I was in Wellington. Again. Very briefly. To do my mother’s washing.
It’s a long story but I’ll cut it short. Alzheimer’s is not pretty. In a mere eight weeks my mother has got significantly worse. My father, stoic as ever, continues to say, “It could be worse” whenever I ask him how he is coping. But there’s a micro pause, a hesitation that wasn’t there before when he answers.
She had a melt down before I left. It was a very short visit. She’d only just got used to me being there. I was off again. I felt bad.
I had two hours off last weekend. I had wheels. I just wanted time in my head. Be a tourist in my hometown. But most of all I needed to walk. I stayed in constant motion for those 120 minutes, stopping only briefly to browse. I grabbed a few consumables from the Hill Street market. I ducked my head into Parson’s Books and Music and allowed myself to be bathed in soothing classical ambience. It’s barely changed in fifty years. Comforting.
Disquieting. Even new buildings have old memories. The first thing I learnt when I (briefly) studies criminology - ignorance of the law is no excuse. Got caught by a boy in blue doing a paste up one night. "I didn't know it is illegal officer". Next day, looking across the aisle in the lecture theatre, same bloke in civies smiling at me.
I am back in Melbourne and all I want to do is the opposite. Sit. Laze. Recline. Be nowhere but here.
Due to my odd habit of sleeping with a radio news station quietly murmuring in the background, I was pulled out of a deep sleep at 6am catching the words "earthquake" and "New Zealand". I spent my first 22 years living on six active faultlines in Wellington and I live in fear of the much overdue Big One hitting my hometown.
This morning was Christchurch's turn. A little like Newcastle it's a city that didn't consider itself much of a quake risk, so when a walloping 7.1 hit in the early hours of the morning many of the 300,000 residents were caught by surprise.
Despite the many earthquake-unfriendly brick and stone buildings in the city that resulted in widespread property damage, to date only two serious casualties have been reported. The aforementioned Newcastle shake, a measly 5.3, killed 13 and injured over 100. Haiti earlier this year was a comparable 7.0 and clocked up 230,000 dead, 300,000 injured and 1,000,000 made homeless. The toll in Christchurch is a testament to stringent building regulations in New Zealand, though a small population and it happening while most people were tucked up in bed certainly helped.
Across the ditch in Australia, New Zealand's closest neighbour, it took 7.5 hours for The Age to report the quake. Maybe the cub reporter on the night desk was snoozing? But the delay in the reporting is made all the more extraordinary by Fairfax owning half of the newspapers in New Zealand. The Australian did little better breaking the news ahead of The Age only 40 minutes earlier.
Citizen journalism however is alive and well. The #eqnz stream on Twitter has spewed out thousands of updates from locals on the ground and international well-wishers. There's been a rich source of photos (my favourite to date being Redbox's on Flickr) and blog posts as well as to updates in the kiwi media and official channels such as civil defense.
It's times like this I'm grateful to not be reliant on old media. As a previous defender of print journalism I'm beginning to agree that they've had their day. Why bother having an online presence if they are unable to tap into the immediacy of new media? There are no excuses for such abysmal tardiness.
Or does the average Australian journalist think that kiwis don't matter?
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