Hard News by Russell Brown


A long way yet

Avonside was beautiful on Sunday. Beautiful, quiet and terribly sad. Every now and then, as I made my way through the residential red zone on a hired mountain bike, a family would appear, clutching bread for the ducks, or there would be a car parked up, offering a brief flash of colour.

But largely, it was quiet. Even the birds were muted. The scale of the dereliction is daunting along the river. It makes all the hoopla around the CBD plan seem like a distraction. Apparently, houses that haven't been moved are beginning to be demolished -- their precious native timber mulched like so much waste -- but most of it is still there, including properties occupied by squatters.

I was headed out from the city to New Brighton, to see my friends Blair and Amanda. Like almost everyone I know in Christchurch, they're carrying a load. People are battling with insurance companies and official agencies, facing deadlines, trying to perceive an end in sight.

Blair hasn't been into town for ages. Brighton feels adrift, anchored largely by its excellent community library, which looks out to the Pacific. The beach is a great comfort for people there, a means to turn their backs on things that have become too hard.

At the foot of the pier, Blair and I bumped into Jimmy, the old Chills drummer, who is trying for an extension so he can stay a bit longer in his house. He doesn't know what will become of his recording studio when he does have to go.

The hostility towards the CBD plan is palpable in Christchurch. No one I spoke to wanted the stadium or the convention centre. Yesterday, I let one of the CPIT staff walk me over to the Ng Gallery and the new CBD brew bar, to show me what would be levelled to make way for the stadium.

"I'm over the rugby," she said. "Well, actually, I'm not. But it's hard seeing something good like this and knowing it's going to be demolished."

That's easy to understand. Pop-up culture, things rusing from the rubble, still provides the most visible cheer here. I breakfasted twice at Beat Street Cafe, a few blocks north of my motel on Barbadoes Street, and it was a happy place. On Saturday, something called the Christchurch Youth Market sprawled across two vacant sections on the same street. I couldn't tell what was actually for sale as I passed, but the teenage hippies crowded there seemed to be having fun. They'd hammered up brightly-painted boards and a sign declaring the market "a work in progress".

Back at the motel, demolition workers from out of town gathered on the landing -- like Auf Wiedersehen, Pet with a barbecue. They'd been out enjoying Canterbury's natural delights -- fishing in Akaroa, whitebaiting somewhere else. They agreed that the local people had been generally welcoming, although several said they'd had the occasional "weird" experience. But they can always go home.

And it won't be like this for ever. The kids growing up under Christchurch's heavy manners will have places to play as the space opens up. Red-zone Avonside will eventually be reverted to wetlands. People will eventually get through the stress of repairing, removing, fighting for every damn thing. But it seems a long way yet.

I stayed on Pages Road for most of the way back, rather than going back through Avonside to take pictures as I'd planned. I was a little short on time and wanted a rest before joining Stephen Emma and Karl for a pint or three at Pomeroy's. But mostly, it didn't feel right. I kept my iPhone in my backpack and moved on with a shorter journey.

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