“We’ve all been through a lot” Chessie and Chris Henry: WORD Christchurch

I doubt there are many literary – or related – events where you have the author, one of their subjects and an audience made up of people who have been through many of the events described, to a greater or lesser extent, in the place where one of the events took place.

Cover of We can make a lifeThis was the setting for ‘Earthquakes and Family Ties’, a discussion about Chessie Henry’s new book We can make a life, which was also officially launched on Thursday night. Bronwyn Hayward was hosting and Chessie’s dad, Chris, was also part of a fascinating and moving conversation.

This was they first time that Chessie and Chris had talked about the book in public, [pause while I take a call from someone requesting this very book] a memoir of their family, their relationships, brushes with disasters, and a reflection on grief and loss in its many forms.

Chris is a GP and worked in Lyttelton a few years back before taking his family to Tokelau. Unfortunately Chessie and her brothers caught dengue fever and were very seriously ill – and Chris was pretty much the only doctor. Serious at the time, they now laugh about the experience, a powerful shared family memory.

The nucleus of the book is a conversation between Chessie and Chris that took place when they were driving down from Kaikōura in early 2017, where Chris is now based. In it Chris finally tells his story of the work he did as an early responder at the CTV building on 22nd February 2011, working to rescue those trapped. You can read an extract in The Spinoff, but tread carefully as it is a powerful story.

There are so many stories of that time, many that are still being uncovered and shared. It is so important to record these events, not just as history, but – as Chris says – as a practical response to disasters. We learned so many lessons and it’s crucial to record and share them.

Chris received a bravery award for his work at the CTV site. Yet doing so was confusing for him – he was glad to have this this difficult experience acknowledged, but he didn’t like being singled out and felt some kind of impostor syndrome. This huge event had, not surprisingly, a big effect on him. The conversation with Chessie forced him to open up and was like a dam bursting. Chris wasn’t okay. He was burnt out. But by acknowledging that and admitting vulnerability he was able to work through things.

I could easily write a lot more – about lost homes and Kaikōura, about advocating for rural GPs, and about the CTV families who spoke afterwards – reminding us that no one has been held responsible for the disaster. This was an incredible session. Kia ora Chessie, Chris and Bronwyn.

Chessie was interviewed on Radio New Zealand if you want to hear more.

Phone numbers to call for help:

Canterbury Support: 0800-777-846

General help: 1737

Find out more

Pets and fireworks don’t mix

22382403_10213144851508211_6562001469831516731_oFireworks went on sale recently and even though Guy Fawke’s night is over people are still setting them off each night. Most pet owners dread this time of year. Our wee darlings and big tough pets alike crumble into anxious dribblers.

My ditzy fluff-ball Zac (pictured with his favourite toy pig) whimpers and tries to hide behind my legs. I heard swaddling them helps them feel safe. I tried a tight-fitting jersey which seems to work a treat during fireworks, thunderstorms, earthquakes etc.

Find out more:

Christchurch – Our underground story

Christchurch: Our underground story is a “lift-the-flaps” picture book with a difference. It has the sturdy thick board pages and colourful illustrations you’d expect to find in other books of this kind but the topic is a bit less straightforward than teaching simple colours or counting.

It’s about infrastructure, which is not a particularly thrilling word to most kids (or adults). But the ongoing maintenance and repair of quake-damaged infrastructure has a daily impact on Cantabrians, so thrilling or not, it’s probably something we should all pay a bit of attention to.

This is one of the reasons for the book as it attempts to open our eyes to exactly what all those coned-off holes in the ground, detours and diggers are in aid of.

It’s a challenging topic but SCIRT Civil Structural Engineer Phil Wilkins and Chemical Engineer/illustrator Martin Coates have brought their considerable experience to bear in producing a really unique and distinctly Cantabrian book.

Cover of Christchurch: Our underground story

Christchurch: Our underground story is sort of a “How Stuff Works” for infrastructure, filled as it is with diagrammatic drawings of how this pipe connects to that one connects to the next one, and the methods by which they’re maintained and repaired. By lifting the flaps you can see the processes and equipment underneath, and it’s all accompanied by explanations of what things are called and what their purpose is. It’s the kind of book that invites inquisitive kids to spend a lot of time absorbed on each page… and it’s pretty educational for adults too.

Christchurch: Our underground story spread
A look inside Christchurch: Our underground story by Phil Wilkins and Martin Coates

The illustrations make it clear that this book is about Christchurch with local landmarks and little touches like flowers poking out of road cones that place it very much in the Garden City.

