Everything is going to be alright…

EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT shines out, high on the facade of the Christchurch Art Gallery.

Ironically, this neon installation designed by British artist Martin Creed, faces across the Worcester Street Boulevard to the monumental home of the Christchurch City Council, where monumental decisions are made daily about the rebuild in Christchurch. Everything is going to be all right…. Or is it?

It’s 8.30 am.  It’s grey and a chill cuts the air. The forecast’s for 31 degrees this afternoon and gale nor’ westerlies. That’s Christchurch for you.

This part of the boulevard is upbeat. The Art Gallery has re-opened and was well tested, after a fragile installation made of 600 kg of castor sugar, survived the recent Valentine’s Day earthquake and in cafes around the City Council, sharp young Cantabrians clutch tablets, and talk purposefully over lattés.

A few minutes’ walk down by the Avon River, I take my bearings. It’s what you do now in Christchurch. The Clarendon Hotel, a favourite student haunt, is missing. It once looked out on the statue of Robert Falcon Scott, designed by his wife, Kathleen in 1917. Robert Scott is also missing.

“We’re working really hard. That’s for sure,” a City Care workman in his bright orange vest tells me. “We’ve got to get the Bridge of Remembrance open for ANZAC Day. We’re along there, tiling it today.”

A bloke walks by and mutters about the Council spending big money on the concrete terraces along this stretch of the Avon.

It’s all go in that part of the CBD: Colombo, Cashel, Hereford, Oxford, and Litchfield. Cranes swing in the skyline, jack hammers and pile drivers are the heavy metal band and fluro vests and helmets the dress of the day.

But back to Worcester Street Boulevard, one block from Cathedral Square.  Wilson’s Car Park now takes up the Clarendon Hotel site as well as land as far as Cathedral Square.  A line of buildings opposite is in a sorry state of disrepair.

It’s cold in the Square. Exposed…   Somewhere close by, is the controversial Convention Centre site, with gravel and weeds and a spent tag of $15million so far.

 I think I’m alone in the Square until a middle-aged grey haired man in denims turns up beside me, leaps onto the statue of John Robert Godley and clambers around him.  I think this is very weird. My face must tell a thousand words.

“I’m just checking the gent with a dent in his head,” he says. “He’s been down; being restored for the last one and a half years. We took the scaffolding away yesterday.” He sounds very proud.  A few minutes later he takes off in his City Care Construction ute. “We’re getting there!” he calls out.

Founding father of Canterbury, John Robert Godley, stands in front of Christ Church Cathedral.  Unlike many of Christchurch’s damaged buildings still in dispute and boarded up, the Cathedral’s front, where its  rose stained glass window once was, is open to the elements. Committed Christians must ask why God has not done something about it.

Instead, this morning Robert Godley watches ten pigeons roost on the cross bar in the apex, while The Church of England, at this point, resists the restoration of the church.

EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT was paid for by Neil Graham. He liked to be known as Grumps, was co-founder of Mainfreight and a quiet, generous benefactor across Society. He died in September 2015 a few days after the neon lights were first turned on.

 And in Christchurch Art Gallery’s Summer 2016, Bulletin magazine, Director Jenny Harper in Remembering Grumps wrote

… Between Grumps and Martin Creed we have been given reassurance and hope – and hope is what all of us who have stayed in Christchurch have needed and clung to most.


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Janet Hart

Janet Hart lives in Nelson, where she taught English in secondary schools for nearly 30 years, before dabbling in a little historical New Zealand Art. In 2012 she took up Magazine Journalism, which now consumes her.