Lyttelton landmark held special place in couple's hearts

By Shabnam Dastgheib of NZPA

The wrecked Timeball Station on the hill above Lyttelton township. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The wrecked Timeball Station on the hill above Lyttelton township. Photo / Sarah Ivey

When fireman Dave Simpson used Lyttelton's historic Timeball Station to propose to his wife, he couldn't have dreamed that exactly one year later the building would be devastated by an earthquake.

Tuesday's magnitude 6.3 quake caused significant damage to the Timeball Station, already damaged by September's 7.1 quake. It is still unclear whether there will be enough money to repair it.

The Timeball Station was built in 1876 and was one of only five remaining timeball stations in working order in the world until Tuesday's quake.

Its flags were used to communicate shipping advice to the town and its ball slowly dropped to signal the time to ships in the harbour.

Last February, Dave Simpson used the flags to spell out a proposal to his girlfriend Sal.

The couple lived on the hillside beside the station and Mr Simpson said the Timeball was part of their Lyttelton life. His romantic gesture won 'proposal of the year' from a national bridal magazine.

"It was a big part of our view and a part of our Lyttelton. I can't believe it might be gone. We are gutted. It's one of the buildings around here that we identify with and the owners helped me a lot with the proposal," Mr Simpson told NZPA.

When Tuesday's quake hit the city, Mr Simpson was in the Art Gallery in the CBD while wife Sal was working at the Lyttelton Coffee Company. With no way of getting in touch with her, Mr Simpson ran, skated and hitchhiked over the hill to make sure she was alright.

"There were five or six other people doing the same thing, we had no other way of checking on people here. I didn't know she was okay and I was absolutely terrified that she wasn't."

The couple's house is still liveable and they plan to stay in the town despite the damage done.

"It is all smashed up and we are isolated here but we stick together and that's what I love about Lyttelton," he said.

The Timeball is currently cordoned off and a decision will be made on its future after it has been thoroughly inspected.

- NZPA

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