Christchurch dreaming: an interview with Mary Hobbs

CoverWriter Mary Hobbs is a daughter of Christchurch. Her ancestors arrived in 1850, and she is keenly interested in the heritage and people of Canterbury. In September 2010, Mary and her husband Charlie helped clear liquefaction from people’s homes. In February 2011, they worked as part of a volunteer crew in the city and in Sumner.

Her book Christchurch dreaming features priceless images of the past, wonderful photos of the Christchurch and Canterbury we still have, and exciting new concepts and dreams for a beautiful Christchurch of tomorrow.

Mary kindly agreed to an email interview:

There have been a lot of books published after the earthquakes, but yours is distinctive and interesting in its use of heritage and modern images. We were really pleased to see Christchurch City Libraries images used, along with your wonderful family photos. How did you go about browsing our collection? Did you know about these images before researching your book?
No, I wasn’t aware of them and was delighted to find them. I spent many hours researching the photos and looked through every single photo I could find in all of the different collections. It was fascinating.
Do you have a favourite image?
…One of my favourite images from your website was the photo of the young ‘lady racing cyclist’ …

Search our BiblioCommons catalogue for books by Mary Hobbs.

I also loved the boy scouts distributing food baskets in the 1918 epidemic. This was particularly poignant for me because my fit young grandfather (at 27) had died in this influenza epidemic. (There are photos of my grandfather in the book too.) My grandparents' third child was born on the day he was buried — November 23 1918. The story of this is in Christchurch Dreaming.

Another of my favourite photos is the fire truck, opposite Gary Luff’s message. Another favourite is the street decorations designed by Hurst Seager (page 56). It is just so festive!

Mary’s favourite photographs in the Christchurch City Libraries collection

Lady racing cyclist, Lancaster Park, Christchurch [ca. 1896]
Cheerful boy scouts acting as messengers to distribute food and medicine to patients at their houses during the influenza epidemic [1918]
A fire brigade turn-out in Christchurch [1900]
Street decorations for the Canterbury jubilee celebrations in December 1900 shown here in Colombo Street north [1900]
The messages from Christchurch people like Gary Luff and the Mayor are very much core to your book. Is there a message in their words that especially appeals to you?
All of the messages in the book appeal to me. They’re all so very meaningful and they really do touch the heart. It’s my book of love for Christchurch and Canterbury, but it is also very much a book of love from Canterbury and Christchurch people too. Gary’s message was amazing, especially in view of the fact that he and his wife are still living on a boat and have yet to receive any insurance payment and his wife has had two major operations and is due for a third soon. He is so stoic.
You are very much an outdoors person — what are your favourite local scenic spots?
I love Sumner and Scarborough beach, the park at the top of Scarborough, the scenic drive around the Bays, the Port Hills and the view of the Alps. I adore the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park. Akaroa and Okains Bay and cycling from Sumner through Lyttelton to Diamond Harbour. As for Canterbury: I love the farming country, the high country, and of course beloved Aoraki/Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki is a place of my heart, too.
What are your hopes for the Christchurch rebuild?
My hopes are on page 98. After this comes the finer detail which includes, for me, the following:
  • To lead the world in innovative new environmentally friendly ways and yet be business-friendly too. Make our city GM-free, create gardens and parks where the land can no longer be used for building and listen to the land and what is beneath the surface. We must respect it and that includes ceasing all ‘fracking’ methods to find gas and oil underground, until we can confirm that NO earthquakes are caused by this practice. Cease using chemicals for such a practice also, as this pollutes the underground water.
  • We may not be able to have high rise buildings, so let’s create something we can have that would otherwise not be possible, including innovative, new and aesthetically pleasing architecture that is a delight to look at and live with.
  • Salvage all that we can of the old, treasure it and care for it, as these buildings are more than just bricks and mortar. I think it is vital to restore the iconic places including: the Cathedrals, the Arts Centre and the Provincial Buildings.
  • I would like to see independent boroughs with independent water, sewerage systems and electricity hubs, so that if there is ever such an earthquake again then it will not take all of the city infrastructure out at the same time.
  • I would like to see community libraries (much better for older people and young mums who cannot get into the central city easily) and local community swimming pools. This embraces a sense of community and opens channels of communication with neighbours and encourages activities that are positive in all areas. No one misses out …
  • Keep our water clean and pure. Canterbury water is really a great gift and we should do all we can to ensure that it remains uncontaminated …
  • We could also become a centre of expansion for the Arts and in business as well, with a focus on using all that we have naturally, while nurturing its source.