Christchurch Earthquake 2011
The final residents of a red-zoned street farewelled their home last week. CHARLES ANDERSON reports on more than two decades of memories, of what was lost and how a group of neighbours are all trying to move on from Kia Ora St.
There are no signs to Kia Ora St.
It was just over a month ago when Tracy Carlyle first noticed that the last of them were gone. It was a short and largely forgotten stretch of Bexley - filled with potholes and empty sections and, for its residents, memories. There were 23 years of those for Tracy and her husband, John. It was the only home her daughter, Sasha, had ever known. It was meant to be the first and only one they ever bought.
So Tracy called up Christchurch City Council to ask for the signs to be replaced. How else would people know that there was a street that existed there, just off Pages Rd, where a group of neighbours once made a pact that no matter what happened they would stay in touch? In the early days they agreed that they could park caravans in each others gardens while homes were being rebuilt. Then the pact changed. No matter where they moved to, they would check in on each other. They would still be neighbours. They called themselves the Kia Ora six.
"How many people are living on the street?" the council phone operator asked.
"Just two," Tracy replied.
The operator apologised. It was a Red Zone street in a Red Zone suburb. In a few weeks, all residents who had taken a Crown purchase offer on their land had to be out. It was not worth it.
Last weekend the people went from the street, too. So the Kia Ora six gathered at the Carlyles' like they did almost every night for weeks after the February 2011 earthquake. They lit a bonfire in the backyard and reminisced about a life when the street was quiet for the right reasons and the children would play in the street and no-one would ever need to worry. There used to be no reason ever to leave. It would be a final farewell to Kia Ora St.
The next day, Tracy and John would pack up boxes and plants and reverse down the green astro turf driveway, and try to move on from number 14.
The first night Lynda Poissonnier went to bed at 10 Kia Ora St she slept solidly through the night. A few months earlier she did not even know Tracy but their children did gymnastics together and after a competition Lynda offered to drop Sasha home. Lynda saw a small bungalow right next door to the Carlyles' place with a sign out the front.
"Is that house for sale?" she asked Tracy. It was a good-sized section with trees. It seemed like a nice street. Tracy said it was. Lynda and husband Mark's whole lives were based around the area. They both went to Central New Brighton School as children and as teenagers would walk down Pages Rd past icecream and game parlours all the way to Brighton when there used to be bumper to bumper traffic heading to the beach.
"It's all we have ever known," she said.
The house just felt right.
It was the afternoon close to the first anniversary of the earthquake when Tracy called her saying that she should get down to Kia Ora St. There was a digger on her front lawn. Lynda stood in front of what was once her house and watched as the machine's teeth plunged into their home of nine years. In two days it would be gone. She felt numb. She wanted to be alone. Even then, long after they moved to Hillmorton she asked herself questions: "Why couldn't we stay? Why couldn't we rebuild?" It seemed like such a waste and, to her, the house still seemed full of life. It wasn't until the digger ripped through their attic and she saw her ironing board come tumbling out of the roof that she felt empty.
"It's just material," she said. "But the memories you have are not material. It's what went on there. The beauty I talk about is the memories. We thought we were going to be there for the rest of our lives."
John and Tracy were the last ties to the street, Lynda said. For a long time she would still go down there and park in her old driveway, even though there was no house at the other end of it.
The drive there still made her think of what was. "It takes you a while to realise you can't go back," she said.
On the night of the final gathering she, Mark and her son, Tyrone, went out the back of the Carlyles' and watched the flames of the bonfire rising into the clear night. She hated the view. It used to look into their dining room. Now she could see clear through to Pages Rd. You could hear the faint rush of traffic.
Steve Hill was the first to move in and the first to leave. He had bought 9 Kia Ora St as a 26-year-old plumber. It was all he could afford. Now, at 54, he did not miss it. He was glad when the place was pulled down. He had spent hours and weeks doing it up and had only just finished a small hockey turf for his daughter when, the next day, the September earthquake struck. At least she got to play on it once, he said.
In the days and weeks after the February quake the Carlyles' became the street hub. After they hooked it up to an artesian well, it was the only water supply. They had a fire going 24 hours a day for hot showers. It brought everyone together, Hill said. He would come home from work and the Carlyes' barbecue would already be going. There would be a line to get a cup of tea and John would call out to him from across the street: "Come on over."
Hill laughed at the memory. In those days they laughed more than most, he said.
"But you get over things," he said. "And you have got to move on or you will get stuck in a rut."
His house was part of that rut. It was a part of his life and a great part of it, he said. But he had to move on. Kia Ora St had given him a lesson - you are reliant on those around you. So when the Hills moved to Marine Parade they dropped an invitation into all the surrounding letter boxes. Most of the neighbours came.
At the final get together Roseann Gardner could see Tracy was finding it hard.
"You think you are doing all right," Roseann told her. "But it will hit you sooner or later."
When Roseann moved to Park Parade she cried all the way there. She was leaving behind 22 years in Kia Ora St.
For a long time it felt like she was living in someone else's house, in a foreign place. It was like a strange holiday. The first Christmas at Rosean's new place helped. They had family - sisters, nieces, nephews and aunts. That made the shift concrete. But she did not want to go back to Kia Ora St. It was still sad to see number 11 - her white brick home, cracked and broken. She has never gone back inside.
"It is very sad to see it in the state it's in but you have to look forward," she said.
Before Tracy moved out, she pulled out Roseann's daffodil bulbs and gave them back to her. It was a symbol of something else the neighbourhood gave her. "We still have our memories and no- one can take those away from us."
Last Sunday, Tracy and John reversed out their driveway for the last time. They moved around the corner into Roseann's old family home while they waited for a title for a patch of land in Rolleston to come through.
They all said they would go back from time to time. They wanted to see what would become of their little street. They would all move on but they would always have their pact. They would always be the Kia Ora six.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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