Avonhead - a life in the middle

17:00, Aug 10 2014
Tikinimasei family
LIFE IN THE MIDDLE: Bela Gade, left, Mitieli Saunaqali, Laisemia Tikinimasei, and Luisa Tikinimasei in their Avonhead home.

The special Sunday church service is a raucous occasion.

It is a colourful event dominated by loud singing and led by a succession of pastors who reverberate the walls with their commentary. The monologues are spoken half in English and half in Fijian. Many wear traditional clothing. But a sign of the times is clear in the many iPhones and iPads that capture the spectacle.

The Tikinimasei family are among the worshippers at the almost exclusively-Fijian church, the Kingdom Ambassadors International Fellowship.

They have lived in New Zealand for seven years, after they emigrated from Fiji. They settled in Riccarton before moving to Bishopdale, and then Avonhead last November.

"I love this area. Life here is good," family matriarch Luisa Tikinimasei said, sitting on the floor of her home after the service.

This is life in the middle.

New research has given each block in New Zealand a score based on its relative level of deprivation.

The Tikinimasei family live in an area of Avonhead with a score broadly in the middle of the index.

At first look, the block appears to be a well-groomed, residential area that does not stand out against other Christchurch suburbs.

The properties follow a similar pattern, with houses situated on the back of the land and a sprawling lawn in the front that meets the footpath. There is a modest sense of pride about the place; the lawns are manicured, front yards are tidy and few have obtrusive fences.

On a sunny weekday afternoon, young mothers with prams and elderly couples are out walking the streets. Locals say the area is quiet - bar the odd boy racer - but passersby will always stop to say hello.

The area has experienced a popularity boom, with newcomers snapping up rentals.

The Tikinimasei family are among those newcomers. The family's four bedroom property is immaculately-kept and costs $450 a week to rent. The price is unusually low for Christchurch's post-quake rental market, but for Luisa Tikinimasei it was "God's will".

It is a phrase that she repeats frequently when relaying the story of how her family came to live here.

Initially, Tikinimasei and her husband, Laisemia, travelled to New Zealand to accompany their son, Sitiveni, to further his studies. But once they arrived, they never left.

"There was a calling here. It was God's will," she said.

Tikinimasei got a job as a dispatcher with Chorus, and her husband as a butcher. Sitiveni studied travel and tourism, before working for the Christchurch Casino as a bank cashier. After the quakes he returned to Fiji, but now 27, he is back in Christchurch. Many family members have followed suit, with the family housing Tikinimasei's brother-in-law and nephews, aged 16 and 13, while her sister awaits a visa.

The nephew she brought up as her own son is now in New Zealand. The 19-year-old married a New Zealander last year and the couple have 3-month-old twins.

The family's tidy lounge is dominated by a large flat-screen television and furnished with plush black couches. The references to their Fijian culture are few but distinct - some artwork, and a plate of cassava on the table - as the family embrace their new life.

Despite a higher price of living in New Zealand, with two earners in the house Tikinimasei believed they "get by all right".

The family is part of the block's multicultural mix.

Among the families living on the block were recent immigrants from Ireland who had come for the rebuild, a three-generation family from Singapore who live together, and a woman from Thailand who has settled here with her New Zealand husband and started a family. One family from Ecuador and another from India live nearby.

Yardley St homeowner Margaret Levings and her family had lived in the house for 21 years. They were involved in "this business of neighbourhood watch and keeping an eye on everything".

"I have been known to go around with a plastic bag to clean up too," she said.

Further down the road, Gordon Taylor said Avonhead had "always been home". Over 40 years, he had moved back to the house four times with his wife.

"I've had 25 homes and I've come back to this one with pleasure each time."

But the appeal of the area has not gone unnoticed. The Taylors say real estate agents are frequently putting cards in their letterbox on the off chance they are considering selling.

Taylor said these usually end up in the bin.

Click here for an interactive graphic detailing more about how we live in Christchurch.


The Press