Remembering the Wahine Disaster – 10 April 1968

The Wahine Disaster took place fifty years ago. Today we reflect on the loss of fifty one people on the 10th of April 1968. This tragedy resonates strongly down the decades.

Policeman Ray Ruane holding a young survivor of the Wahine shipwreck. Further negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1968/1574/26a-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The Wahine Disaster played out across the nation’s television in grainy black and white, and the newsroom brought the story to our living rooms.  The ferry’s proximity to shore where people watched helplessly certainly added to our sense of powerlessness in the face of tragedy.

You can watch some of the original footage on NZ On Screen.

NZBC Classics - Wahine Disaster

Wahine at Lyttelton, 1965
The Wahine used as a backdrop for a shot on the Port at Lyttelton, circa 1965. Kete Christchurch 1965_g_-_Wahine.jpg

The storm affected many parts of the country including Canterbury. It tore of the roofs of houses on Canon Hill and forced many homes in Sumner to be evacuated.

I recall my parents pointing to the wreckage, which was still visible for many years, as we neared Wellington on our ferry voyage. Each time there is a rough ferry crossing, the fate of the Wahine ferry is remembered and our thoughts are once again with those who died and with the survivors of that ill-fated voyage.

Find out more:

Articles on the 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster

Podcast – Cultural and Linguistic Minorities in Disaster Risk Reduction

Speak Up Kōrerotia logoChristchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.

In this episode Sally talks with Sharon O’Brien and Federico Federici of INTERACT (International Network on Crisis Translation) and J. C. Gaillard and Jay Marlowe (University of Auckland) on the issues, challenges and strategies around communicating important information to diverse communities during times of disaster. Talking points include –

  • Interpreting vs translating
  • Importance of translation and interpreting as means of inclusion – first language use and access to information as human rights
  • Risks to crisis translators / interpreters
  • Importance of disseminating info to everyone before, during and following disasters
  • Importance of building relationships before disasters occur
  • Canterbury earthquakes
  • Vulnerability and strength of minorities – what they can bring to disaster prep
  • Importance of allowing minorities to formulate their own policies – not just “participate” in outsider-produced policy

Transcript – Cultural and Linguistic Minorities in Disaster Risk Reduction

Cover of Best Practice Guidelines Engaging With Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Communities in Times of Disaster : Final Report Cover of Preparing for Emergencies  Cover of Community disaster recovery and resiliency Cover of The New Zealand guide: Prepare for Disasters : How to Prepare for A Disaster + What to Do When It Happens  Cover of The Social Roots of Risk Producing Disasters, Promoting Resilience Cover of Building Resilience Social Capital in Post-disaster Recovery Cover of Library as safe haven

Find out more in our collection

More about Speak up – Kōrerotia

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18 November 1947 – The Ballantyne’s Department Store fire

18 November 2015 marks the 68th anniversary of New Zealand’s most deadly fire – The Ballantynes’ Department Store fire –  it’s a date permanently etched in the collective New Zealand psyche.

Ballantynes Fire 1947
Firemen battling the blaze. CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0037

On the afternoon of Tuesday 18 November, 1947, Ballantynes Department Store was full of shoppers – Show Week had taken place the previous week and the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten was due in two days. It was a fine day and the city was buzzing.

Then, at 3:31pm, disaster struck. One of the store’s salesmen was told by a woman employee that smoke was coming up from the basement. He told her to call the fire brigade and inform the owners, but it wasn’t until a quarter-hour later that the Fire Brigade received the call-out.

Most of the store’s 250 customers and retail staff on the ground floor were evacuated from the building, but since it was thought that it was just a cellar fire, staff on the first floor – who had just returned to work after their tea break – were not informed. However, within minutes the building was ablaze, the centre of the store exploded in flames.

200 fire fighters, police and volunteers using 20 appliances fought the fire that day. A large crowd looked on in horror as Dunstable House, which was made up of seven buildings linked together and built of match lining, pinex and bone dry timber, burned to the ground. 41 staff members, trapped by flames and smoke, lost their lives. A memorial was built at the Ruru Lawn Cemetery in honour of them.

See also

Funeral for the victims of the Ballantyne's fire
Funeral for the victims of the Ballantyne’s Department Store fire, Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Christchurch. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-7171-88. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Trucks with wreaths in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, during the funeral service for victims of the Ballantyne's Department Store fire,. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-7171-90. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Trucks with wreaths in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, during the funeral service for victims of the Ballantyne’s Department Store fire,. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-7171-90. Alexander Turnbull Library,  Wellington, New Zealand.

From disasters to sex: Cool stuff from the selectors

Cover of The year it all fell down2011 was a big year for Christchurch, and we can be forgiven for being unaware of what was happening in the rest of the word.  Thankfully Bob Ellis in The Year it All Fell Down can help our collective memories.

