Avon park petition journey

23:33, May 14 2012
Avon River petition
PARLIAMENT-BOUND: Brett Leask transfers the petition, which calls Avon River to be turned into a park.

PEGGY KELLY describes the labour of love that went into the petition to Parliament seeking to turn residential red-zoned areas of eastern Christchurch into a park.

Over 18,500 signatures bound into two sturdy volumes were taken on a symbolic journey from Christchurch to Wellington early this month.

The Avon-Otakaro Network (colloquially referred to as AvON) had organised the day which began in the morning with a blessing at Shag Rock/Rapanui and drew on the willingness of canoeists, rowers, harriers, school students, cyclists and finally AvON supporters on foot to carry the tomes from the estuary, along the river and over land to Christchurch airport.

On the way, at Cambridge Green/Te Wai Pure o Tautahi, a stirring Maori reception and gentle blessing by the Rev Maurice Gray and local runanga made history on the spot.

At the airport Mayor Bob Parker and co-chair Evan Smith were among the send- off party. The petition was accompanied to Wellington by co- chair, Rev Mark Gibson.

Next day on the steps of Parliament the AvON petition was handed over by Allan and Helen Campbell, former Bexley red-zone residents, and received by MPs from the Green, Labour and National parties. I was pleased to see that the books had stood up to their journey well and still looked good on delivery.


It was a tribute to everyone involved in their making and minding - from those who signed and collected the signatures to those who have taken them into their care. For anyone interested in process, this is how the books were made.

The late Don Hampshire, of Redcliffs, taught me all I know about binding books. During the 1970s I joined three or four other learners at his home every Sunday afternoon.

The first hour was spent doing something for Don - usually sewing or breaking down journals, or some other repetitive and time- consuming task. The second hour was taken up with learning how to do something for ourselves, and as we progressed, this involved working with leather and hand-set lettering. For the last half hour we sipped sherry while the glue dried. No money changed hands.

In 1975 I moved to live in Dunedin, and it wasn't until February 2012 that I felt the need to revive some of my book-binding skills.

This happened when I heard that the Avon-Otakaro Network were collecting signatures for their petition "respectfully asking the House of Representatives to work with the people and local authorities in Christchurch to ensure that the River Avon red zone becomes a reserve and river park when the homeowners have to leave".

My mind immediately went back to the Travis Wetland petition which, by the time it was presented to the Christchurch City Council, had become a precious artefact, so beautifully was it bound by the late Erena McNeil using Mark Lander's flax paper and dried plant specimens named by Colin Meurk in three languages from the very swamp that was eyed for housing development.

This petition properly honoured the signatories and set a bench mark for AvON to emulate.

So, when I heard about AvOn's petition I offered to get it bound, before remembering that I'd forgotten how to do it and didn't have the necessary equipment.

First, I had to find a binder to talk things over with so I went to the Yellow Pages and found Darren Rigden.

When we met I discovered he was in flux: the university bindery where he was employed was in the process of closing down and he was in the throes of setting up a full bindery in his garage at home.

Considering his circumstances he listened to me with great patience and sent me on my way with the loan of a sewing frame and a promise of professional help when we got to the casing-in stage.

Next I had a read of my only book on the subject, Bookbinding as a Handcraft, and realised that (a) I'd forgotten the basics of sewing and (b) the old treadle Singer sewing machine hadn't gone for 30 years and (c) I didn't have any proper thread.

Not wanting to intrude on Mr Rigden again so soon and at a friend's suggestion I paid a visit to the Christchurch City Council bindery in Linwood. (I never knew such a place existed).

There, Julian the binder gave me a quick demo on how to sew sections together and sold me enough tape to do the job. After that I went on a great quest to find Coats Barbour Linen thread No 18; had I been a proper craftsperson I should have known to go to Hands, in Normans Rd, in the first instance and so saved myself a lot of gallivanting around.

Next was what to do about the sewing machine; back to the Yellow Pages again. Sewingtime NZ Ltd advertises "sales and service" and includes Singer in their multilingual list.

Yes they made house calls - for a price. Yes Graeme Coup would come. Well, Graeme did come - several times - and took Singer away to run on his bench, and brought her back again and when he did, we both admired her fine clickity-click and marvelled at her agility.

Graeme was an old Lane Walker Rudkin man, used to working on industrial machines. I think he took quite a liking to my little old treadle and she and I are very grateful.

During the next few weeks Ann Kennedy travelled to and fro with the petition sheets, checking, photocopying and numbering them. I machine stitched them, ten to a section on the Singer while Marianne Bomer hand-sewed the sections together on the frame.

Meanwhile, I remembered the lovely Cockerell (Grantchester) marbled endpapers that Bill Malpress and I had bought in the 1970s and wondered if he still had any.

I paid him a visit and discovered that not only did he remember that he had some but knew exactly where to find them. He gave me pick of the three remaining sheets in his possession. I chose the most estuarine and colourful.

Afterwards I found out that the contents of the "world-renowned Cockerell Bindery" had been sold by auction in 1990.

This bindery represented a tradition that started under the influence of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement and continued until the death of Sydney Cockerell in 1988.

So we were quite lucky to locate a sheet of his endpaper in Christchurch NZ in 2012 and have it made available for our purpose.

After all that I thought, "We need something indigenous to balance this English paper - perhaps we should create a beautiful Aotearoa title page".

It was Darren the binder who put me in touch with Kim Grieves, paper-maker. Kim makes paper out of various materials including carex and flax and gave me samples of each to consider. This was her gift to the project. In the end the fine, smooth, sand- coloured flax paper was chosen.

Then it was back to the Yellow pages again to find a calligrapher. Did I pick Lorraine Brady because of her Irish surname or because it says FSSI after it?

I don't know but she became another treasure in this hunt for helpers. Entering the spirit of the project she gifted her wonderful talent and expertise. She entertained and humoured me, as well.

To satisfy the curious, FSSI stands for Fellow of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators (UK) but I didn't know this when I rang her.

When all was sewn together we had two bulky volumes - each as big as your average Old Family Bible. Now it was time to go back to Darren for the guillotining, casing in and lettering - and all the other treatments that go into the making of real books. And what a splendid job he has done bringing it all together.

He has created something that not only pays tribute to the hours spent collecting signatures but respects the people who signed - often in sadness - including those people who have had to leave their homes and their land.

I hope someone from our House of Representatives will turn the pages and from their egg stains and rain marks read between the lines and find the love and longing that lies there and persuade their colleagues to persuade their colleagues to grant the petitioners' request - and then some more.

Peggy Kelly helped with the Travis Wetland petition, and works in the Packe Street Park and Community Garden.

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