Wednesday, February 23, 2011


This is the statue of John Robert Godley that stands opposite the front of Christchurch Cathedral. Stood. It's now on the ground, broken, covered in dust from the collapse of the cathedral spire which lies in pieces scattered over the steps in front of the building. The cross from the very top lies in the rubble, still attached to part of the tip of the spire, 8 metres of it that was rebuilt in 1888 after an earthquake. Though the copper-green of the replacement was in startling contrast to the grey of the rest of the spire, it was such a familiar sight that people forgot what it signified. They'll remember now.

Godley was the founder of Canterbury and oversaw the establishment of Christchurch in 1850, so it's symbolic that his statue has been toppled from its base. It's not destroyed, though, and it will be restored. It's too soon to think about what will happen to the Cathedral and all the other historic and beautiful buildings that have been wrecked, though it seems inevitable that many of them will have to be removed completely.

At the moment the focus is of course on rescuing the people who are still trapped inside collapsed buildings, and on identifying the dead - 75 so far with 300 reported missing. Then it will be important to shore up the nerves of Christchurch residents, which have been shattered by 4000 aftershocks in the last 6 months, and now this (officially also an aftershock). And of course no-one knows what else may be in store for the city.

It's kind of ironic, but also maybe helpful to think about, that last weekend was the annual Art Deco Weekend celebration in Napier. It was bigger than usual, the 80th anniversary: in 1931 the city was totally destroyed, with 256 deaths, in a 7.8 earthquake, but was rebuilt in the style of the day, Art Deco. Now it's a unique, beautiful and interesting place that tourists flock to and where the earthquake disaster has been turned around into a yearly commemoration that unites the city. One day, I hope that's how it will be for Christchurch.

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