A lot of neighbours came and this ended up making a lot of difference after the earthquake. You knew people by name and could interact with them.
Right after the quake, most people left. That made it quite hideous for us staying here. There’s so much darkness. You really felt quite isolated, abandoned by everyone. One day we heard a lot of shouting and saw a Search and Rescue team going up to a house with a stretcher. I felt terribly guilty at that as I’d gone up to gawk at the house and see if anyone was there. But I hadn’t shouted out or made my way in to make sure no one was in trouble in there. The rescue team didn’t find anyone, so it was all right.
There were a lot of helicopters and stress—it felt like a war zone. But there were lots of police and that was comforting on those nights alone.
The Portaloos didn’t arrive for two weeks and there wasn’t any water for 21 days. Some fifteen days after the quake a guy showed up with a hose and a screwdriver. He was a real McGuyver. He said, “Give me a half hour and I’ll have your water on.” He tapped into an abandoned house that did have water. He turned it off at night. All this time we hadn’t been able to clean so after he got us water we rushed around cleaning things like crazy.
We have a camper van and had kept it stocked, so we had plenty of pre-quake water. We stayed in the van at night—we felt more secure in there. No big roof, no big windows. Remember, our house had twenty-seven broken windows. One night I heard footsteps. I shook Mark and he got out the torch, looked around, and said, “That’s not footsteps.” The noise was rocks and boulders rolling down the hill. We stayed out there in the camper van for ten or twelve nights. There were four of us plus the cat and dog. But it threw the puppy and cat together and that has formed the basis of their relationship.
The thing I remember most was how the hill formed waves as I was watching it from the conservatory. They were rippling and it seemed like a big land wave was coming towards me.
As for the children, our 13-year-old was very upset when he saw the house with so many windows broken and then saw his room. And he was frustrated without power for his computer and with changing schools. Our 9-year-old girl has been sleeping in our room in her own bed. The windows are out in her room. She’s getting chest pains and that might be stress related. We’ll have to get her checked out.
Since the quake I’ve been more conscious of how much water we have in containers, whether or not the mobile phone batteries are charged, how much petrol we have. My husband and I wanted new furniture and carpet down. But it means nothing. Instead you find yourself asking, Are we going to stay here? The doubt creeps in and you try to push it away. It doesn’t take long for that fight or flight response to set in when we get the big aftershocks.
But I have to say we’re more resilient than before. You have to be. It was a threat to our survival. And then the prospects for jobs in Canterbury … And juggling getting kids to school with all that has to be done. I just can’t see any point in getting myself in a flap about it. You’re in a big queue with everyone else and you just wait for that next step forward to normality. People in this neighbourhood will be stronger—the people who come back. I think most of them will.
Mt. Pleasant Oral History Series
Interviewer: Susan Kornfeld
April 21, 2011
I was working at my office on Tuam, by Poplar Lane. downtown Christchurch, when the quake hit. I just held on the computer and watched the walls fall off a couple of buildings. I didn’t feel that scared as it was a one-story building. But outside, everyone was scrambling into the streets and running around. I thought about Mount Pleasant and wasn’t too worried as I figured it would be okay just as it had been in the September.
I texted and found out my wife and let my mother know we were okay, but couldn’t get through to the school. I went outside and there was still smoke and dust and people running everywhere, but my mind was on Mt. Pleasant. I’d already seen downtown in an earthquake -- had lost my last building around there—so it wasn’t that exciting this time. I headed out to school.
There was a surprising amount of damage on Ferry Road, and this was still in the downtown area. It kept getting worse and I ended up parked at Speights Ale House. I’d heard the Ferrymead Bridge was out and I didn’t know how I’d get across. I was imagining having to swim across, wondering what I would do with my iPhone. There were truckloads of people walking. One man had walked from the Convention Centre and was headed to Sumner. I texted his wife for him because he didn’t have a phone.
People were pretty much in a zone, just getting on with it, and we were chatting easily together. We were all in the same place. I walked up Cannon Hill Crescent to get to school. The kids were out on the field and everything was unbelievably organised. And since then, not one parent has had anything but praise for how the school handled everything. The earthquake drills had helped, but this was on a different level. People were coming from all directions, people whose houses had been destroyed. The kids were still having an adventure of it. Some people came with sleeping bags. They kept coming from mid afternoon till evening. I think we might have attracted so many people because we had a Sector Post sign, so people probably thought that we’d be set up for this sort of thing. We weren’t but everyone pitched in and were organised.
