Second Anniversary of the Christchurch Earthquake

Two years ago a powerful earthquake struck Christchurch resulting in the tragic loss of 185 lives, countless homes, businesses and untold amounts of irreplaceable heritage.  Much of what so many people take for granted every day was lost in just seconds.

As a born and bred Cantabrian it was devastating to feel the distant shock-waves in Dunedin and then watch helplessly as the scale of the disaster unfolded on national television.  Friends and family were stranded in the crippled CBD, familiar streets were reduced to rubble and it was immediately obvious that the city I knew so well would never be the same again.

It seems right to commemorate the second anniversary of the disaster in some way and to do so I thought I’d do what I usually do in most of my posts and share a piece of ephemera from my personal collection.  I’ve spoken before about how I usually limit my ephemera collection to items from pre-1945, however sometimes I break that rule and in this instance I think you will understand why.

This is a car parking receipt from the Christchurch CBD, dated 22nd February, 2011.  As you can see, it was due to expire at 12:51pm, the exact moment that the quake struck.

ChCh_Feb22nd Parking Receipt

I saw this receipt on Trade Me a few months after the quake and thought it would make a unique addition to my collection as a sort of ephemeral memorial to the disaster.  As a history geek I’m used to learning how towns and cities inevitably change over time, but on that day at 12:51pm a century-worth of change happened in an instant.  This parking receipt marks that moment in a personal and poignant way and I like to think that a future collector will appreciate it as much as I do.

Ephemera by definition means something transitional or short-lived.  It is never meant to be kept and that is one reason historical ephemera can be so fascinating – it is an honest record of daily life that is easy to relate to.  I find it particularly moving to think that this otherwise unremarkable piece of paper marks the exact minute that we learned that our buildings, streets and cities can also be ephemeral.

I encourage you all to mark 12:51pm with one minute’s silence to remember all those who were lost in the disaster and to appreciate all that you have in your life with the knowledge that everything can change in an instant.

© Lemuel Lyes

7 replies »

  1. It was a sombre day and one we need to remember. Funnily enough, we felt the first quake – the September 2010 shake – in Wellington. About a minute after we felt it, my wife started fielding texts from family in Christchurch. They’d just felt a huge quake, and figured if it was bad there, then Wellington must have been totally flattened. Weirdly, though, we never felt the big quake of 22 February that killed so many.

    I think these events have forced us to re-define our idea of ‘quake’, too. Until Christchurch, quakes were meant to be singular events – the big thump, followed by diminishing aftershocks. The end. But they’re not, necessarily. Christchurch was, essentially, shaken to pieces just as thoroughly as Napier and Hastings in 1931, or Wellington in 1848 and 1855. But not in an instant. And that, I think, made it so much the harder. Still, I got the feeling last time I was down there that they are picking up, that there IS a go-ahead feeling. And the place will recover – of that we can be sure!

    I have to say that is a seriously cool piece of ephemera!

    • Funny you mention that story about Wellingtonians feeling the September earthquake. A similar thing happened to my parent’s neighbours in Christchurch who received a phone-call from friends in Wellington telling them that “we’ve just had a quake in Wellington but don’t worry, everything is ok!”

      I agree regarding aftershocks. Everyone knew that a large shock would likely be followed by aftershocks but I doubt few expected just how long they would continue for. There was definitely something reminiscent to a ‘Blitz Spirit’ evident there, not just in the form of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” signs that popped up next to piles of rubble but also there was very much a sense of the community pulling together to survive on-going adversity – never knowing when the next quake might occur, or how strong it might be.

  2. An interesting and moving post, Lemuel. Just on an issue of conservation, apart from having the digital scan, what can you do to stop the text from disappearing (heat printed items can be almost illegible after relatively short periods, even when kept in cool dark conditions) or do you not mind the process of deterioration?

    • Good point regarding conservation. This receipt does pose extra problems for the reason you give – thermal printed items are difficult to preserve and have a very short life.

      It is something relatively unique in my personal collection in that most of my paper items are significantly older and comparatively easy to preserve. So I do worry about the longevity of this receipt.

      Besides keeping it away from light and heat I also make a point of storing it separately from other paper items and to limit light exposure have not included it in any of my albums. Also I’ve only handled it once since I’ve bought it and that was to make the digital scan.

      However even with precautions the long time lifespan isn’t good. This kind of printing often doesn’t last even five years and archives around the world are concerned about preservation of these kind of items. Unfortunately the best solution seems to be to make a high resolution digital copy or a physical copy on more durable paper.

      • Yes, conservation issues for museums are getting harder, not easier, with new technologies. I don’t mind the natural deterioration of objects, but having said that, the thermal printed items can become blank pieces of paper with no hint of what they were originally, so there is not point in that type of pehemera being left to its own devices. I wonder what the solutions will be for museums. I would think they could find a chemical treatment to fix the image eventually?

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