Five year reflections

Yesterday each of us in the CEISMIC programme office attended a memorial service for the five year anniversary of the 22 February 2011 earthquake. Here are our reflections on the experience.


As in previous years, I chose to mark the anniversary at the River of Flowers event in Riccarton Bush. I like the simple format – no official speeches, or entertainment, just quiet contemplation on the bank of the river, followed by a minute’s silence, then we all cast our flowers into the river to float away through the city and out to the east.

I found myself thinking about the students I’d passed on my way out of campus, excited about their first day of lectures. Such a contrast to 5 years ago, when we were helping frightened and confused students evacuate the university. It’s strange to think that those students from 2011 are now all graduated and out in the workforce, and that this new batch were barely in high school when the first earthquakes struck. I’m proud of all our students, old and new, who’ve not only lived through the thousands of earthquakes our region has suffered, but have thrived despite them and are following their dreams. You bring a special strength to our city and to our future.

River of Flowers site at Riccarton Bush


Yesterday’s was the second earthquake memorial service I had attended, and I found that I was less emotional than last time. Hardened perhaps, by the five post-quake years of constant change: construction and demolition, collaboration and conflict. As someone who is normally optimistic, I couldn’t help some pangs of cynicism surfacing – why were the bereaved families the last to lay their wreaths, preceded by every distinguished guest who was called by name? Why was our Mayor the only speaker to acknowledge the hardships that people are still facing, five years later - the fact that actually, not everyone around here would be feeling ‘resilient’ and ‘empowered’ and ready to move on just yet?

At the same time, I appreciated how many people had gathered for the service, and the effort that had gone in to making it special – the musical tributes especially. The reading of the 185 names was very moving. I appreciated the deliberate, sombre manner in which they were read, and the weight each one carried.

I think Christchurch will be a great city one day. Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei – For us and our children after us. But I think yesterday’s service was a reminder for me, and for many of us who have escaped much of the frustration and hardship that is still out there, that we still have a long way to go.

Civic Memorial Service at the Botanic Gardens


Attending the memorial service at the University of Canterbury was a surreal experience for me –almost one of deja-vu as I stood on the field outside the Okeover building, the same field I evacuated to after the 22 February 2011 earthquake, next to the same friend that had held my hand under the desk in the James-Hight Library when the quake hit. Back then the field was full of students, most clumped together in groups, talking nervously, unsure of where to go or what to do. Yesterday, a small number gathered in a semi-circle, mostly staff and post-graduates who were also here on the 22 February 2011. In the background, new students wandered past, heading to their first day of classes.

It seems strange to me how close the quakes still feel. So much has changed in my life since 2011 – I have graduated University, begun my career, travelled overseas, moved neighbourhoods a number of times. And yet if I close my eyes, I can transport myself back in a heartbeat, feel the ground moving like a figure-eight under me, flecks of concrete raining down from the floor above. I remember vividly how the woman next to me was texting her daughter before the shaking even stopped, exclaiming how sick she was of the continued aftershocks. Five years later and we are still getting them.

Maybe it’s because of this that I feel a burst of gratitude towards the new students walking past the memorial. Many of them will be new to Christchurch, will have never felt the earthquakes and maybe, even, the aftershocks. In some ways they are like the flowers bursting forth from the rubble – new life in a broken city. Their decision to study here reflects the resilience of the community and the University.

Memorial decorations (top) and service at the University of Canterbury

Creative Commons License
Photographs of the River of Flowers site by Jennifer Middendorf licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 New Zealand License
Creative Commons License
Photographs of the Civic Memorial Service by Rosalee Jenkin licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 New Zealand License.
Photographs of the University of Canterbury memorial ©Copyright UC Photographic Services 2016.