Civil Defence never answered, so we got nothing from them that day. The principal and some of us realised that this situation would be longer term than just that night so we started setting up groups of people. Scott, the principal, asked for those with special needs to form one group so we could assess what was needed. We made sign-up sheets to coordinate who was going where to get supplies. Small groups would go to their houses and pick up food, tents, supplies. We had to break in sometimes. There was lots of emotion going in to our homes. People saw all their broken stuff, their broken houses.
At my house we had tents, bags, and some polar fleeces. The tent could sleep thirty if you lined them up in bags. A few people used it for several days. Luckily our community has a lot of camping stuff—people up here enjoy it—so that has to be part of the perspective in thinking about the response. I think we had up to three hundred people the first night.
Some people brought barbeques over so we could cook. People just started manning stuff, cooking, taking inventory of who was where and with whom. Everyone who came logged their name, so we had a good list of who was there. Most kids’ parents arrived in a few hours. We wouldn’t let kids go with anyone but their parents. Some kids were being watched by people who knew them and we had that on the list, too. Eventually all the parents did come.
One of the first things we did was to dig a big hole for toilets. There were a few older people, though, and some with disabilities, who couldn’t squat, so we had to unlock our toilets for them. Some people came with tiny babies and we didn’t have proper food for them. Fortunately some people offered safe homes and these people wen off with them...amazing!
Everything worked smoothly and that’s a tribute to all the people. The principal was inspiring and the whole school community just went to work. A number of parents took over responsibilities for managing the food, who was there, who was in what tent, and if anyone needed anything. We ended up getting food from the Red Cross. I think someone went up to Belfast and got a bunch of it. The rest came from freezers. We were lucky that folks up there had stocked freezers, so there was plenty to eat.
Neighbours and other people on the hill came by and said folks could stay with them. There was one woman with a small baby and a woman with Alzheimer’s who went with someone. I’ll never forget the older couple that came with sleeping bags under their arms asking if we could look after them because their house was stuffed. Later that first night the police turned up and were surprised at all the people. The Army came eventually. At 1a.m. the second night the Portaloos arrived.
There were probably 300 hundred folks the first night. That was halved by the second night and then just dwindled down over five to six nights. Some of the tents ended up just sitting empty, so when a Nor’wester came up it was ripping some of them to shreds. We took them down. Still have some of them. Waiting for people to claim!
Since then the school has done a number of things to provide opportunities for people to meet and get information. People had gone all over New Zealand and we wanted a way to track down where people were. The school had a blog and we updated it a lot.
Mt. Pleasant School was listed as one of the six worst-hit schools and so we got a lot of help. But as it turned out the structural damage wasn’t so bad. We were able to re-open earlier than expected. Lots of dynamics were involved with that: parents needed to work, but might be fearful of leaving their kids—and kids not wanting their parents to leave. Some of these parents had really struggled to get home on the 22nd, so that was in their minds. If something happened, how would they get back?
The school is looking at social things now, like once a week going somewhere together. We might all go to Flames, Winnies, Speights or the Watershed or somewhere—help out a local business. The Community Centre is important, especially to the older generation, but the school is also important to rebuilding the community. Last Sunday we ran a picnic for the school. It was the first time back in the field since the tents. We had the Pizzacarto truck, a guitar teacher and his band, beer, coffee. There were loads of people and kids. The kids were happy playing ball and the parents were having beer or coffees. What struck me was how no one needed anything else. It was the relationships that mattered.
We’re having a meeting later today to coordinate various efforts and set up a big notice board at the school. We had been working on a four-year strategic plan for the school, but right now we’re just working on next week.
My family and I stayed in Heathcote Valley with my brother and extended family. There were thirteen of us, family and a couple of friends in one small house. There were eight children, cousins. My nine-year-old was the oldest. We stayed calm and so they were calm, too. We were in Morgan’s Valley and the nearby houses had boulders on them. You could hear the rumbling of rock fall at night. In the morning there would be a boulder big as a car out in the street.
Those first nights our eight-year-old, little Oscar, would sleep with us. He wanted to lay his head on my arm. After a while my arm would go to sleep, but if I tried to move it, he’d say, “Dad, arm.” There he was, to all intents and purposes asleep, but needing to know I was there, that he was protected. That’s the bottom line: what our kids need is security. And I realised that to a kid, security can be as simple as the nook of an arm and a shoulder.
