ChCHStrap

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the Christchurch mosque shootings – New Zealand's worst terror attack. The attacks devastated the Garden City's small Muslim community, but what were the after-effects for the wider community, and how do they feel the city has changed one year on? Weekend Herald senior journalist Kurt Bayer knocked on some doors in Brockworth Place to speak to its inhabitants and try and gauge the representative pulse of a city in recovery.

The street loops around Masjid Al Noor like a crescent moon. Brockworth Place, the once-famous party hub is still home to some student flats but it's quieter these days, with young professionals and new immigrant families nesting alongside old Christchurch farm money and pensioners.

Shubbam Bharti came to New Zealand for a better life. The 26-year-old got a good driving job and a flat that backed onto the mosque with the golden dome. After working late, he enjoyed walking and cycling in the picturesque Hagley Park just around the corner.

On March 15 last year, like many hearts in this most broken of New Zealand cities, Bharti's was shattered. After rising typically late, he was eating his breakfast when he became aware of some strange sounds. At first, he thought someone was banging on his garage door downstairs. Now he knows they were gunshots.

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Shubbam Bharti helped a man fleeing the mosque shooting on March 15 after he hid in his garden. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Shubbam Bharti helped a man fleeing the mosque shooting on March 15 after he hid in his garden. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He looked outside his first-floor apartment window and saw men and women sprinting down the neighbouring driveway. They'd clambered over the rear wall of the mosque's carpark to escape for their lives down Brockworth Pl.

One man had jumped the fence into Bharti's property and was hiding. He was plainly terrified.

Bharti rushed to help. He drove the shooting survivor to nearby Moorhouse Ave where some of his friends had fled.

He still doesn't know what happened to him.

"It was very scary," Bharti recalls. "That thing was a really sad time and I hope that it never comes again. It was really sad."

When he tried to return to his flat, police had cordoned it off. His flat was unlocked and he had nothing with him. It would be two days before he could return home.

Just down the road, nurse Libby Averill was working in an operating theatre at Christchurch Hospital when she got a message from a neighbour saying there had been an incident at the mosque – over the back fence from their place.

Nurse Libby Averill was at Christchurch Hospital on March 15 last year when she got a message from a Brockworth Pl neighbour saying there had been an incident at the mosque. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Nurse Libby Averill was at Christchurch Hospital on March 15 last year when she got a message from a Brockworth Pl neighbour saying there had been an incident at the mosque. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The hospital was soon "frantic" and all operation theatres were cleared in preparation for the expected rush of shooting victims, who soon began arriving.

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After an unforgettable, manic shift she couldn't return to her home which lay behind a wide police cordon. She ended up staying with friends across town.

Over the following weeks, Averill, 25, felt wary and on edge during her usual short walk across Hagley Park to work. Armed police patrolled with guns and the Eagle helicopter buzzed overhead.

"The whole environment felt quite strange and foreign," she says. "It felt all a bit too close to home and felt like something could happen again."

Student Chris Tang, 23, moved to Brockworth Pl after the shootings, and for a while, he also felt jittery.

Chris Tang, who lives on Brockworth Pl, near the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, says the city feels safe again. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Chris Tang, who lives on Brockworth Pl, near the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, says the city feels safe again. Photo / Mark Mitchell

But as the year wore on, he realised there was nothing to worry about.

"I believe that nothing like this will ever happen again in the future in Christchurch," Tang says.

Tang is worried about the anniversary event coninciding with the global coronavirus situation and will be staying away.

But he believes it's important to reflect on the tragedy and remember those who lost their lives.

Averill knows that tomorrow will dredge up all of the memories and emotions from that day. "It's hard to believe it's been a year already, especially since a lot of people are still really affected by it."

The past year has been quiet, subdued for Brockworth Pl residents.

Gwen Swann lives directly behind Masjid Al Noor and always found them to be good neighbours.

Gwen Swann says the Al Noor mosque has been a great neighbour. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Gwen Swann says the Al Noor mosque has been a great neighbour. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Before the shootings, the 79-year-old visited the mosque and spoke with the imam about a tree which overhangs both properties. She found it "a great experience".

On March 15 last year, Swann had just left for coffee with a friend on the day of the shooting.

"I don't know if I'd have heard the shots if I'd been at home – luckily I didn't."

Swann is haunted by an interview she saw with a Muslim woman that night on Deans Ave and the image of grieving family members carrying a young child to be buried.

"They sit in my mind all the time," she said.

Swann welcomes tomorrow's memorial event but hopes that the people who attend "go for the right reasons, not just being nosy".

There was a recent family day at the mosque. Swann enjoyed hearing children playing football in the rear carpark area and laughing.

Swann thinks the tragedy has made Cantabrians – and all New Zealanders - take a look at themselves.

Averill agrees. She believes the shootings brought Christchurch folk closer together and raised the respect and understanding of different cultures.

She often sees Muslims walking to the mosque and it reminds her of the pain they still must be experiencing.

"I just can't imagine it," she says. "My thoughts go out to them, they really do."

Last year, when Bharti was still driving Ubers, passengers often spoke about feeling afraid in the city.

When he'd return home from work late at night, he didn't feel safe to do his normal walk or cycle through Hagley Park.

But he thinks it's getting better and remains optimistic humanity will prevail.

"You can't judge a city on one incident. Christchurch is a lot safer than most places," he says.

"People here are so friendly and helpful. I've never experienced any racism at work or anything. At work, we share lunch, do dinner together; it's like a family."

For Bharti, whose mother came from a Muslim family and his father from a Hindi background – an unusual occurrence in India, he considers himself to be spiritual rather than religious.

"I believe in everything," he smiles. "And being a good human is my first priority."

Bharti says he'll definitely attend tomorrow's national remembrance service at Horncastle Arena.

"I still remember that person I helped and those many people who lost their lives, so I want to go and just give a small prayer," he says.

"Every Friday I see people putting flowers at the mosque. Whenever I see flowers it reminds me of that incident."

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