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.
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