Each morning we’d draw up the plans: who has what needs? Then we’d prioritise so that everything got done and there was someone to watch the kids. I’d head up to school now and again. There was a fair bit to do to get the school checked repaired and ready again. It was difficult to make the call as to when we were sufficiently set up and safe, especially with the pressure from some parents to re open early. This was not the time to mess with dangers and it was the time for families to support each other.
Eventually we did get open again and I started going from 8:30 to 10:30 making coffees for parents and staff. People asked if I was a barista but really I just saw aneed and had access to a coffee machine that could make up to 50 a day!
There weren’t any coffee shops open, so it became a gathering place. People would tell stories, re-unite, catch up on the news of who was where and what was going on. I’ve kept this going since the earthquake. I didn’t think it would be needed for long, but it turns out that people who went away and came back most need to connect. They’ve been out of the loop.
As for our house on Valencia Lane, we had engineers and the builder out to check it. We were in the process of a remodel so the builder wanted to be there. It checked out and we moved back in. We just got hot water last week. In the meantime we took showers at friends’ houses. There was lots of sharing like that. “The key’s under the mat,” they’d say. “Come on over.”
One thing I realised from all of this is that Mt. Pleasant isn’t the same as Red Cliffs or Sumner. They have a central recognisable town, but I discovered Mt. Pleasant is a down-to-earth place, much more of a community than I’d known. Gathering all the tents and camping stuff, organising the food—everyone pulling together. And Tom Davies’ market, seeing what he’s done for the people here and for the people who needed a place to sell. It’s galvanised a lot of people.
As for the future, I’ve downscaled. I was thinking of it, anyway, working from home doing graphic design, the t-shirts. But the whole earthquake event has given a lot of people a chance to re-think and take stock. Some people were thinking of moving and this put them in a position to just go ahead and do it.
It forced me to do what I was considering. My workers went, so it was an easier decision. Events like the earthquake help focus the mind.
And I feel a lot more positive about moving forward. What’s happened now actually may help us. I see exciting things happening here. We used to go to church in Ilam, for example, but now we go to Sumner because it is more a part of our community. I think the Mt. Pleasant community is genuine, more so after the quake. We’re more connected.
Some people are realizing that they don’t want to work so hard—maybe they want to do more at school. Sometimes you need something on huge scale to make fundamental changes to your hierarchy of priorities: kids, community, school, relationships.
Some parents had a number of t-shirts printed up for teachers to wear the first day back. They said “Shaken, not stirred.” Then we said the kids could wear the earthquake t-shirts on Tuesdays and Thursdays. These shirts are popular. We’re ordering 270 or so now. We make $9 per shirt and have made about $2000 so far. So it’s good for us, but more important, it focuses on the fact that we’re survivors. At the end of the day it’s about the value of how community is built.
And since this was first written the Munted Tee shirts have become one of the iconic identifiers of the quake, and again for me it is about meeting people sharing stories and encouraging us all to have a bit of a laugh as we move forward through these trying times.
Mt. Pleasant Oral History Series
Interviewer: Susan Kornfeld
Lincoln University Lecturer, Environment, Society and Design
Cannon Hill Crescent
Mr. Montgomery came to my home for the interview. He is a senior university lecturer, a volunteer firefighter, and a composer and guitarist of note.
I was in my office at Lincoln University when it happened. There was serious shaking and someone shouted, “It’s a 6!” People panicked but were hoping it wasn’t worse than the September quake. There wasn’t any cell service so we didn’t know where it was. But no one seemed hurt. We were mustered out to a central point to wait for a briefing. Then coverage returned and all the phones started working at once. You could see everyone’s reactions on their faces as they read. I had a text from my 15-year-old son, who was in Christchurch with friends because of a teacher strike, that just said “Heathcote 6.3”. So the quake suddenly went from a theoretical proposition to a real concern about family. My son was watching things fall all around him as he was texting.
Meanwhile, my partner and young children – a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old – were in Sumner at the supermarket there. They were just entering the store when the earthquake hit, and when things started falling off the shelves they quickly went back out to the parking lot. Someone said, “Look at that” and they looked up to see the cliff on the opposite side of the street going up, then coming down, and then the cliff face coming down. It actually went up. My kids still replay that in their minds.
I wondered what to do. I knew that traffic would be awful going out to Mt. Pleasant, so I decided to go to Riccarton to check on my mother. She was shaken, but okay. I got back in my car but by the time I got to Hagley Avenue I realised it would be three or four hours to either drive or walk across town. Traffic was packed and the roads were full of obstacles. Ferrymead Bridge was down. There was gridlock, essentially. So I gave up heading that way. I’m a volunteer fire fighter so I hurried to Civil Defence headquarters where a senior officer said to run to the Kilmore fire station. I had a breezy trot through the central city—still spitting dust and smoke.