From the Arab Spring to the London riots and Occupy Wall Street; from the Christchurch earthquake and the Fukushima meltdown to the possible discovery of the Higgs-Boson ‘God’ particle; from the shooting of US Senator Gabby Giffords to her vote on the bill that saved America’s economy; from Assange fighting extradition to the Murdoch empire on trial; from the last hours of Kim Jong-il and Vaclav Havel to the Breivik massacre in Norway and the executions of Gaddafi and bin Laden – the year 2011 was portentously charged. The shockwaves from these events – and more – continue to reverberate through the corridors of power and even the foundations of the planet.

If you are wondering about the origin of your surname David McKie’s What’s in a Surname?: From Abercrombie to Zwicker is full of quirky but useful information.  I always thought surnames were connected to occupation, but according to the author I could well be wrong.

Occupational names are full of hazards: ” … Farmer? That sounds easy enough. A man who owns or runs a farm. But farmer used also to mean tax collector”.

Cover of Kawaii!Kawaii! Japan’s Culture of Cute by Manami Okazaki is a colourful examination of how Kawaii culture began, and how it is now inside homes, on lunchboxes, airplanes, in haute-couture, street fashion, and in cafes, museums, and hotels.

Cover of Five days at MemorialFive Days At Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink has created quite a stir in the United States. The five days after Hurricane Katrina hit created total chaos. The hospital was plunged into darkness, became cut off from the outside world and most of the machines keeping seriously ill people alive failed.

Post disaster, one doctor and two nurses were charged with second degree murder for administering lethal doses of morphine to patients after completing triage  (the allocation of scarce medical resources) and making life and death decisions about whether to evacuate the able-bodied, who had a better chance of survival, or the more severely ill. How these decisions were made during utter chaos and the unfolding legal case makes for riveting reading

The Art of Sleeping Alone: Why One French Woman Suddenly Gave up Sex.  French women have perfect children, don’t get fat, have no need for facelifts, and apparently one of them (at least) has given up on sex.

Complaining that she has had enough of being “taken and shaken” the well-known writer, stylish, sexy and 49, is no longer ashamed to say she wants to get off the sexual merry-go-round.

Fiction in the shadow of history

On Canaan's SideLife: An unexploded diagramSalvage the Bones

Before I came to the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, I wrote that there was a theme of shadows running through my selections. It seemed fitting I should be the one to attend a session called “In the shadow of history”.

This session brought together three writers who’ve written fictional works about real, significant, historical events. These authors, their books and the events in question are:

Given the significant historical events that have happened in dear old Christchurch, I was interested to hear how these authors used the stuff of fact to create fiction. How does a writer create art out of the shadow of history?

Mal Peet is interested in how historical events shape human identity. He says, in his dry laconic way, that there are ‘floating particles of history in the air all the time’ and he’s fascinated with the concept that there are three molecules of Julius Caesar in everyone alive today. Life: An Unexploded Diagram plays with the notion that if we could explode people, break them down to their atoms, we could see the historical and biological patterns that make them up.

In Life, the characters are aware of the Cuban missile crisis but they live in their personalised present and do little about it. It’s a story about “bluff, double bluff and bumbling” where no one seems to realise they’re taking part in history until after the event. Then, there’s an epiphany and the author explores how  events change lives.

Sebastian Barry spoke in general terms about his novel On Canaan’s Side. He observes that Irish literature never seems to go to war. It’s much more concerned with portraying marginalised people.

There was no conscription in Southern Ireland during World War 1 but 200,000 soldiers went to war and 50,000 died. The soldiers were all volunteers. When the survivors came home in 1916, they didn’t get a hero’s welcome. They were forgotten because the war didn’t fit the national story. These men were damaged by the horrors they’d seen, and the shadow of their experiences haunted them and the lives of those who loved them. His book follows the story of Lilly Bere who is forced to flee Ireland after the war as she tries to make sense of the sorrows of her life.

Jesmyn Ward bases her novel Salvage the Bones on her own experience of  living through catastophic Hurricane Katrina which destoyed large areas of New Orleans in August 2005. She became angry about the unjustness of the commentary in the media. She gives the example of a newspaper photograph showing a white couple going through a rubbish skip accompanied by the caption ‘foraging for food’ whereas a black man doing the same thing was accused of looting. She wrote her novel to “offer people a fuller experience of what it was like for the people that lived through it.” Sebastian Barry made the observation that the storm of racism that followed Hurricane Katrina was even more heartbreaking than the terrifying natural storm.

Jesmyn Ward didn’t start to write her novel until two and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, Mal Peet writes of events that occurred in the early 1960s and Sebastian Barry looks back in time to WW1. It may be too early yet to see how the Christchurch earthquakes will impact upon the New Zealand literature, but the fact is that significant events shape our identities and out of the shadow of history comes art.

Doomy Gloomy Non-fiction

My colleague teases me about my liking for books about disasters, terrorism, wars and various other horrors. But the National Book Critics Circle Award feeds my habit … The National Book Critics Circle consists of nearly 700 active book reviewers, and their annual literary prizes have some brilliant non-fiction of a doomy nature.

Heart like waterThis year’s finalists have just been announced and they include:

Winners in past years have included the following essentials if you like your non-fiction emotionally weighty: