Couple making best of red zone

Uninsured Bexley couple farm in empty plots

Last updated 05:00 20/03/2014
Rae and Martin Francis

FARMER'S WIFE: Rae and Martin Francis are an island of normality in the red zone.

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The East

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Rae Francis always wanted to be a farmer's wife.

Now she has turned her red-zoned Bexley home into a lifestyle block - growing tomatoes, potatoes, corn and pumpkins on the empty plots around her.

Rae and her husband, Martin, are some of the only people still living in Bexley.

The retired couple's neatly mown lawns and colourful flowerbeds are an oasis of tidy domesticity amid the decay and destruction of their ruined suburb.

Rae Francis has fond memories of childhood holidays on a farm down south - feeding calves and driving tractors.

"I always wanted to be a farmer's wife, but it never happened," she said.

"But we have got a lifestyle block here now. We would like to have chooks as well."

She turns each fresh harvest of tomatoes and pumpkins into soup.

The couple, both in their early 70s, bought the riverside home for their retirement 12 years ago. They did not insure the house as they had no mortgage and had fallen out with their insurance company over the way it dealt with a series of burglaries at their former home.

The couple refused the $53,000 settlement offer from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority. They are awaiting the result of ongoing legal action taken by Quake Outcasts.

"We got an insult, not an offer," she said. "You could only buy a tin shed for $50,000. You wouldn't even be able to buy the land to put it on.

"This was our retirement home. I was only leaving in a box and there's a possibility I still could."

Living in post-quake Bexley has its challenges. She does not feel safe at night. The empty house in front of them was broken into about four weeks ago.

"I am a bit nervous at nighttime. We have a cat, but not a dog. I would love a big dog."

Her doctor said a viral infection in her eye was probably stress-related. It took 14 months and many hospital visits to shake the infection.

But she still enjoys living in her red-zoned home.

The house is warm enough in winter and they weathered the recent floods without a puddle.

Francis knows the location of all the pot holes in her street, but her car tyres still needed replacing after just 14 months.

"It's all right. You just have to get on with life, don't you?"

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