At the station I said, “Put me on a truck,” and they did. It was a truck that had just arrived from Hanmer. It was about 4 pm by then. We did some little jobs within the four avenues for about half an hour, then were told to go to 333 Cambridge Terrace—which I soon discovered was the Pyne Gould building. We were there for about eight hours, back-up for the main crew. The building was wrecked completely. We were going in and out helping people get free. Crews were drilling through walls to extract some of them. I assisted with that and with helping people to the ambulance tent.
It looked like some abstract piece of sculpture. Floors had collapsed and compressed and were tilted sideways. There were bodies. But there was no fire and the slight rain dampened down any dust. We found people wedged in, trapped in cavities. Some had been thrown into a safe place by the earthquake itself. They were lucky. It was hard to know where we were going. There was no floor plan and everything was out of place anyway. So no one could direct us to a building location. There was a combination of professionals, volunteers, and contractors who were passing by and had useful equipment: drills, saws, props, lighting. It wasn’t chaotic, though. Efforts were well organised by Fire Service and then by Search and Rescue. The people we rescued were relatively composed, although one or two did lose it when they came out and saw what they’d come out of. But I think the rescue process took long enough that people realized where they were and that help was there.
After seven or eight hours the commander told the volunteer crew to go home. By then, traffic was reduced. So I got a lift to my car—by now it was about midnight—and drove to Sumner, stopping by our house in Mt. Pleasant first. Everything there was tipped out. It was difficult to work out if the house was damaged. It’s a pole house and did well in September, although it was scary being inside the way it swayed. So I grabbed stuff and then went to join the rest of my family in Sumner. They’d decided to camp out in the station wagon in front of a friend’s house. It was about 1a.m. when I finally got there. My son was staying with friends in Heathcote until he could get back to Lyttelton with his mother.
As for the kids, it’s hard to tell about what effect the earthquake had on them. Was it bad or just vivid? Some research suggests that with the young ones, it’s just vivid memories, even if scary. It is certainly imprinted on their minds, especially the 3-year-old who doesn’t hesitate to tell all about it. My 15-year-old son has suffered from not having school. For him it’s probably not knowing what to do. There’s no parks for sports. You have to make your own fun. I think it is generally hard for teenagers. They’re caught between being taken care of and being expected to act as adults. There have been mixed messages on school openings: he goes to Linwood and the first notice of the school opening was wrong, so all that confusion hasn’t helped.
My partner’s brother called from Auckland and offered his house. So my partner and the kids went to the airport and took advantage of the $50 stand-by arrangement they had going on then. I stayed behind because of my elderly mother and to help out at the Lyttelton fire brigade. There was quite a bit of work: dangerous walls, burst water main; we had to retrieve a fatality. There were two on the tracks and we retrieved one body. I stayed either at my mother’s or at the fire station. On March 9, when the power finally came back on, we all moved back home. We got water the next day, but only got phone two weeks ago (April 7).
Some of the scenes in Pyne Gould I don’t want to describe. They’re too vivid. But I was trained in this sort of work and was expecting it. So it wasn’t quite as much a shock as it would have been if I’d been an untrained volunteer. It’s a reminder of how to think about things. You see firsthand how bad things could be and it puts things in perspective.
Another thing I remember is the way the Lyttelton community responded. It was reassuring. They’d learned a lesson from the September 4th quake and the response, a combination of Civil Defence, the fire chief, and the Project Port Lyttelton people, was reassuring. It was a lucky break that we also had the Navy and Army in Port. That plus the Urologists and engineers in town for conferences. We couldn’t have made it without them.
I’ve been conditioned to deal with things that have gone wrong. It’s not life changing vis a vis trauma. No epiphanies. It may be a gender thing. If it isn’t broken we just go on. My partner and children are still catching up after being away. Their stay in Auckland was a good breathing space but it’s made the return harder. I’ve come to take the damage for granted but they keep seeing it and wondering if it’s worse.
I wonder what is all this doing to my sense of place. That’s my question going forward. In a larger sense, I think the earthquake has provided us a chance to re-connect with previous generations—making do, enjoying the little rewards of life versus the shift we’ve had towards the consumer stuff. The vivid memories of our parents and grandparents now have increased relevance. Their experiences as settlers, World War II had been receding in the distance but now it’s coming right back. I reminded my mother who was going to bits on the cellphone when I first called her, “Come on! You’ve been through the bloody Blitz!”
