Paul Holmes on New Zealand

Paul Holmes is an award-winning Herald columnist

Paul Holmes: A letter to Christchurch

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Images of the ruins in Christchurch have deeply moved New Zealanders everywhere. Photo / Getty Images
Images of the ruins in Christchurch have deeply moved New Zealanders everywhere. Photo / Getty Images

Dear Christchurch,

I'm writing to you as an Aucklander, to my Christchurch cousins and brother and sister Kiwis. And I just want you to know how much we're all thinking of you and how much we love you and how much we feel for you in these impossible days.

Your city is on its knees. Our eyes fill with tears at the sight of it. We watch the TV and listen to the radio all day and we hear your emptiness, your loss, your dismay, your shock, your disbelief. We see that ubiquitous bloody silt from the liquefaction, that weird up-thrust of clag that fills your back yards and covers your roads and buries your cars.

We look at you and we look at it all and we know what it means. When we hear that the CBD will be closed for weeks, we know what that means for business. We know what it means for your kids, for their state of mind, for their health, for their next pair of new shoes with winter coming.

We know.

So many of you are involved in the tourism business. We know what those pictures going round the world will do for tourism. We know what it's going to do for the insurance premiums. We know some of you, after this, won't be able to afford insurance.

And we know what your cathedral means to you. I heard someone say the other day on television that the cathedral is a Christchurch icon. No. It's a New Zealand icon. All our lives we've had the Christchurch Cathedral.

I know you think we Aucklanders are up ourselves. I know you bang on about bloody Aucklanders. But really, we're just the same as you. We're Kiwis, before we're anything else. We're strugglers, like you. We get up and go to work and do the best for our kids, just like you. We help our neighbours, just like you, and we've watched you helping each other this week and we've all been deeply moved. We just want to walk up to the television screen and hug you and hold you.

Of course, that is something in itself - we've been able to watch what's been going on. So many of you in Christchurch, lacking electricity, haven't been able to see television or listen to the radio or plug your computer in or charge your cellphones. And you may have loved ones missing as well and heaven knows how you're getting your information and how lonely and isolated you must feel. I hope you have someone to put an arm around you.

John Key was right this week. No act of kindness is too small. That was very homespun of him, wasn't it? That's why I suppose he's so good when this stuff happens.

And I know from September, when I went down for a look, that television might show the bricks lying in the street and the great crumpled buildings in their hideous forms. What it doesn't show is the minute damage, the cracked floors, the broken pipes, the destruction of so much of everything you've built and so much of what you hold dear.

Anyway, the TV coverage has been very compassionate, very graphic, very real and wall to wall. I must say how well I think TV3 did on the first day. Hillary Barry had just the right tone. Then I flicked on Sky News. There was Hillary across Australasia. Then I flicked on CNN. There was Hillary, right around the world.

The most vivid report, and one of the briefest on the first night, was from my former colleague John Sellwood in Lyttelton. He painted a brilliant word picture of the destruction down the main street of the town. It was a lesson in voice reporting. It was passionate but precise and you could hear all the shock of the day in his voice.

On Wednesday, at Hawkes Bay Airport on my way to Auckland, there was a flight due out to Christchurch. In the packed Koru Club every eye was on the television screen. I spoke with Stu, who just wanted to get home to Christchurch. He talked to his wife on Tuesday morning, an hour and a half before the earthquake. She was heading in to Cashel Mall to get her hair done. Cashel Mall was pummelled, of course.

Stu couldn't get hold of her all day. After the quake she and others were trapped in the mall. When they got out, it took Stu's wife three hours to walk home. Stu finally got through to her about 6 on Tuesday night. He said he'd just been through the worst day and night he'd ever had.

Then, just before I got on the plane, I spoke to a woman who works in Lyttelton. She told me that on Tuesday, about lunchtime, her staff ran her to the airport. By the time she landed in Napier, Christchurch was in ruins. She told me that if she hadn't taken that flight, she would have been killed. She has a desk right next to a great brick wall. The entire wall fell across the desk.

What we're seeing this week, Christchurch, is the way you carry on. That's one of the qualities we love about you. You keep going. Everything you rebuilt after last September has been ripped up and torn apart again and you keep going, and we cheer for you and we cry for your pain and heartbreak.

And as each day has gone by this week, we've seen more and more clearly the enormity of the human and infrastructural destruction.

You've got the right man as your mayor, though. Bob Parker is a face and a voice of competence and reassurance. On Wednesday night, I worried about him, so tired and careworn did he look, and I wished he'd simply head home and get some sleep. But there he was on Thursday, fresh as a daisy, the world's media hanging on his every word, talking up the city he loves, willing you to survive.

Anyway, I just wanted you to know how much we're all thinking of you and watching you and praying for you and hoping for the very best for you in your dark hour of worry, longing and sorrow.

Sincerely,

Paul

- NZ Herald

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