– Lyttelton, Canterbury, New Zealand

This is a transcript of an interview with Trent Hiles conducted shortly after the 22 February 2011 earthquake.

My name is Trent Hiles and I am 47. When the earthquake hit I probably was 500 metres up in the air landing from a flight from Auckland into Christchurch airport. We approached, we landed and we were taking a long time to get out of the plane and nobody knew what was going on and then the pilot came on and said “Folks just to let you know there might have been a wee earthquake, there is a bit of stuff around the terminal, it’s not poor house keeping it’s a few things that have fallen off. So make your way out of the plane and you will be directed out of the terminal.”

So we got out of the plane, and I wasn’t worried at all. There were people on the plane from Auckland just to do business for the day and they looked worried “Oh, an earthquake!” but I said “No, no, it’ll be sweet!” – sort of thing. Then we walked out of the airbridge and there is sirens going off, there are fire engines, police, there’s stuff fallen off the ceilings, stuff broken off the walls, and I am thinking straight away “This is not just a small earth quake,”

And I was walking out towards the international terminal we were directed through and my cell phone rang and it was my Dad and he said “Oh, there has been a massive earthquake.” and I said ‘Yeah, I know” and this huge aftershock happened and all this stuff fell out of the big glass atrium, just dust and bits and pieces, nothing major. And I just thought ’Expletive I don’t want to be in here.” and I shot off outside.

I had already keyed in with Fiona to get the kids from school, they’re in Opawa, I got the last bus out of the air port. Crawled through the first part of the city. Finally the bus got gridlocked and I ran to the Steiner School to pick up the kids. We had co-ordinated that I get the kids, she was trying to come and meet me at a place we had already pre-determined ages ago, that if we’d have an emergency we’ve got some friends just below the Rapaki track.

So we walked from the school to Vernon terrace and met up and made a plan from there. Fiona worked in Lincoln, and the shake had been quite mild there. She was going to get back to work, but it kept on shaking and then she turned on the radio and went on geo-net and discovered that all hell had broken loose. It was far less damaged out there than the first quake.

I was thinking about this today: The kids experienced this terrifying earthquake, for the people in Lyttelton it must have been really traumatic, and I missed it. So I feel I’ve missed out in a way! It’s ironic.

Fiona took the boys out to Halswell where we have some friends out there whose house was without power but was safe and secure and I just had this desire to get home. We had our dog here and I was really keen to get over here and see that the power was OK, the water’s off, gas, no issues around that. And just that proprietorial thing about coming back to my castle. I guess in hindsight, considering that Owen was killed, doing what I was doing, coming up over the hills and down the track I wouldn’t do it again. I saw a number of people coming up and over and I think we had this homing pigeon like thing going on, coming home to roost and making sure that everything is OK.

When the cell phones came back on line I managed to talk to Fiona and she decided they weren’t any better off over there than here so they drove over the Sign of the Kiwi, which probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do with all the rockfalls, but it was good to come home and be together .

I’ve always known, call it intuition or statistically, that there was going to be a big earthquake. I used to work in the middle of town, at Unlimited School, and I left there in 2007, and one of the reasons, but it wasn’t the driving one, was that I knew that one day there was going to be an earthquake and I didn’t want to be in the city center in a five story concrete, steel and glass structure. We don’t have to live our work like this in this country, so I made choices around that.

There had been changes already from the first earthquake, but I always had the respect for the Planet and the power of Papatuanuku. We are here by her grace. We survive because everything works at the moment, but it will not always work and hasn’t always worked…

I met with someone today and we talked about earthquakes and it might sound crazy but its like… it’s actually good. This is a good thing to be happening because it gives us a reality check how we are living out lives. Are we awake to what we are doing to the planet, to each other, to ourselves? I am not saying I live the perfect live by any stretch of imagination but to have an awareness that we live in a fragile, precarious time- that’s all time, not just now. And we are so fortunate to live in this country away from all the stuff that is happening in the Northern hemisphere, – yet maybe too fortunate. We’ve become too used to being too comfortable,- a little bit more of an egalitarian society, equalling things out, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, a bit of Robin Hood stuff.

Do we need to have so much stuff? I’ve seen a lot of stuff thrown out because people go ‘Phhht’ what does this mean to me? Nothing, I have stored it for so many years.’ Sooo, I don’t think any major changes for me, but that reminder ‘Am I awake?” and ‘Yes, I think I am.’

Can I in a way – and that’s maybe also what it is with Arts in the Park, – what can I do to nurture that awakenness in people. Because you can’t tell them to wake up. They’ve got to explore that and find it for themselves. But you can do things to trip them up, to have them stop and consider what is going on.

And we haven’t run away… and where would you run? Run to Auckland and being blown away and blown down [by hurricanes]. And Motueka and Nelson have also been shaken by earthquakes, so in New Zealand you can’t run. So let’s stay and fight, demonstrate to our kids and the community resilience, that’s a great lesson.

We all know about the strength of our own community here, and that has re-inforced that, so there were no surprises. Needing to get together and connect with people, by and large Lytteltonians talk to their neighbour, we’re not aloof and curse each other over the fence. For me it’s about opportunity. The positive thing is – yes, we’ve lost stuff, and we’ve all lost something-, some people have lost homes and people. The buildings are gone, but with destruction comes creation.

Christchurch is going to be a nightmare to sort it out, but we could actually be the model in a small scale of how it should be done. It will be interesting to see what leadership comes out of the Lyttelton community, there is still something to happen with that, and I sent an email through following that community meeting down at the Rec. Center and said we almost need an informal mayor of the Harbour Basin area, who can not necessarily have all the ideas, but bring the people together and unite all the different thoughts and ideas.

I am not saying all the buildings have to look exactly the same but that there is a cohesive redevelopment that allows everyone to have a say and yet moves the process along. Who that person could be I have no idea. Maybe someone will step forward… once the buildings are down, we have a blank slate almost, what can we do now? Of course most people will be keen to get the building started as soon as possible. Would be good to get the businesses talking to each other. And the fact it’s not just the businesses. I work with the Whakaraupo carving center,- how can we bring those outreach groups closer to become part of their community? They are very keen to tap in top the tourist market. What can we be doing with the community, the Port Company and other people to capitalise on what’s going to be a critical source of income for us, if we can get Lyttelton going, and give people a good reason to come here. If they can come to the Harbour Basin and can have a one day cultural experience or artistic adventure they will come. That’s the sort of stuff I think needs to happen and that is positive in my eyes.

It’s positive to see the willingness of people to open their homes to friends or even strangers to come and live with them till things got sorted out… Just re-inforcing the community sense we have here is a model for other communities across the hill, who made inroads into those sort of things they probably didn’t have going on before.

Lindon Puffin said that for him the big thing was that Lyttelton was such a strong community but maybe we as a community should be going out to other communities and almost show them the way or help them build their own communities. Tell them you don’t have to wait for a major earthquake to become close to your neighbours. It’s like having the Timebank and Project Lyttelton. We are blessed by the geographic nature of this particular part of this country and so our community has formed naturally if you like, so we have to give thanks to the way the land has formed here, because it is harder on the flat land of Christchurch where everything is more spread out and the boundaries of the communities are less clear.

This transcript is from one of a series of interviews carried out by Bettina Evans of Project Lyttelton. We are very grateful to Bettina and the interviewees for allowing their interview transcripts to be posted on QuakeStories.

Tell your story Report this story

Report this Story as Inappropriate

If you've noticed any inappropriate content in this story or feel that the story contains privacy violations, please fill out the form below.

We'll review your report and remove information that is in violation of our policies.

We'll only use your email address to let you know about the result of your report.