Ultimately we need to have perspective. This is not a human thing: not war, not wilful destruction. It’s a normal disaster. We’re part of the cycles of history.
Mt. Pleasant Oral History Series
Interviewer: Susan Kornfeld
May 1, 2011
Tom Davies provided the following story via email on May 1st, 2011. Mr. Davies is the Lyttelton Farmers Market organizer. This market is part of Project Lyttelton and has been running since 2005.
Mount Pleasant Farmers Market
After the 22/2 quake I was puzzling over what I could do to help. Several charites were overwhelmed with offers of help and i wasn’t much use to them.
I was talking to a farmer friend about the dreadful situation we faced here in Mount Pleasant, with no shops or supplies. This was compounded by the police and civil defence asking us not to drive if possible and yet the nearest place for food and provisions was Pack and Save on Moorehouse. It seemed that a sensible idea would be to bring the food to our community. Cam Booker a market gardener from Sefton and I had a chat and we set about creating a farmers market in this area.
On Wed 2nd March at 11am I got the go ahead from Linda Rutland to use the Mount Pleasant Community Centre Car Park as a market. At that point my phone became red hot. Angela Clifford a wine producer from Waipara used her extensive contacts with Farmers Markets NZ and the media to publicise the event. Cam persuaded some market colleagues he knew to join the venture and I phoned local businesses who I thought might like to help or have a stall at the market.
>From the moment we agreed to attempt to create a market my days were spent making contacts, trying to publicise the event and trying to get the necesarry permissions. Community groups in Sumner and Redcliffs gave their support and publicised the event. Facebook was extensively used to make contacts and ensure locals knew about the event. Radio stations including Radio NZ and Newstalk ZB and the Breeze all interviewed me and put out stories. TV one and The Press made contact and Rise Up Christchurch carried stories.
Both Civil Defence and The Police at first did not know what to say about the event but in the end after they heard the story they both gave consent. The Community Police turned up and gave us their full support. (And did some shopping)
It appeared that we would have about 15 stalls including bread, fruit and veg, meat.
With the help of some Linwood college students and some extremely generous neighbours we cleared much of the liquifaction from the site on the friday afternoon. Barbara who lives opposite the car park was so helpful and she arranged for some 20,000 litres of clean drinkable water to be delivered from Darfield. Cam Bookers family in Motueka donated thousands of apples, The Farmers Market in Hamilton paid for coffee for all, and She Chocolate offered heaps of hot chocolate for our residents.
At 8am I turned up at the site on a glorious hot sunny day to be met by some traders. By about 9.45 we had set up a market and we barely had time to take breath when the customers started streaming to the site. They came in their thousands. The sight of people standing around chatting was amazing. One woman and her children had not left home for 12 days. I stood back and watched with pride as people chattered, I marvelled as their hands told many a story of damage and survival, as the community came out to share food and comradeship.
There seemed to be press everywhere from TV One, Sky TV, Japanese TV and Korean TV and numerous newspapers. We were entertained by the barbershop boys from Linwood College who were raising funds for the Linwood College Orchestra Tour to Europe. Claudia and Amy also from Linwood College did a sausage sizzle for the trip and suddenly Brett McGregor Masterchef Celebrity and Jonny Schwass Celebrity Chef turned up and started helping the girls. Ruth Dyson came and showed her support and also bought some food. Blesssed with sun and a touch of good luck it was an amazing first market. Everybody enjoyed the day, traders and public.
At about midday the wind got up and we experienced a swirling sand storm of fine liquifaction bringing a slightly early end to a successful day. Spontaneously people thanked me, shook my hand, even hugged me and asked for more.
I was touched by the traders who also had many a story. I realised that I was not just providing food for our community but I was providing employment and an outlet for the traders. Rick and Deb had lost most of their lettuce growing greenhouses and 85% of their business and Alex had lost his job and supplement his income by selling bread for a friend,
In less than an hour both bread stalls had sold out and there was little fruit and veg left. There was long good humoured queues for the coffee as people used the event to socialise and share. People left laden with food and apples and the Farmers Market was a huge success. Over $500 was raised for Linwood College. Soberingly me and the Barbershop Boys left promptly at 1pm to go to the sad funeral of a Linwood college student Jayden Andrews-Howland..
That night we were the headline story on TV One. Due to popular demand the market has become permanent. We still face difficulties with roads and sewers but we now have a community focus and hub that has given us our unique identity and given us a public face of resilience despite the adversity.