6 Dec 2015

If These Walls Could Talk

From Spectrum, 12:10 pm on 6 December 2015

Inside the old Christchurch Central Police Station before it was demolished.

Inside the old Christchurch Central Police Station before it was demolished. Photo: The 48 Hereford St Project

Every building has a tale to tell...

And when it comes to remembering the Christchurch Central Police Station, everyone has a different story or sound to share.

Everyone who was there for the implosion of the building on May 31, 2015 will remember the boom that echoed through the central city.

For long-time police officer Inspector Kieran Kortegast it's the memories of investigations and experiences shared.

And for Trent Hiles, who has been documenting the building's gradual deconstruction and implosion, it might be the sound of polystyrene being removed from the station, recorded through an air conditioning vent.

Or it could be the experience of watching workers demolishing the building's top floors with bob cut utility vehicles.

LISTEN to Katy Gosset's documentary on the old Christchurch Central Police Station:


Inspector Kortegast joined the police force the year before the station opened. Too young to be working the street beat, one of his first jobs was going through the new station and turning off lights at the end of the day.

Back then the facility was considered state of the art - but working in a multi-storey building did have its challenges.

Inspector Kortegast recalls interviewing a suspect who asked for some time alone with his mother. He left them in the interview room but rushed back in when he heard the mother scream. He looked out the window to see the suspect racing along a narrow ledge.

"He was running around the parapet of the 11th floor of the police building,” the officer says. “It took me half an hour to talk him back into the building."


Inspector Kortegast says that same parapet also offered some benefits,  including great views of the city. It also proved a perfect spot from which to enjoy the rock concerts that were often staged just across the Avon River.

"We'd just open our windows up and lean our chairs - this was pre-major Health and Safety considerations of course. You'd lean your chairs on the parapets on the walkway and you'd have a grandstand view from the 10th or 11th floor."

When the Christchurch earthquakes struck, it left an impact on the building and Kortegast's team in the Southern Communications Centre. "There were staff under the desk, staff over the desks, they got fired all over the place ... So we dusted them off and got them back into it again."

The team worked on through the disaster, answering 111 calls while the rest of the building was evacuated. "It was all about helping the public, doing the best we possibly could because, within probably two hours, we had 1000 jobs built up."

With subsequent quakes, engineers shut down the building's upper floors as a precautionary measure. But ultimately, the station had kept them safe.

The police are currently in temporary facilities where the comms staff have been reunited with their goldfish, whose tank had acted as an "earthquake seismic monitor" in the old building.

"We knew that if it was under a 5.6 the water stayed in the tank. If it was over a 5.6 the water came sloshing out and normally someone had to dive to stop the tank going over."


Detective Senior Sergeant Dave Harvey recently celebrated 45 years with the police. He remembers arriving from Dunedin to work in the new building - a far cry from the cold, dank cell blocks he’d seen at other stations.

He also recalls some of the times those cells were at their busiest.

"There was a huge gang brawl in the Square and there were chains and machetes used and people were seriously injured."

It was the days the before CCTV footage so the police identified and prosecuted some 20 gang members through "good old police legwork".

Another major case involved arresting members of a bikie gang, who were fresh from tearing up a party.

"It was like over a hundred of these motorcycle gang members from this big huge party [that] got out of control and those cells were chocka."  

Yet he says the building didn't mean that much to him until after the quakes. "Because I'm here, and so are hundreds of other people who were working in that building that day, so I guess that will always be my lasting memory that it got us through that incredibly tough time."

"The old girl" has now done her dash, he says, and hopes the building due to be built in 2017 will be to new officers what the old one was to him.


For Trent Hiles, 48 Hereford Street is more than just a police station. It represents of all the buildings claimed by Canterbury's earthquakes. He has recorded a range of images and videos inside the station and says it's been an interesting process.


The shaking and noise made feel it like a re-enactment of an earthquake. "There's been nothing quite as exciting and perhaps a little terrifying as being up on the 10th floor of the police building and there's been a couple of bob cats running around, stripping out stuff that's in there and pushing it towards a hole in the side of a building."  

He hopes his project documenting the gradual deconstruction and implosion of the building may help the public connect with the demolition process.

The brutalist architecture of the station was replicated on the inside, he says. "There was nothing glorious or pretty about it. It just served its function of keeping the peace in many ways and making sure that society worked as it should."

The cells, however, told a different story. Snippets of life have been left behind in the form of stories and graffiti. While some of the slogans were directed at local gangs or politicians, he recalls one particular message.

"Oh, there was one classic little one-liner. It says: ‘She played me like a fool’."  

Hiles has been working with sound artists Malcolm Riddoch and Rose Jamieson to capture the last moments of the building's life. He expects the project will ultimately involve a series of screens recreating the effects experienced in the building.

For more information, visit 48herefordstreet.com.