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Paddy Brandon: 'Little things became really important'

Paddy and Joy Brandon

“It was funny,” says Paddy.

“The glasses started tinkling in the cabinet, and then BANG! I remember looking at my wife across the table; she had her back to the windows. They were flexing and I thought, ‘if that breaks it would decapitate her’.’’

Paddy, 69, and his wife, Joy, leapt as the next aftershock started.

“Joy was standing under this door. I was standing under the other door, and I said to her, ‘Stuff this. If we are going to die today, we are going to die under the same door frame!’”


Two and a half years later, Paddy can still recount every minute of the day that flipped Christchurch into the air.

As he does, Joy sits outside in the sun, reading her newspaper and looking over their immaculate garden, while the New Zealand flag to her left flies high in the Christchurch spring wind.

Paddy was going to the library that February day to pick up some books, but Mother Nature decided otherwise. Instead, that night, Paddy and Joy had “Camp Anglesea” set up in their garage, and were cooking a chicken BBQ for 20 adults and children from their neighbourhood.

“People just wanted to be around people,” he says. “People were stunned and just standing in the street talking.”

Paddy and Joy lived in that garage for the next few days, venturing into their battered and creaky home only to sleep. For five days, they survived without water, and for 10 days, without power.

A water tank delivering fresh water from a farm spring in Amberley was a godsend.

“Word went around, and it was like being a refugee. Imagine in Beirut or somewhere being bombed out: ‘There’s a water tanker in the street!’. And we all got pots and pans and we rushed out.”

“Wasn’t that great luck? That was a real hero thing.”

Paddy says it was simple things like this that mattered.

“You know, with broken streets, liquefaction and muck all over the place, and The Press was delivered. So simple little things became really important. We had no TV, we didn’t know what happened in Christchurch. We knew there had been deaths and things, but we had no idea what the rest of the world was seeing.”


Once life began to resemble pre-quake days, in some small way or another, the true battle began for east-side residents.

Cracks run from one side of Paddy and Joy’s house to another. The garage has sunk in one corner, doors choose what day to close, and the mould growing deep within the bathroom’s cracks are a reminder of how long the rebuild process is taking.

Paddy’s house was first estimated by EQC to be repairable for under $100,000.

But, after an independent engineer’s report, the damage was considered to be $308,000, without lifting the floor covering.

“So we then had this heck of a gap, two years of stress, and backwards and forwards, and getting messed around by EQC,” he says. “But we have now been handed over to our insurance company and have received the over-cap payment.”

Paddy won’t find out until late 2015 if the house is a complete rebuild or if it will be lifted up so a new foundation slab can be laid underneath.

“I was 69 when the earthquake happened. I’ll be 74 when my house gets looked at. That’s a long time,” he says.

“It’s a long time at our age to be in a compromised home.”


Not a flower is out of place or a weed in site as Paddy looks out to his pride and joy — his home.
“I suppose the worst thing about that is we take a real pride in our garden and property, and that will all disappear.”
“‘People think, ‘Gee you’re lucky, you’re going to get a new house,’ and I say, ‘Who cares?’, because we’ve got a nice home. All that lovely stuff – the lawns, the trees and the rose bushes that people have given us – it won’t survive.  We don’t have the energy at our stage of life to redo all of this.”
Paddy says elderly people have been “pretty shabbily treated” post-earthquake.
He has had a long-standing battle with EQC and calls the “assessors” they sent in after the quake “pretty ordinary”.
“There was almost a swagger about them.”
“EQC seemed to employ anyone that could stand up. They don’t admit to that, but I think they did.”
The 0800 DAMAGE helpline he was told to ring quickly became known as 0800 JOKE in his neighbourhood, and he describes the “virus” of experts that swarmed the neighbourhood as a numbers game rather than a service geared up to look after residents.
“Not blaming the front-line people, it’s the policy of the organisation.”
Not everyone who came to their aid was unhelpful. Red Cross was a positive and helpful influence in the days after the earthquake, he says.
But, throughout the entire ordeal, the main feeling has been one of “loss of control and powerlessness”.


Since the quake, the Anglesea neighbourhood, once a suburb of strangers, has formed a tight bond from their shared experiences as east-side residents.

“Coming from a country area, popping in and out of people’s houses was the norm. I don’t think that had been the norm in Christchurch,” Paddy says.

“We couldn’t have told you the names of the people four houses away, but now we can.”

Neighbours who dug silt together and shared Joy’s sandwiches thrown together from whatever could be found in the pantry. They now call themselves Anglesea South Neighborhood Support and meet up on a regular basis for dinners, BBQs and alley parties; things that can take their minds off the quakes that have so changed their lives.
Bonded by destruction, they have found a silver lining, Paddy says.

“The highlight for me was the way the community rallied together. We need to sustain that,” he says. “That’s really, really important.”

_As told to Emma Cropper

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.