In a year of horrors, there is one little horror I delight in. Indigo Fisher was born early on the morning of September 5 almost a year ago. I delivered her after returning home from 20 hours at work covering the first Christchurch earthquake.

My God, what a year it has been since. I can't think of New Zealand having a more stress-filled time in my 40 years. And when I think that, I look at my daughter and know she is the good coming out of the gloom.

And, no pressure Richie McCaw, but we could really do with seeing the All Blacks lift the Rugby World Cup. From the first of the three earthquakes, this year has been relentless. We called that first earthquake "Doomsday" on our front page over an eerie, moving photograph. We had no idea, really, not a single one of us did from Cape Reinga to Stewart Island. There have been a string of days more deserving of that title in the 357 days since.

The plane crash in which nine people died on the same day; or the Pike River mining tragedy that claimed 29; or the second quake which claimed more than 100.


In Auckland, a tornado hit the northern suburbs. It left a man dead and a grieving widow. Surely New Zealand hasn't suffered a year like this since World War II? So many of us died unnaturally-in the dark of a coal mine or a city that crumbled to rubble.

We died in foreign lands-two combat deaths in a year is the worst our peaceful nation has suffered since 1971, the year I was born. There has been so little to celebrate since September 4, 2010. We have endured the unluckiest of years. Fred Dagg was right. You don't know how lucky you are, mate-until you're not.

It has affected us all, not least those living closest to the disasters. West Coast mayor Tony Kokshoorn says we live in "unprecedented times". Kokshoorn championed the creation of the Pike River Mine in which 29 men died in October.

"We've been cocooned in New Zealand for a long time. We've been cocooned in the belief big disasters happen in South America or Asia." It is an illusion of safety now thoroughly dashed.

Kokshoorn, aged 56 and in his third term as mayor of the Grey District Council, says the events of the year have set back West Coast growth. Tourist numbers collapsed, coal mining's renaissance was set back and the international economic crisis means quick recovery is unlikely. And there is the constant presence of 29 bodies still in the mine.

"We know those bodies are up there." Kokshoorn has a photograph from the moving memorial service showing him speaking, with Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker in the background.

"I often pick it up and think,'Bob, you don't know what is going to hit you'." And that is the lesson for the year, says Kokshoorn.

"You just don't know what is around the corner. "I can see now how it is possible to leave for work in the morning and never return. I'm more philosophical. I appreciate people more.


"When we go to work each day, we get caught in traffic, we get road rage, we moan at someone. We can all get picky at times. And then a year like this comes. You don't realise how lucky you are."

At the University of Canterbury, historian and professor Philippa Mein Smith updated her book A Concise History of New Zealand in March with a new chapter called "Shaky Ground: seismic shifts". When talking about the year, she puts it in context with World War II, the 1931 Napier earthquake and the 1855 Wellington quake.

"The sense of security and peace that is conditioned by remoteness has been invaded. Our little peaceful paradise is showing signs of crumbling, which is very disconcerting. Our security has been taken, has been shaken up."

Academically,Mein Smith reflects: "The ground has always shifted in New Zealand. We have always had a dynamic history because it was so short. "The quakes to me are symbolic of rupture and rupture has been a theme in New Zealand history.

"It is the psychological adjustment of dealing with the uncertainty of the ground on which we stand. It is a psychological state of resilience and mettle." More personally, Mein Smith says, "My life will forever be altered. My whole outlook has been altered. It has permanently affected my outlook on life."

Like others spoken to, she says the year and its crises have brought home the fragility of life and the importance of those in it. It has also "lowered aspirations", she says. "Just move on and do the best you can." The city has adjusted to a new way of living and working. Mein Smith's Monck's Bay home is not red-stickered for demolition, but many of her neighbours' homes have been. And at work, rooms for teaching no longer exist.

Mein Smith refers to the message Prince William gave when visiting, touching on New Zealand's resilience. "It did bring to the fore that 'kia kaha, be strong' is an appropriate national motto."

Mein Smith is currently hosting Christchurch Art Festival director Phil Tremewan. With the central city ruined, the festival is focused in the suburbs. "He wants to help give people life again." The Rugby World Cup is likely to have a fresh importance, too, as will events such as next year's Ellerslie International Flower Show, says Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker. It will be "a chance for people to come and support our city and support us". Even now, says Parker, he can leave an intense meeting to step on to Christchurch streets and be stunned afresh by the devastation of the quakes: "Life as we know it has gone and probably gone forever."

He paraphrases Queen Elizabeth II who used the term"annus horribilis" in 1992-literally a "year of horrors". "It has been the most traumatic and difficult of years for so many hundreds of thousands of people, particularly South Islanders."

After the September 4 earthquake, Parker says there was a collective sigh of relief nobody died. Then on February 22, "50,000 people came into the city to go to work as normal. By the end of the day, we had the equivalent of a city that had sustained bombardment in a war zone. "It changes you completely as a human being ... the sense of the fragility of life. It does change you. It changes everybody. There but for the grace of God goes any one of us."

It was the grace of God which was sought by Jeanette Dacayan after her husband was killed in Albany, north of Auckland, by one of the string of tornadoes which has bounced across the country. "I always told him that when I died, I would wait for him in heaven. Now he's the one that died first and I hope he's waiting in heaven for me," she said at the time. It is the sheer oddity of this year that a man would be killed in a tornado-related event in this country.

Nursing student Sophie Bond, 23, often has flashbacks to the May afternoon she watched the tornado tear apart the Albany Shopping Centre. "I didn't even know they happened in New Zealand." It hit Pak'N'Save: "I thought the building was collapsing.The roof was flying around." She reversed her vehicle, moved forward, then reversed again unsure where the tornado was heading. Bond stopped the car and, after the tornado passed, raced down to see if people needed help. She found Dacayan seriously injured and gave him CPR but wasn't able to save him. Every day, she drives past the place Dacayan died, on the way to her nursing degree studies at the Auckland University of Technology campus in Northcote.

When they did the refresher course on CPR, "I found that difficult", she says. It was uncomfortably close to the day of the tornado. Her act of courage pulled Bond into our year of madness, a string of awful events which has not gone without mention. "I keep saying half jokingly to people that I'm sure the world must be ending soon."

The weather was mundane then relentless. Winter barely started and then arrived all at once. There was snow in central Auckland. Farther south, it was more than an oddity. In Christchurch, where residents still need to leave the house for a Portaloo, it was just unwelcome. They called it "the icing on the quake".

Weather analyst Phillip Duncan blames La Nina for oddities which "confused the trees" into producing blossoms in July without having shed leaves during autumn. And when it became cold, it gave Auckland the first snow for 72 years.

So, thank God the rugby is coming. And thank God the event is being held here. We need a national blowout. We need something that will let us leave this year behind. We won't forget. The dates will be remembered and prayers will be said. But it is time to get on with living. In our house, we will mark the anniversary of this incredible year in a way which makes me optimistic about what lies ahead: We will begin this next year with a birthday party. Happy birthday, Indigo.