– Sumner Road, Lyttelton, Canterbury, New Zealand

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

I was coming back from Taylors Mistake, driving back over the hill, on Sumner road. I actually thought the suspension on my car had gone, but then I realised it was the road wobbling. I saw Windy Point in front of me and a car. At Windy Point I saw the cliffs fall down and surround this car with boulders. I started backing my car up the hill to get away from the boulders that kept appearing even after the first rumble. They kept appearing from the hill and clonking down onto the road. I was quite happy to survive that.

I thought I have to get out of here before another aftershock and any more boulders roll down, so I grabbed my skateboard out of the car. I had about 50 metres of rock hopping to do before I could see any clear road, because the road was covered in boulders, you couldn’t walk on it, you had to climb over the rocks. When I got down to clear road I jumped on the skateboard and I dodged all the smaller rocks until I came round to the police station, I was going quite fast and- it was quite weird- I was sort of enjoying the ride- but as soon as I was going around the corner I thought ‘What the hell has happened?’ I saw the police station, I saw Johann’s building, and thought ‘Oh my god, some people could have died here.’

The two people back up the hill [on Sumner Road] in the car were OK, they got out and decided to stand as far out as they could on Windy Point, but they weren’t to keen to hop over the boulders, so I left them to it. I really had to get to the school, to Lyttelton West to see how the boys were… amazing job by the Principal and the teachers looking after the children, when they were probably thinking about their own families. Everyone was in a real state of shock, everyone stayed on the bottom flat at Lyttelton West .

Strangly enough my Dad was in Lyttelton to visit the boys, so he and I went for a drive up to our house just to see what sort of damage was up home… there were lots of aftershocks, weren’t there – as we were driving and as we were walking, we were going “oh whooa… “

I was quite surprised to see my father frightened by the aftershocks, – strange because I would have thought I’d be the other way round. Dad and I went into the house and discovered the damage at home. It was like the house, probably like everyone else’s in Lyttelton, had done like a full spin cycle, everything was in a heap. It was unbelievable really. I don’t want to go on about it, coz there are much worse tragedies in town.

But I was really happy and relieved that all of our people got out of the cafe and no fatalities down in the village, with exception to the two men that were taken by rocks in the hills.

The most challenging thing was the ongoing shock that I saw people in. It’s almost as if I have been waiting for everyone to surface and get working. I’m seeing this as a massive challenge for people to stand up and rebuild. And it’s very significant in our life and probably in the 21st Century that we survived an earthquake that had the largest vertical ground movement ever felt here in Lyttelton – we were really fortunate to survive that. I am not seeing any of it as difficult yet, I am really just seeing it as a massive chance to take on a challenge and rebuild. And to do it with people that you didn’t think you might be working with! It’s been awesome actually. We have been working with all sorts of people I never thought I would get the chance to even talk to, like hardcore-locals, like these contractors that bring the buildings down, like the Navy. There are all these people that we have met over time. Amazing people, bloody amazing.

We had to take down the front of the building, and I think people thought the whole building had to be demolished, but it definitely isn’t. The front was unstable and had to be removed to make the street safe. That and the original canopy came down. And we are going to put up exactly the same thing, only in lighter materials.

I spent time, when we were taking the front down, saving the J.D. Bundy freeze and gave it to David Bundy the other day and I think he was happy because his grandfather build the building in 1923. He collected all the pieces, and put them in the boot of his Merc. We talked of how the pieces could be made into something like a monument for the earthquake and to past ancestors of Lyttelton. He is also happy that we were going to rebuild his grandfathers building in the Spanish Mission Style, just like we had it.

We always had quite a mash-up of buildings in Lyttelton and I just hope to see some more buildings sooner rather than later. I like to see people making their own individual statements, and working with economics they can afford. But we will try and get up running as soon as possible because everyone needs a coffee in the morning.

My favourite outcome… the first few days we were making coffee on the street and I think we just had our heads down just doing it. We needed to do something too… I think everyone needed to do something just so not to think too much about what had just happened. So we were just smashing out coffees, taking koha, and passing that on to people who needed the money. So we just had our heads down working, and it sort of dawned on me that something significant was happening when not the usual customers were coming up to the coffee stand and ordering ‘Just a coffee please’. ‘Would you like a white coffee or a black coffee?’ ‘Oh, just a coffee, anything would be great.’ And then I realised that the heart of Lyttelton was alive and that the quake was an opportunity for the people to really help out and get to know each other.

Help each other, keep a sense of humour and work hard.

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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