At 4.35am on September 4, when the Canterbury region awoke to the violent shaking of a 7.1 earthquake, Gaye and Wayne Stanley were like most others – in bed asleep. They were upstairs while 15-year-old son Tahu was downstairs. Their home shook so violently they couldn’t stand to get to him. As they called out, water and silt started filling their ground floor.
After the initial shakes subsided, Gaye and Wayne found Tahu was okay, and their thoughts turned to Wayne’s grandmother, Eunice Osborne. Eunice is 100-years-old. Her home sits at the other end of their sleepy coastal street that runs alongside the sand dunes headed towards the Waimakariri River.
Fortunately she was fine. Together, they left their homes and sought refuge with a neighbour who had not been affected by the quake. During that day, many from the small community gravitated there to support each other, to share their stories in the first stage of coming to terms with the enormity of what had taken place.
Gaye estimates theirs was one of seven houses in a row that was severely damaged, along with a large number of others in the small tight-knit community. At this stage they think remedial earthwork will be carried out and they will be able to rebuild.
It is three weeks since the quake when I visit Gaye (Ngāi Tahu – Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Ngāti Irakehu, Kāti Huirapa, Ngāti Waewae) and Wayne in their home at Kairaki, near Kaiapoi. They haven’t spent a night there since the earth shook them awake. But they return to their home every day.
Officially it has been condemned. They know that very soon they are going to close the front door for the final time, and leave behind the place that has been home for the past 23 years.
When Gaye talks of her home she struggles to say the word “demolished”, stammering at the thought of what that means for the bricks and timber that frame almost half her life.
“It’s hard to say good-bye,” says Gaye. Returning each day started as the ritual of recovering precious belongings – the photo collection was first. However, as time passes and the realisation sets in, the daily hīkoi is more about letting go – of the history, the memories, the energy and passion they have put into their two-storey beach home.
Gaye and Wayne’s home sank into the sand. On first inspection it looks unscathed but for the fact that all the carpets have been removed. There are cracks, large and small, doors no longer close and cupboards have jumped off their bases. Outside it is easy to see the extent of the sinking – the wrap-around deck resembles a cycle velodrome angled skyward.
The day I arrive, a Salvation Army relief worker from Australia is just wrapping up his visit. His name is Dave and he has brought a care package with him; but mostly he’s offering Gaye and Wayne emotional support – an ear to listen and words of understanding. It’s hard to understand how much this couple’s life has been turned upside down since the early hours of that fateful Saturday morning.
For now Gaye and Wayne are living with whānau at Tuahiwi. They will stay there for the next year or however long it takes to rebuild.
“Whatever’s ahead you just have to deal with it,” says Gaye. “I have an enormous sense of hope – something like this reinforces you as a whānau – that great love keeps you together. At a time like this your possessions are secondary. It’s whānau and love of life that are the most important things.”