Commonwealth Avenue: Not a day to be forgotten fast
Sometimes news hits you right when you don’t expect it. That was the case a year ago today.
It was a quiet Saturday morning here in Northland. Sirocco was still two months from foundation and even then it was still intended to be called Andersonia. In the MicroWiki community, Erusia was gone and things were starting to get back to normal.
That is, if September 4, 2010 could be described as “normal”.
I was at school that morning, unorthodox as it sounds, to do work on my photography project. I’d arrived just before nine, and while my teacher had gone off to get a coffee, I unfolded my photography board and switched on the radio just in time for the 9am news on Radio Hauraki.
What I heard was jaw-dropping.
Christchurch had been smacked with an earthquake. As I listened, I heard stories of destruction and devastation in the Garden City. Buildings destroyed, roads buckled, livelihoods changed forever. When my photography teacher came back with coffee in hand, I asked her if she’d known about the earthquake. She said her husband, who had family down in Canterbury, had gone down to help out.
I immediately logged onto the news sites and looked around. Less than five hours after the quake news was still sketchy to say the least, but the basic idea was emerging. Christchurch, or more accurately Darfield, had been rocked by an earthquake, magnitude something around seven, and there was widespread carnage.
Throughout the morning I flicked back and forth between Photoshop and Stuff, TVNZ and Wikipedia. Slowly but steadily news began to emerge of just what had happened in Christchurch. When the first pictures began to filter through, they were of cars flattened by bricks, whole sides of buildings torn away, cracks in the earth, collapsed bridge approaches, major liquefaction, downed power lines and the emergency services struggling to keep it all together.
I had to be at work that afternoon, but all everyone could talk about was the earthquake. On my breaks the TV didn’t budge from TV One, who were there in the beleaguered city, reporting on the chaos with the backdrop of a burning CBD building.
To be utterly frank, it looked like the end of the world was upon us.
The days afterwards dealt a real blow to New Zealand. A major city had been torn asunder by the forces of nature on a scale we’d not seen since 1931. But why New Zealand? God’s own country? What had we done to deserve such misfortune?
But in true Kiwi spirit, we didn’t sit around moping. Instead, we rolled our sleeves up and got to work clearing away silt, tracking people down, making everyone hot cups of tea and helping out wherever we could. The hat was passed around of course and millions went into helping out our Cantabrian friends. New Zealand might be polarised between the islands and, on the rugby field, the regions, but when one of us is hurt everyone hurts.
And we can’t forget Zealandia in this. An Australian boy whom we all know as King Anthony had only been the Zealandian monarch for all of just over six months when he was rudely woken from his sleep at half past four that morning.
In his words:
I was asleep (as you are at 4:37 am), then I was awake and everything was falling and my lamp went out and it got worse and at first I had no idea what the f*ck was going on for about a millisecond then I was outta bed and under the doorframe.
We all expressed our concern for him and the whole of Zealandia. I recall nobody could contact him for a while, and there was concern for his wellbeing, but lo and behold he returned and we breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Over the next few months the area was rattled by countless aftershocks. There was little sleep to be had and Boxing Day was a washout. But life began to return to the way it had been. Slowly.
But then came February 22. Smaller but deadlier, it pounded Christchurch with maximum force, and with the blood of 181 people on its hands it will never be left in the dregs of history. Once again New Zealanders turned out in force to help their brethren, and while the country was mourning for its lost, the MicroWiki community was scrambling to hear something, anything from Anthony. Shortly before Zealandia’s first anniversary he returned, but what a hell of a way to commemorate your micronation’s foundation anniversary.
Anthony and I later established an Alston-Denton contact line so that we could contact each other if something happened and so that one of us could let everyone else know. It proved to be useful, letting me pass on the news that power was back on in Denton on March 3 and that the city was again buffeted by an earthquake on June 13.
In any case I should probably wrap this up as I could be accused of waffling. But today marks a turning point in our nation’s history, when all other woes were forgotten as Christchurch crumbled. The face of New Zealand was changed forever, and in true Kiwi spirit, we came together in times of adversity and we stepped in for Christchurch.
And personally, I think that is the greatest thing of all.
We were all concerned for M. Fowler on that day. Thankfully, everything turned out well.