Christchurch mosque attacks: A plague has blown in, was it here all along?

by Guyon Espiner / 17 March, 2019
The NZ flag flown at half-mast at Parliament. Photo/Getty.

The NZ flag flown at half-mast at Parliament. Photo/Getty.

If you dug a hole from Paris and kept on digging right through to the other side of the world you would end up in Christchurch.

That's what they reckoned anyway. Some character in a Douglas Coupland novel said so. Coupland was the guy who wrote the Generation X book about the lost, white middle-class slacker generation, trying to find a sense of meaning in a place where not much happened.

The book spoke to us. I've still got a copy that my friends gave me in 1993 when I left my home town of Christchurch to study journalism at Wellington Polytech. My mates wrote notes in felt pen on the inside page, like an office leaving card, except with genuine emotions.

I pulled the book out the other day. The messages are idealistic and overblown and they're hopeful and clumsy. Like us at 23, going on 19.

The Coupland character was right. Geographically it nearly stacks up and yes Christchurch was the opposite of Paris in the early 1990s.

It was a pretty tough town then. It felt like a big town. The sky was long and wide and the sun shone low on the wet black road. The earth was flat. The sky pushed you down, sealing you in so that sometimes it was difficult to breathe.

Read more: Terror attack accused's firearms licence granted despite online activity

But it was safe. From big stuff anyway. Because nothing happened in Christchurch. Big things happened for teenagers. But that's different. Someone would yell from a car and you'd run. My mate got chased for a denim jacket, not even a leather one. I remember once, at 15, running from some guys carrying baseball bats. Our slowest guy got hit and their scariest guy wore a hockey mask.

I remember the skinheads too. We lived in a six bedroom flat on Hagley Avenue in the early 1990s and they'd walk squat and ugly down to Addington. I have a vivid memory of them marching down Hagley Ave as I watched in silence from the top floor.

We were good kids. We did nothing.

Yes, Christchurch had a problem with racism even then. When I moved from the Hagley Ave flat to Armagh Street heading east, we got burgled twice and had a car knicked from right outside the house.

"Any suspects, or just any Māori or unemployed person?" asked the police officer who came to investigate. I didn't say anything.

I looked for that flat last Christmas when we were down visiting family. It's gone, of course. Most of my landmarks are gone after the earthquakes: The pub I got banned from and that place where our band played badly and for free, and that gig where I kissed a girl outside. All gone. They are still in the memory but they are not on the map. When I lived in Christchurch we thought the earth was flat and that nothing ever happened there.

We've been staying in the central city the last few times we've come down from Auckland to spend Christmas with my family. It's nice to watch my wife and my five-year-old daughter enjoy Christchurch flourish into a new city, springing to life again with a thousand different faces.

It seemed like the sky was lifting and that suffocating feeling that saw me flee the city seemed to be drifting away with the easterly.

And now this plague has blown in. As one scar heals another cuts deep. It's a parasite which has burrowed underground. Guns and blood and flowers. Things that happen in Paris not Christchurch.

It has wormed its way through from the other side of the world. Or perhaps it was here all along. In the things that we knew were wrong as we watched silently from the window upstairs.

This article was first published on Radio NZ.

Latest

The drama and the trauma behind NZ musician Shayne Carter's rise to the top
107207 2019-06-15 00:00:00Z Music

The drama and the trauma behind NZ musician Shayne…

by Mike White

Shayne Carter’s career has been wild and acclaimed. But his just-released memoir reveals the drama and trauma going on behind the scenes.

Read more
Rare photos of the Straitjacket Fits by Brian Murphy
The Handmaid's Tale is so chilling, you risk hypothermia
107150 2019-06-15 00:00:00Z Television

The Handmaid's Tale is so chilling, you risk hypot…

by Diana Wichtel

Season three of The Handmaid’s Tale packs a punch, despite some implausible scenes, writes Diana Wichtel.

Read more
Christchurch mosque attacks: Accused pleads not guilty to all charges
107204 2019-06-14 00:00:00Z Crime

Christchurch mosque attacks: Accused pleads not gu…

by Anneke Smith

The man accused of the Christchurch terror attacks has pleaded not guilty to all the charges laid against him.

Read more
One thing is certain: Political biffo is unavoidable in NZ Parliament
107183 2019-06-14 00:00:00Z Politics

One thing is certain: Political biffo is unavoidab…

by Bevan Rapson

Despite overdue efforts to improve Parliament's culture, political biffo will always be with us.

Read more
The sweeping proposal to lower speed limits is on the skids – it's a good thing
107144 2019-06-14 00:00:00Z Social issues

The sweeping proposal to lower speed limits is on…

by The Listener

Transport officials’ enthusiasm for a sweeping lowering of speed limits looks set to go the way of the once-proposed ban on cats in dairies.

Read more
Are New Zealand's intelligence agencies watching the right people?
107185 2019-06-14 00:00:00Z Social issues

Are New Zealand's intelligence agencies watching t…

by Phil Pennington

New Zealanders who feel they've done nothing wrong have found themselves under surveillance by the state and say they've been left nervous.

Read more
Never Look Away: A flawed masterpiece about life in WWII-era Germany
107122 2019-06-14 00:00:00Z Movies

Never Look Away: A flawed masterpiece about life i…

by James Robins

Epic drama captures an artist navigating the upheavals of Nazi and post-war Germany.

Read more