– Lyttelton, Canterbury, New Zealand

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

My name is John Cleaver, I am 83, and I was just at home, in the kitchen actually. I always have a cooked meal at midday and I was just about to put my lunch in the microwave to get it all warmed up and the whole place just shook. It was the end it, I didn’t get my warm lunch, and I thought gosh, that was very inconvenient of the earthquake, if it would have just waited five minutes I would have had a warm meal! So I just stood there and hung onto the bench till everything sort of calmed down.

But I had quite a lot of crystal, very nice crystal, mainly French in the cupboard there, and that all came down and smashed on the floor. Apart from that, nothing really happened to the house. All the books fell out of the bookcase downstairs. It was quite interesting really, I felt all right, but I couldn’t have been really because it was a couple of days and I was still looking at that heap of broken glass on the floor and also the books. I just couldn’t do it somehow.

And anyway, my dear grandson Jacob, he came around, just at the right time as he often does, and he cleaned the whole floor up, vaccuumed and taped up the cupboards and did all those sorts of things. I still couldn’t do the books, but the lady from next door came in and she put the books back. I felt all right, you know, but I was still in a certain amount of shock without realising it.

I can’t remember what I did after the shaking stopped… I had to have a cold lunch…I really can’t think what I did… I think I just treated it as a normal day really. The severe aftershocks don’t worry me very much really, they are very, very similar to what happens at sea really, in rough weather.

In the next few days I just behaved normally really. I belong to quite a few organisations, there is always paper work to be done, so thats what I probably did.

Immediately after the earthquake a lot of people came around to see whether I was all right and after a few days I think the Red Cross came, checking up on all the elderly, but unfortunately I don’t feel very elderly, but I suppose I am. Yes, so that was all very nice.

I didn’t really feel as if I did as much as I should have done to help other people. I didn’t offer any accommodation, which I could have done really, in hindsight. Perhaps I should have done more things like that. I did deliver a few meals, when the Navy was here cooking all those meals I delivered some of them, so that was something.

My niece rang up from Nelson and said “John, do you want to come up here?’, but I couldn’t. Quite apart from the responsibilities I’ve got, I just didn’t want to be away, I wanted to be here.

I don’t think I could have happily left, I had a look around at all my buildings, which is the Torpedo Museum, which is in perfect order. I had a look at the [Freemason’s] Lodge, which was further damaged, and started to work on getting that propped up, because we are still hoping to restore it. I also had a look at the [old Lyttelton jail ] cells, and they are perfectly all right. Margaret Copeland put up a display in there and it didn’t even fall over! And as far as the Torpedo Museum goes, that building was built as a magazine to withstand an explosion, so that’s why it was perfectly all right.

But I’m afraid the Lodge, well, half of the lodge is double-brick and the other part is wooden, the wooden section is actually younger than the other section strangely enough. But the brick section has been quite badly damaged, the wooden section is more or less all right.

I had quite a few phone call because I have quite a lot of family in the area.

As we all know the earthquake has reenforced the community feeling. I enjoyed the party down at the Grassy [Lyttelton Main School Playground], it was the first event that we had that the rest of Christchurch was excluded from (laughs), so that was quite interesting. That was very nice. It takes me back to when we first came here in 1956; it was a totally enclosed, totally self-sufficient community. We had all the shops you could possibly think of here, and our only connection with Christchurch was the half hourly train service. So the earthquake was a reminiscence of those early days.

I can remember when we had three little kids, we didn’t have a car, my wife wheeled them down the street with the pram to do all our shopping at all the different shops and get a taxi home. We had 4 taxis in Lyttelton and all the stuff got delivered. That was a good system. And, that will never happen again, there were 2000 people working on the water front, so a large proportion of the population worked together. We had big families, they would all go to the three schools. We had the three churches which were more patronised in those days, we even had a maternity hospital. So when the tunnel went through it has changed things quite a lot. I think the geography of a place helps a lot, it keeps us together. It’s one of the few places really, most of the Christchurch suburbs are not well defined at all.

I am part of the whanau round in Rapaki, I’ve got lots of family connections with them, and I was trying to ring Christine, who is my… great-grandson’s auntie. I couldn’t get her all day, so I went around there about 6 o’clock, I got invited in immediately, it was meal-time, so I got kai. So I said, ‘Look, I didn’t come around for a meal, I came around to see how you all are.’ And of course Christine had been doing good Samaritan work the whole day, that’s why I couldn’t get hold of her, which she does all the time. Although she is blonde, and comes from Sydney, she really fits in, I think she has been here for 14 years. I was quite impressed, because Doug Couch for example, his house had just been totally destroyed and his wife had a narrow experience with boulders coming down the hill and he was quite cheerful and everyone was. It just shows how in a close community like Rapaki you support one another, in Lyttelton as well, but Rapaki is smaller and one big family really.

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.

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