Thursday, July 31, 2014


I was recently delighted, and honoured, to be given a copy of friend Jennifer Barrer’s sumptuous book “New Zealand Made – After the Earthquake”.  It is copy no. 40 of a limited edition of 200, which practically makes it a collector’s piece – but woe betide any collector who lays a hand on it.

The book is part memoir, part history of the Canterbury Port Hills, and part the before-and-after story of the Christchurch earthquakes as seen by a woman who is artistic, gifted and eloquent. The result is rather special: a book full of colour (paintings and photographs), poems (sensual, sometimes quirky, not at all arty-farty and very accessible) and anecdotes (both personal and professional). Jennifer’s grandmother was the painter Grace Butler, and her parents created “Four Winds”, a family home for five generations, out of seven acres of bare land near the top of the Port Hills.

Jennifer herself is a poet, a painter, an actress with a long and varied career behind her, and she is a passionate and committed gardener. There is scarcely a page of this book that hasn’t at least one gorgeous painting or photograph on it. She hasn’t loaded the text with earnest accounts of births, marriages and deaths either, but uses (mostly) poems to reflect on what she sees and thinks. The whole project has taken eight years to put together, a task that underwent a radical change of direction and tone when the earthquakes began to rock Christchurch in 2010 and continue, albeit with considerably reduced force, to this day.

The earthquakes rocked not only the foundations and buildings of the city but also the lives of its inhabitants. Nothing has been the same since. We have changed the way we look at ourselves, our plans, our lives, our surroundings, our values. Jennifer Barrer has here paid tribute to the “gritty, brave, tolerant, innovative and now rather weary people of Christchurch” with a beautiful book that is definitely a keeper.

"New Zealand Made" is available from the author: Jennifer Barrer, 1 Barrer Lane, Cashmere, Christchurch 8022, phone 332-4915.

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