Proceeds from the sale of the book go to Ronald McDonald House which provides accommodation for families who, because they have a sick child in hospital, have to travel from out of town.

The book can be ordered now with purchased copies able to be picked up at a book launch event at the Margaret Mahy Family Playground on Saturday 25 February. You can also place a hold on a library copy.

Further reading

Ten quotes from The Villa at the edge of the empire: One hundred ways to read a city

Cover of The Villa at the Edge of the empireNew Zealand’s most important book in 2014 was Dirty Politics by Nicky Hager. This year it is The villa at the edge of the empire: One hundred ways to read a city by Fiona Farrell.

I thought about how to express its power – it’s about Christchurch, but is bigger than that. It contains deep wisdom and a powerful historical sense. It is about the world. So I’ve decided to sample Fiona’s words – here are ten quotes.

1: This city took time to assemble. (p.55)

2: An earthquake is not simply a geological event. It occurs within a specific social and political context. (p.73)

3: For a second, as the entire city is flung into the air, there is unison. Then we fall back to earth and the map smashes into a hundred tiny pieces. (p.88)

4: In this city, it is easy to feel lost. (p. 103)

5: In the meantime, through the cracks, other kinds of art have emerged. The art gallery has been closed, but artists have covered walls newly exposed by demolition with imagery and colour. (p.129)

6: The personal is political. (p.158)

7: Forgiveness and retribution are a theme in L’Aquila, as they are in Christchurch. (p.224)

8: We are ‘stoical’. We are ‘strong’ and ‘southern’. To complain is to be a ‘carper’ or a ‘moaner’. It is a sign of weakness. Viewed from another city in another country, however, this resilience can also be seen as a weird suppressed passivity. (p.237)

9: I take a kind of deep comfort in reading thoughts prompted by an earthquake 2000 years ago and thousands of kilometres away. I like the vision of the world as a squirming thing filled with breath, not so far from the Polynesian vision of the great woman lying on her back with us all, naked as newborn kits, upon her belly. (p.248)

10: I’ve come to love this city … now it seems fragile, vulnerable and precious in that vulnerability, as do other cities in this country no matter how cocky they may have tried to be … (p343)

More Fiona Farrell

Poetry in Bloom

Poetica and Bloom Poetry CompetitionIf you’re a budding young poet, you might be in with a chance to see a piece of your work gracing a wall at Canterbury Museum.

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Canterbury earthquakes, Poetica is inviting children from Year 4 to Year 8 to enter a poem in the Bloom poetry competition.

Bloom is a collaboration between Poetica and The River of Flowers project, supported by Canterbury Museum. A mural will be designed that is inspired by and features the winning poem in an exhibition at Canterbury Museum. This temporary exhibition, accompanied by visual poetry and activities, will commemorate the Canterbury earthquakes through floral and poetry tributes by the people of Canterbury. The exhibition will open to the public
in February 2016.
Eligibility: Canterbury students from Year 4 to Year 8. Students who are immediate family members of Poetica, River of Flowers and Canterbury Museum staff, or judging panel members are not eligible.
Topic: Who or what gave you the strength to carry on after the earthquakes?
Example subjects: Your pet, your teacher, your grandmother, your best friend, your idol, a football, a song, a poem, a joke, your imagination, a smile, a hug, a walk on the beach, it could be anything or anyone. Surprise us!

The poem must be original and written by the student and must be no longer than eight lines or 40 words. The poem must be in the English language.

Send your poem to: info@poetica.co.nz
Please include your name, age, year and name of school.

The public will choose the winning poem from the shortlist by voting on the Poetica Facebook site. The poem that is ‘liked’ the most will be the winner and will be included in the Bloom exhibition at Canterbury Museum.

The winner will be announced on the Poetica Facebook page at 5.00 pm on 9 November* 2015, and the poem will be revealed on the wall at Canterbury Museum on 22 February 2016.
As the poem in Bloom will be temporary, Sound Sky gives the opportunity for the poem to be enjoyed for generations by recording the poem onto the Sound Sky app.

*The closing date of this competition has been updated.

Raging at road cones

When a letter from SCIRT arrived in our mailbox earlier in the year, detailing the works to be done to the underground pipes on our street and those on surrounding roads, it was greeted with pleasure. The prospect of being able to ‘flush without fear’ after days (or even merely hours) of rain looked to be close at hand with the remediation of the nearby earthquake damaged storm-water and sewer pipes.

The ever-present symbols of... progress?
The ever-present symbols of… progress?
Photo by F. Allison.

