As the devastating series of earthquakes that destroyed and subsequently closed off much of Christchurch city continued, residents in large areas of the badly affected eastern suburbs began for the first time to hear the words, Red Zone. Much of their land, they were finally told, could no longer sustain the homes that stood upon it. At various stages the Government determined that a prodigious number of homes in suburbs across the city were to totally disappear. The lives of the people who lived in them were to be suddenly and irrevocably changed.
In response to these events, Lawrence Roberts – his own home in the suburb of Avonside seriously damaged – began writing the avonsideblog. It was an impressive undertaking that kept his friends and neighbours as informed, knowledgeable and up to date as possible amid the sweeping changes taking place in their community. Later Lawrence approached the Christchurch documentary project, Place in Time, asking us to record the experiences of those in his community, all of whom had been severely affected by what was now the largest peacetime disaster in the history of our country.
While the project is an ongoing collaboration between Tim J. Veling, Glenn Busch and Bridgit Anderson, the images shown here are drawn from a large amount of work collected between 2011 and June of 2013. Many of these images were made before the final outcome for many Avonside residents was known. Today, all but a very few of the people Place in Time talked with have been told their homes will disappear. Half a hundred people – a few more – one small collective voice among many that deserve to be heard; their stories are of no lesser value for that. Sadly such anecdotes abound in Christchurch. As Cathy Allen reminded Glenn Busch, ‘Everyone has a story and the need to tell those stories is going to be with us for a very long time.’
Through such telling we come to understand not only the devastation visited upon the lives of those affected, but also the immense amount of bravery, generosity and determination the people of Christchurch – along with those who came to help us – have shown in the wake of such terrible odds. Pay attention, their stories are full of the collective wisdom only those who are actually living an experience can offer. Others, charged with dealing to the enormous task of recovery, would do well to listen carefully.
The images presented in this gallery formed part of THX 4 THE MEMORIES, a Place in Time exhibition mounted for the Christchurch Arts Festival, 2013. They were accompanied by oral histories written by Glenn Busch and portraits by Bridgit Anderson, and are dedicated to all the people who were kind enough to share their experiences and their feelings with us. It is a generous gift for which we are truly grateful.