I have travelled to Christchurch, the city I was raised in, several times since the devastating and tragic earthquake of Feb 2011. Each time I have been astounded by the destruction and the erasing of so many areas and structures that I knew. The feeling of loss lingers every time I'm confronted with it on return visits.
In the heart of the city lies the remains of the shattered ChristChurch Cathedral. The cathedral built between 1864-1904 was envisioned from the early planning of Christchurch. It's quite surreal looking up and seeing loose building materials swaying in the wind blowing through the wreckage of the nave of what was once a city centrepiece. I well recall the tolling of the bells and climbing the internal staircase of the spire to views of the inner city and always tourists milling around the entrance.
I grew up in the eastern suburbs. New Brighton Mall was an almost mandatory Saturday outing. As a kid I recall we went there as a family most Saturday's always keeping an eye out for a goat tethered on the verge of New Brighton Road. It was vibrant and buzzing through the 1970's until the advent of nationwide Saturday trading in 1980.
From that moment it started to bleed and nothing could arrest it's demise. What a dreadful cold empty place it is now especially in winter. Closed empty shopping and commercial premises and the streets devoid of people save for the couple getting happy smoking a joint in their car on the foreshore. The extent of 'the rot' crosses the road to the dirty empty rubbish strewn foreshore playground. Even the beachside library is closed and the books all under plastic wrap. Its tragic that a seaside location like this (albeit often battered by that legendary cold easterly wind) has been left unloved.
A real asset to the New Brighton foreshore is the 300 metre long New Brighton Pier, the longest pier in Australasia. Completed in 1997 it will close later this year for earthquake damage repair and reopen in 2018. A few more attractions such as long talked about hot salt water pools and a revived retail scene could see this neglected part of the city regain some of its former glory.
Whenever I return to Christchurch I feel a great sense of loss and loss of belonging. I spent some 40 years there and the entire suburb I was raised in has gone and been replaced by a wilderness vista. Much of the eastern side of the city looks pretty forlorn. In the central city much heritage has gone and for the time being large chunks of now cleared land are given over to parking lots. Where there is new development and rebuilding there are some very attractive designs and 'the new' Christchurch of the future is set to in decades ahead become a very attractive city again.
There is one constant that defines Christchurch and that is its claim to be a garden city. There is arguably no better time to be in the city than in Spring. While a little early, even in August a walk through the botanical gardens daffodil lawns is a refreshing and relaxing experience.
The most recent trips to Christchurch were centred around my ailing father-in-law who sadly passed away on 13 August 2016 just a few months short of his 90th birthday. Rest in peace John and thank you for giving me my treasure Margie.