The road cones, signs, trucks and workmen arrived, did their job and departed. Or at least 3 out of the 4 of the traffic management crowd did. The little orange cones stuck around. Some of their whānau disappear for a bit, but still visit regularly for a party in the middle of our street or the neighbouring ones, for no apparent purpose.

Some days it seems my travel to and from work is book-ended by roadworks and the cones, and they appear on every second road in between. When I find myself faced with yet another un-notified unexpected detour, down a street going in completely the opposite direction to which I need to head (and of course I have allowed no time for in the morning rush of school and preschool drop offs), part of me thinks ‘suck it up, princess, the east side of town has been dealing with this for YEARS not just months!’ and yet I often still have the urge to scream and swear. I manage to resist, if the children are in the car. Usually.

Cover of JamI suppose I should be grateful I’m not in the traffic jam on the M25 in England, as depicted in the novel Jam. Or perhaps I should borrow some soothing, calming music from the library, and play it in the car during my travels…

By Cecilia Freire de Mance, Creative Clay Studio
Art by Cecilia Freire de Mance, Creative Clay Studio.
Photo by F. Allison.

Of course the primary purpose of the orange wonders has been subverted on numerous occasions in post-quake Christchurch: the annual floral tributes in individual cones on each anniversary of the February 2011 earthquake, which local artist Cecilia Freire de Mance has captured beautifully in clay ornaments; en masse as unusual artworks at Festa 2014. They even morphed into a giraffe during the Christchurch Stands Tall trail last summer.

Some residents in the city have even been sufficiently moved to write letters to the Press to express their feelings about the humble items.

What is your experience of road works? Have you found road cones to be little orange triangles sent by Satan to torment you at every turn, or are they bright happy indicators of important progress happening across our city?

CityUps - FESTA Festival of Transitional Architecture. Flickr, 2014-10-25-IMG_3044
CityUps – FESTA Festival of Transitional Architecture. Flickr, 2014-10-25-IMG_3044
Cone-raff, photo by Claire Levy
Photo by Claire Levy, published in SCIRT’s Road cone giraffe steps in for vandalised model St Albans – RoadConology 101.

Hawke’s Bay earthquake 3 February 1931

At 10.47am on 3 February 1931, a violent shock, followed closely by a second, rocked Hawke’s Bay for almost three minutes. New Zealand’s deadliest earthquake devastated the cities of Napier and Hastings, Hawke’s Bay. At least 256 people died in the magnitude 7.8 earthquake 161 in Napier, 93 in Hastings, and two in Wairoa. Many thousands more required medical treatment.

Our page on the disaster lists facts and information on the earthquake.

Many 0f us have connections with this disaster – my Grandad was at school in Napier when the building collapsed. And Christchurch people know comprehend of what a major earthquake is like. The people of the Hawke’s Bay had to cope with fire, devastation and loss of life as well as demolition of buildings, loss of chimneys and damaged water supplies.

Those who lost their life are commemorated at The Earthquake Memorial in Park Island Cemetery, Napier.

Hastings Street after the Napier earthquake [Feb. 1931]
Hastings Street after the Napier earthquake [Feb. 1931]
Hastings Street after the Napier earthquake [Feb. 1931]
Emerson Street after the Napier earthquake [Feb. 1931]

CoverFind out more about the Hawke’s Bay earthquake

Cafe Reflections and Responders: Deb Donnell looks at Christchurch

Search the catalogue for Cafe reflectionsWriter and publisher Deb Donnell has done great work post-quakes – opening our eyes to Christchurch past and present. She has been an important part of the popular Facebook page CHCH EQ Photos. Her book Cafe Reflections on Christchurch City, 1975-2012: A Tribute to the Christchurch Central Business District Community highlights 20 cafes, from Madras Cafe books to Black Betty. In its pages she stops in at Christchurch landmarks like the Globe, Java, Honey Pot, and Dumplings.

Deb has been working on her Cafe reflections for some time:

Cafe reflections started in 2004 as a journey to get to know myself, to make sense of that particular time in my life, and to pay homage to the city I’ve lived in since 1969. (p.57)

This is not merely a book of cafe reviews, it also tells the vivid and painful story of what it was like to be in town on 22 February 2011. It is a tale of before, and after. She has writings from the time between the 4 September 2010 and 22 February 2011 quakes – sometimes they read quite eerily. On 19 January 2011 she said:

I walk down Cashel Mall to work every day, but I no longer feel safe. There is something that doesn’t feel right along here either …

Deb counterpoints pre- and post-quake situations. The book is full of personal memories, images, and anecdotes. Its great strengths is her knowledge of the central city and its people, businesses, and buildings. She shares what some of the cafe staff are doing now.

