A true Kiwi bloke lost

Last updated 16:32 17/02/2012
Ian Neville Caldwell
KIWI BLOKE: Ian Neville Caldwell had a heart of gold and was a really good dad.

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A true Kiwi bloke was lost beneath a cliff-face landslide in Sumner last February.

Ian Neville Caldwell was a rugby-mad, beer drinking Cantabrian who wore jandals all year round.

He was a barbecue king, a jack of all trades and an old fashioned family man who avoided the kitchen and laundry at all costs.

Ian, 47, was a born and bred Cantabrian.

He worked long, tough hours and had the rough, dry hands of a builder.

Often he left his New Brighton home at dawn and wouldn't return until 6pm.

On the day of the earthquake, he was at the top of a scaffolding trying to secure rocks above the Sumner Redcliffs RSA, but the force of the shake caused the cliff face to break away and he was buried beneath the landslide.

The house he had lived in for 20 years was also left battered and broken.

The home he had raised his family in, done countless renovations on and "painted so many times because he couldn't get the colour right", was swamped in liquefaction with sunken floors and cracked walls.

His wife of 25 years, Julie Caldwell, 48, was left a homeless widow, with two daughters Olivia, 21, and Cassandra, 18 and Ian's beloved dog Ty.

When asked how she coped, she says: "Well, it's a matter of having to, isn't it.

"You just have to get up in the morning and it's one foot, then the other. What else can you do?"

Over the past year, Julie has returned to her quake-damaged street and learned to accept that the man she had shared her life with will no longer come home.

One thing she refuses to do is "put him in the cupboard and say he never existed".

Ian is still a big part of his family's life, his clothes are still in the cupboards, his model cars are still on a shelf in the lounge and his name still features in most conversations.

"He was such a typical Kiwi bloke," Julie says.

Ian was a fierce rugby fan who was counting down to the Rugby World Cup in September 2011.

He had even built a do-it-yourself "man cave" around the back of the house, with a built in bar, big-screen TV and grandstand.

"He was so looking forward to that world cup. And Oh My God, did he love a beer," Julie says laughing.

Ian was an "old fashioned man's man", he refused to let Julie mow the lawns and at the same time he refused to do the washing or cooking.

She remembers him as a man who was either in steel-capped work boots or jandals, a man who was almost always unshaven and a man who was far from fashion conscious.

Ian once won a pair of shorts at a pub quiz night and "wore them to death", despite the fact that they were bright yellow.

He "wasn't a big personality" nor did he like to be in the limelight, but Ian was respected by his family and friends and is remembered as "the man who had a heart of gold".

Although he was very much a bloke, Ian was a "big softie" when it came to animals.

Julie recalls on more then one occasion when he came home with a stray cat or dog saying "oh but we have to keep her".

His last Christmas present to the family was Ty, a grey husky.

Ty would sleep on Ian's side of the bed and he would often come home from work at lunchtime "not to see me - to see the dog!" Julie says.

The last thing Ian ever said to Julie, at 6am on February 22, was "make sure that gate's shut. I don't want Ty getting out".

Seven months after Ian died, Ty escaped out the open gate and was killed by a car.

His ashes now lie with Ians, and his collar rests on his headstone.

Ian and Ty are buried alongside quake victim Natasha Hadfield at the Avonhead Park Cemetery and Julie says she always stops to say hello to Natasha when she visits her husband.

The Christchurch widow is composed and well-mannered but admits she has had her "moments of anger" in the last year.

On February 22, when her brother-in-law told her about her husband's death she recalls saying: "Don't tell me that s..." and closing the door on him.

Julie says it would be good to be able to yell and scream and lay the blame on somebody for Ian's death, but "there's no one to blame".

In 25 years, Julie and Ian had not spent a night apart from one another and Julie says they used to hold hands while they were sleeping.

After he died, she felt an overwhelming need to hold his hand.

A friend contacted Burnham Military Camp, which was acting as a temporary morgue after the quake, on her behalf and heard that Ian's body was so disfigured Julie would not be allowed to view him.

"It would have been nice to have that final moment with him," she says.

Julie does not know what her future will bring but says she still has things to live for.

Just before Christmas last year, her daughter brought home Lucky, the latest addition to the Caldwell family.

The miniature white samoyed puppy keeps her busy and has brightened up their damaged home.

After Ian's death, she struggled to sleep alone and now Lucky sleeps with her, the puppy's snoring has taken over from Ians, she says laughing.

Julie is still awaiting answers from the Earthquake Commission about her house and her land, and alike many Christchurch residents feels as though she is living in limbo.

"I've got so much to deal with now that I'm on my own," she says.

But, like a true Cantabrian, Julie will carry on. She will continue to "put one foot after the other" but says she will miss Ian every step of the way.

- Stuff

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