Here at the online organ we’re big fans of printed publications, especially those put out by small presses whose very existence, these days, seems miraculous. So we happily forked out ten bucks for a wee festschrift to Christchurch’s year of living seismically, especially as all proceeds went to a worthy cause, that being Architecture for Humanity. ‘Chur Chur’ is published by Freerange Press
, a co-operative based in Wellington and Melbourne. (I think that probably means that one of the people behind it lives in Wellington, and another lives in Melbourne.) The imprint’s catalogue includes, inter alia, Gerald Melling’s very good account of his involvement in a reconstruction project in Sri Lanka (‘Tsunami Box’, 2010).
I should make it clear at the start that Chur (times two) has nothing to do with the eponymous Swiss town that it is the capital of the canton of Graubunden. It is, I am told by associates more down with the yoof than my crusty self, a contemporary and culturally peculiar form of Kiwi salutation. Anyway, the publication’s subtitle makes it clear what is being hailed: ‘Stories from the Christchurch earthquakes’. There are 13 small chapters in the A5, 42-page booklet, ranging from the heartfelt, if not overly illuminating, reportage of a three-year-old, to some adult personal narratives, snatches from a blog post, a few mini photographic essays, including the inevitable vernacular dunny feature, and a couple of poems by blokey bard Gary McCormick. (Sample: ‘You miserable bastard of a thing! / The time has come. / Said the drummer to the drum. / When I can make no sense of it.’ You’re not the only one, mate, a reader might justifiably reply).
The virtue of compendia is that there’s bound to be something that appeals to most readers. I appreciated the list of emergency survival items, the more so because I have hardly anything on the list. And I liked Johnny Moore’s homage to hooning, ‘Blow-off valve’. It’s good to see that something of Christchurch’s boy racer spirit has survived the collapsing masonry and the contumely of ‘Crusher’ Collins. It may be irresponsible but, as Mr Moore suggests, after a disaster there is something rather life-affirming about going for a 100mph burn along the Ashburton backroads in a Datsun 260z.
Some significant literature, well structured and carefully honed, will come out of the Christchurch earthquakes, once the dust has settled. In the meantime, we’ll get quite a lot of ‘emergency’ writing, as immediate, ad-hoc and unpolished as emergency shelters. Ephemera, but nicely produced, as is the case with all of the Freerange titles, and, again, done for a good cause.