Search the catalogue for RespondersDeb’s next book was written with NZ-RT member Peter Seager: Responders: The New Zealand Volunteer Response Teams, Christchurch Earthquake Deployments. This book gives you a chance to look behind the scenes. It features more than 280 photos, and stories, from the New Zealand volunteer response teams – post 4 September 2010 as well after 22 February 2011.

Responders explains such things as how commercial and residential buildings were searched, how the engineers carried out their work,  rubble clearance, and business recovery and salvage.

The strength of this book is in the images combined with the words of the people who were doing the most difficult of jobs. It is a hard book to read – but only because the subject is hard. It doesn’t deal in nostalgia or sentimentality – and is honest and straightforward in its text, photographs, and captions. A Bealey Avenue two storey home has collapsed into one – a wall is inscribed “Clear: Smell is seafood. Confirmed 4 Mar” – “The source of the smell was found to be coming from a bag of mussels in a defrosted freezer …”(p.149)


A clock lies in the rubble, and the resident’s vinyl collection is scattered among the bricks. (p. 99)

Stonehurst Hotel is described as looking “as if someone dropped a dolls house from a great height …” (p.126).  The Hotel Grand Chancellor “discussions were fascinating and we learned a lot. They were so casual talking about how to bring a 22 storey building down on its own footprint”. (p.129)

Responders and Cafe reflections are two very interesting books with a unique perspective on the earthquakes and Christchurch.

Still feeling shaky?

A year after the beginning of the big earthquakes in Canterbury, many of us are still suffering the effects on our well being. There have been positive outcomes such as a stronger community bond, but also adverse reactions.  Some of us still have housing, employment and family issues to contend with. All the while our media is showing us the ever-growing empty sections of our city’s heart.  Islay McLeod’s recent article in The Press describes her reaction of gut-wrenching sadness and despair.

There are many professional and community groups offering help. Search Community INformation CHristchurch (CINCH) website for counselling, stress, insomnia etc. Canterbury Health Info has a page dedicated to earthquake stress,  common responses and coping mechanisms.

We have resources in our libraries for post traumatic stress syndrome, anxiety, insomnia. Through the library’s website  (using your library card number and PIN) you also have access to Health and Wellness Resource Centre. Key features of this database are:

  • Quick links to hot topics and top searched conditions;
  • Over 3,000 top medical journals and general interest publications with the majority in full text;
  • Medical newspapers, newsletters and news feeds;

Sometimes involving ourselves in a sporting or relaxing activity can help with stress and enable a good nights sleep. Running, yoga, meditation and  short breaks away all help.  Don’t forget you can always chat to your doctor about any concerns.

Remembering the churches of Christchurch

Much to the dismay of my devout Italian grandmother, I have long given up going to church.

However, I still love places of worship. For me, they are imbued with memories:  memories of happy times and sad times, beginnings and farewells.

And, whenever I enter a church, a temple or a mosque, I cannot help but feel that there is something special in the air, a certain sacredness that transcends the religious – as if the building itself retains a lingering awareness of the many prayers and hopes of those who have visited it.

So I have been really saddened by the fact that many of the churches in Christchurch have not fared well in the earthquakes.

Most of us are aware of the severe damage suffered by the iconic  Anglican and Catholic Cathedrals, but these unfortunately have not been the only casualties. My quick roll-call includes:

  • St Luke’s in  the City, on the corner of Manchester and Kilmore Streets;
  • Holy Trinity in Avonside;
  • Knox Church, on the corner of Victoria Street and Bealey Avenue;
  • the Sydenham Church, in Colombo Street;
  • St Mary and St Athanasious Coptic Church in Edgeware Road; and
  • the Union Parish Church and Holy Trinity Church in Lyttelton.

Holy Trinity Church, Avonside, in 1905Luckily the memory of many of these buildings lives on in the library:

And, even more luckily, many gems have survived, though admittedly some a tad battered.

My personal favourites are St Peter’s at Church Corner in Riccarton – a little island of peace surrounded by busy streets – and St Paul’s in Papanui, which was designed by B. W. Mountfort, and whose cemetery is home to a number of illustrious Cantabrians, including Robert Heaton Rhodes and Charles Upham, V.C.

Do you have a favourite church, or any other places of worship to add to my sad roll-call of earthquake casualties?