Tuesday, August 5, 2014


As if we needed reminding, quake no 14,234 interrupted my bedtime radio listening the other night at 11.18pm.  It rattled the wardrobe doors – always a sign that it was of significance, probably close by and shallow. Later, in the small hours, no. 14,235 did not wake me. It was only a little one, and we here in Christchurch don’t even blink at those these days, let alone allow them to interrupt our sleep.

We have long ago stopped telling each other our quake stories. Been there, done that, and probably there are t-shirts out there to prove it. Now there is a government website that offers us a forum in which to tell the rest of the world what it was like for us. So far 434 people have jumped at the chance, including me, and I have been astonished at how different those stories can be. Anyone who hasn’t experienced earthquakes would probably imagine that there aren’t too many variations of “the Earth moved, walls fell down, crockery broke, pipes burst, it was awful.”

However, when people take time to put their experiences down in writing they come across as individuals, with personal takes on situations that nevertheless affect thousands of people. Their stories can be dramatic, astonishing, brave, moving, quirky, funny. They are written by people who have gone through something extraordinary, reacted in a variety of ways, and have been moved to share their thoughts and impressions. We have all been changed, we look at the world differently because the world – indeed the landscape – has changed.

The earthquakes that struck Canterbury in 2010 and 2011 are among the most significant events in New Zealand history. The piece I submitted was written in response to a general call by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage in partnership with NV Interactive. The project is part of the University of Canterbury CEISMIC consortium (which includes Christchurch City Libraries and the National Library) – a long-term project dedicated to the preservation and study of information relating to the Canterbury earthquakes. The piece is from a much longer essay written during the days after the 22 February 2011 earthquake.  The piece, and hundreds of others, can be viewed at http://www.quakestories.govt.nz/


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