Speech to National Remembrance Service on the 10th anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake

Tena koutou e nga Maata Waka

Ngai Tuahuriri, Ngai Tahu whanui, Tena koutou.

Nau mai whakatau mai ki tenei ra maumahara i te Ru Whenua

Apiti hono tatai hono, Te hunga mate ki te hunga mate

Apiti hono tatai hono, Te hunga ora ki te hunga ora

Tena koutou, Tena koutou,

Tena tatou katoa

Today marks a decade since the February 22nd earthquake and the tragic loss of 185 lives.

It is a chance for us all to remember those people, and stand with the families, loved ones and friends who grieve them.

In some respects, 10 years sounds a long time. 

But for many it will feel like just yesterday that Christchurch, and indeed New Zealand, was rocked by the events of February 22nd.

The earthquake and aftershocks affected people in complex and diverse ways.

The toll could not have been more significant, and daily reminders made it harder – a fractured landscape, aftershocks, struggling friends and neighbours, and children with deep and unseen scars.

Ten years on there will be people still living their daily lives with the long shadow of that day. 

Today I want to take the opportunity to say to all those who may still feel overwhelmed, uncertain, sad, tired or anxious - you survived an event which by rights should not occur in anyone’s lifetime.

I hope you find the space to be kind to yourself, as you’ve no doubt been to others who you knew were carrying the same burden.

To those who lost loved ones, the grief has been even more immense.

Today we not only mark the loss of 185 lives, but we remember and celebrate those people - the joy they gave, the memories made, the lives they lived.

Haere haere, haere atu ra.

I remember so clearly how the country threw its support behind Canterbury in the months and years following the quake, raising funds, holding tributes, downing tools during moments of silence. 

We all felt so keenly the enormity of what had happened. 

It’s the kiwi way to be stoic, and sometimes the pressure to “be okay” or to have “moved on” with the passage of time can feel very pronounced.

But healing takes time, and even as time has passed, none of us will forget.

I want to acknowledge all past and present members of the Quake Families Trust, which has provided such significant support over the last decade, and helped shape the annual commemorations.

I want to acknowledge all those who were part of relief efforts on or after February 22 - emergency service staff, the Christchurch mayor and city councillors, ministers, international diplomats and family and friends of all involved.

And I’d like to acknowledge the children who lived through the earthquake and grew up in its aftermath.

Some of these children will be teenagers now, or have left school and started jobs or university.

I have in the past called this the generation of the rebuild.

But they are also the generation that will create a legacy.

Here in Canterbury you saw the impact of a natural disaster on children, and professionals across Canterbury – educationalists, mental health specialists, occupational therapists, social workers – all came together to design a programme to support those children.

You made an enormous difference and now that programme will now be rolled out across New Zealand. Out of such a traumatic time for our kids I hope grows a form of comfort and support for a whole generation.

And finally today, we remember that 87 of the people who died in the earthquake were foreign nationals. 

The families of these 87 may not have been able to be here today due to travel restrictions.

Our flags fly at half-mast for them today too.

It’s been a hugely difficult decade for this city - at times I’m sure it’s felt impossible.

But as we look ahead to the coming decade, I see hope and energy and optimism, and I see Christchurch taking its rightful place amongst New Zealand’s best and brightest cities.

I’d like to finish today with an excerpt from a poem by Helen Lowe, from Leaving the Red Zone, an anthology of Earthquake poetry.

The poem, titled The Sparrows, talks about how birds were absent in the city following the earthquake, and the silence where birdsong used to be.

“I threw old bread onto the island of grass in our own grey sea and waited….and waited.

And then, finally, they came

Their wings clouding the sun.”