10 Jan 2024

My Hometown: Christchurch

Hagley Park, Christchurch.
From My Hometown, 8:00 am on 10 January 2024

The day I left Christchurch for Auckland my younger sister got me a present. She's not one for gifts, so I was initially touched. It was a packet of Jaffas.

The concept of a hometown gets a bit hazy when you leave permanently, especially if you never intended to be gone for long. I left for university at a time when the city was barely adjusted to its new crumbled character. My final years of high school were shaky, nobody quite knew what was happening in the centre of town and I wanted a little bit of freedom, so I did what a lot of 17-year-olds do, and I got on a plane.

Katie Fitzgerald as a toddler enjoying the slide at Christchurch's Botanic Gardens.

Katie Fitzgerald as a toddler on the slide at Christchurch's Botanic Gardens: "My mother and grandparents would always say we were going to the pools and take us to the paddling pool in the gardens and I raged against this as a child. I wanted to go to Jellie Park! I wanted to play with the big drums they let us take in the pool and buy hot chips from the hot chips machine!" Photo: Katie Fitzgerald

Sometimes in moments of malaise I wonder if my hometown would reject me for that. South Islanders are a tough lot, and they can be viciously competitive with the more populous parts of the North Island. It could easily be argued that I left Ōtautahi at one of the hardest times in its history and ended up settling in a city regarded as for softies. I swapped Selwyn's rural aesthetic for the country's largest urban centre, the dry nor 'wester for four seasons in one day and winters barely touched by frost.

It's true that the city I left no longer exists as well. One can easily work out why, but for the landmarks not taken suddenly at 12.51pm time seems to have swallowed the rest. The home my family rented while I was in high school (five years was truly a tenancy record for us) is now a physiotherapist's office, the tree I planted at my primary school for the millennium ripped out, and the 90-year-old wood-framed building my high school teachers claimed was SUPPOSED to shake like that has come down in favour of a new driveway and car park.

A view of central Christchurch.

A view of the 'shiny new Christchurch'. Photo: Koon Chakhatrakan / Unsplash

At points I thought I would be back for the shiny new Christchurch. One with new motorways, the Riverside Market and a brand-new central city, but then life got in the way. I built a career in Auckland, I got a partner who when he closes his eyes and thinks of home pictures the Waitematā rather than the Southern Alps, and eventually I bought a house here. I've, unfortunately for some, joined a team of people around the world of the Ones Who Left. I wonder if that means I've lost my right to call myself a Cantabrian.

I still long for Christchurch's gloriously flat topography. The undulation of Auckland's streets is not kind to my lungs or welcome. In sporting events my support goes first to whichever team myself or my family member is playing for, second to Canterbury, and then to whoever is furthest south. The Blues held my attention for just one season, and only because they complied with the above rules. Would that spurning of North Island franchises and poor cardiovascular endurance be enough for Christchurch to reclaim me?

A view of central Auckland from the harbour.

Katie Fitzgerald has made Auckland her new home. Photo: Tim Marshall / Unsplash

I've spent large tracts of this essay spurning Auckland, but I should also say it has given me plenty. See above-mentioned boyfriend (Kieran, you will probably read this so feel free to gleefully take partial credit for keeping me here), career opportunities that may well have been harder to come by back home, and an urban lifestyle I find hard to shake. I spent most summers here as a child (divorced parents meant lots of holidays spent with the Auckland-based parent). If I were to choose the place where the public health system put the most money into me, it would be Auckland. I was a clumsy child and managed to injure myself a lot on holidays away from home.

I suppose at the end of the day home is where the heart is, and mine has been split in two. Most of my family is in Christchurch, as are many of my memories, but on the other side of the coin my partner and the rest of my life has ended up in Tāmaki Makaurau. Let's just call it a dialectic.

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