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Governor-General Speech: Earthquake Memorial Service

Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO

Governor-General of New Zealand

Earthquake Memorial Service

Hagley Park


Embargoed to 1pm, 22 February 2012

E te tini, e te mano, e huitahi ana, i tēnei rā whakamaumahara, aku mihi māhana ki a koutou, kia ora huihui tātou katoa. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen who are gathered here for this memorial service, greetings, I salute you all.

I specifically acknowledge: Rt Hon John Key, Prime Minister; Your Worship Bob Parker, Mayor of Christchurch; members of the Diplomatic Corps; and the families of those lost as a result of the earthquake one year ago.

I would like to begin my address by reading a message from His Royal Highness Charles the Prince of Wales. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwell will visit New Zealand in November to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen. He writes:

It has been more than 40 years since I first visited New Zealand, and over those many years I have come to know Christchurch and the Canterbury region as treasures of the country’s natural and built environment.

It was, therefore, with rising horror that my wife and I watched the unfolding scenes of devastation that so disfigured this beautiful city and the pain and desolation of those who lost family, friends and colleagues. I can well imagine how the suffering continues to this day for all those who mourn and as you seek to rebuild your lives in the face of this great tragedy. I know that my eldest son was deeply moved by the experiences of those he met who have been so personally and painfully touched by these horrific events.

At the same time, I know that, as a year has passed, the best of the New Zealand peoples’ characteristics have come to the fore. The spirit of determination, of courage and of good humour that so characterizes the people of New Zealand will, I am sure, have held you steady as you go about the slow process of rebuilding your city and your lives. You will know better than me how the bonds of family and friendship and of trials borne together make for strong and resilient communities.

My wife joins me in extending our continuing and heartfelt condolences to those whose grief may in time ease, but will never fully pass. To those who rebuild day by day, looking to the future with hope, we can only offer you our warmest encouragement and our admiration.—Charles, Prince of Wales

A year ago today, at 1251 pm on the 22nd of February 2011, the lives of the people of Christchurch and Canterbury were changed forever by a devastating earthquake.

A year ago today, lives were tragically cut short, families were ripped apart, and thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed beyond repair. The ripples of that disaster stretched around the world—people in far-flung lands lost loved-ones and grieve too because they never returned.

We have gathered to remember all that we have lost, all that has changed, and all the pain that we have endured, since that day a year ago today.

We have stood in silence to remember those who were lost to us. Those who died are not forgotten; their names are etched in our memories and on our memorials.

Later on today, 185 Monarch butterflies will be released. Each butterfly represents a person who died; a soul departed. The butterflies also symbolise a new beginning: like the rebirth and renewal of a cumbersome caterpillar out of a cocoon transformed into a creature of exquisite and delicate beauty.

As we gather here to reflect, a year on from the calamitous events, we also look ahead. While we remember what occurred, and the grief of those most closely affected, today marks the start of a new day and a new beginning for all of us, and especially the people of Christchurch and Canterbury.

Like the life cycle of the butterfly, from the shattered cocoon of a once great place, a new and vibrant city can arise. It will be a city and region inhabited by a resilient people and built on the foundations of a strong community.

We have seen this community of people endure so much, it has been repeatedly tested, and it has not been found wanting. It is a community of people committed to a strong and vibrant future for themselves, their children, their grandchildren and future generations here in Christchurch and Canterbury.

Achieving that aspiration will take time. Lives, communities and cities are not built in a day.

The pathway to that future may be a long and sometimes difficult. At times it may be obscured. Yet, I have no doubts, the pathway will be travelled – the goal will be achieved.

It will be achieved because the people of Christchurch and Canterbury are marked by the values that make all New Zealanders strong.

It will be achieved because the people of Christchurch and Canterbury have repeatedly demonstrated their resilience and preparedness get stuck in and help friends and strangers alike. And with that you have demonstrated warmth, compassion and a strong sense of community.

It will be achieved because the people of Christchurch and Canterbury do not walk that pathway alone. Your extended family—the New Zealand family—are walking along side you.

Let me reassure you, we have always been with you. For your tragedy has been New Zealand’s tragedy. Such are the ties of this nation that there are few among us who have been untouched by what occurred here on the 22nd of February 2011.

Together we will build a stronger and better Christchurch. Together we will see it reclaim its status and character here on the plains of Canterbury, beneath the Port Hills, as a vibrant garden city.

To close, I would like to read a short poem The City from the Hills, written by Arnold Wall in 1900. It speaks of the beauty of this city and the region. Wall wrote:

There lies our city folded in the mist,

Like a great meadow in the early morn

Flinging her spears of grass up through the white films,

Each with its thousand thousand-tinted globes.

Above us such an air as poets dream,

The clean and vast wing-winnowed clime of Heaven.

Each of her streets is closed with shining Alps.

Like Heaven at the end of long plain lives.

Much has been lost. Although Christchurch and Canterbury will be rebuilt, it will not be the same vista that Arnold Wall wrote about 112 years ago, nor will it be the vista that existed one year ago today.

Some things, however, will not change. A proud and prosperous city will stand here again. And, we will see again, “each of her streets closed with shining Alps — like heaven at the end of long plain lives”. Of these things, we should have no doubt.

Kia ora huihui tātou katoa.


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