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John Sykes: 'Our old house had a beautiful front garden'

John Sykes

It was more frightening when it stopped.

The walls thumped and my wife and I sat in silence waiting for it to end. We looked at the ceiling and hoped it wouldn’t come crashing down on us.

We wondered what might be coming next.

The rest of the day we had lots of little shakes right the way through, which was unsettling. I said as little as possible to my wife because she worries a lot. All I did say were things like, ‘It’s not so bad’ and ‘It’s OK.’

Fortunately, it died down a bit as the day went on.

We sleep in separate beds because I’ve got chronic bronchitis and I’m always coughing, so when the time came to sleep, I wasn’t sure I’d be fit enough to reach her if there was another big one.

From then on we had at least one thump a day to remind us what was happening.


The inspectors from EQC came to our house and said it was livable, which was a relief. My wife had a stroke a few years back and we knew it would be difficult to move.

Then, a few months later, a funny thing happened that made me very upset. A car pulled up outside and three men and a woman got out and came straight over to me.

“What are you doing here?”

“I live here.”

“You should be out. OUT!”

That’s exactly how they went about it. They wanted us out, right that moment.

My wife was really upset, but my daughter lives in New Brighton so luckily we were able to go there. We packed up all our belongings the next day until we had just about cleaned the place out.

I tell you what: I wish I could meet them again because I could have really dug in there.


When we were first paid out for the property, they undervalued the house. We got paid in trickles, and when they said they were finished it was still $20,000 short, so I wrote a letter to the insurance company.

“Forty years I’ve been insured with you and this is all you can do for us?”

They said they were still evaluating the matter, and then about eight months later, we got an extra $28,000.

So I stopped arguing.

But during the time it took to sort the matter, house prices had risen and who wants to take out a mortgage at our age? We got to the point where we had to do something quick, so we found the place we’re living in now in New Brighton.

The house we found had light damage, which wasn’t ideal, but we felt like we didn’t have a choice. We only had a small amount of money to spend and we did the best we could.


Our old house had a beautiful front garden.

If you looked out the window it was like a sea of pink flowers. Everything just shone in the mornings. We spent at least a couple of hours each day out there. We were very proud of it.

There was a tall protea that was the centrepiece of the whole garden. It rose above everything else and was the first thing we would point out to guests.

The earthquake tore it out of the ground and left it ruined on the grass.

There isn’t really enough room at the back of our new house to start again.

I’m too old to try, anyway.

_As told to Max Towle

This story is part of a UC Journalism project to trial a new form of community journalism by recording and sharing people’s everyday stories about the Canterbury earthquakes and recovery. You can read more about the Connecting our Stories project here.