Crikey has two reporters on the ground in Christchurch. One of them, Rebekah Holt, is a New Zealander living in Australia, a regular Crikey correspondent on immigration and a former chief of staff at TV3 in NZ.
I didn’t want the first article I wrote from Christchurch to be about the Australian terrorist accused of killing 50 men, women and children on Friday, but it was impossible not to think of him while making the same trip he would have taken across the Tasman.
On the way home yesterday, to the city I grew up in, Tarrant reoccurred constantly to me because people, New Zealanders, kept helping me get home to tell this story he started three days ago. Mostly strangers and some friends went to extraordinary lengths to get me here and their kindness was a constant reminder of his acts of hate.
With my Australian flight into Auckland running late, I knew I was going to miss the connecting flight to Christchurch unless I asked for help. I also knew it’s always a calculated risk identifying yourself as a member of the media who needs assistance.
I ran up to a New Zealand customs staff member of Samoan heritage and explained where I was trying to go. He escorted me straight past long queues so I could get through the international airport’s customs and immigration.
Then a friend, a first generation Lebanese New Zealander met me with a spare headscarf in case I needed it at the mosques and the funerals over the next few days and drove me the five minutes between terminals. She sat at the wheel yelling “I love you mate, great catch up!” as I dived across a pedestrian crossing into the next terminal.
With only two minutes left to get on my next flight, a New Zealand Chinese woman from the national airline helped me get my bag processed by heaving it onto the conveyor while saying “you’ll be OK — now run!”
But to top it all off, sitting on my connecting flight to Christchurch was the 73-year-old Deputy PM Winston Peters. No security detail or staffers, just headed to Christchurch to meet a Turkish delegation in relation to the deceased from Friday. He agreed to an interview on the plane but we were surrounded by crying children so instead we paused and recorded it on the air bridge between the plane and the terminal where his people were waiting.
I asked Peters if he personally felt that he had processed emotionally what had happened in Christchurch, and if he was compelled to deal with the sheer enormity of the logistics immediately?
“Logistics right now… look police did a superb job. In the space of 36 minutes, from start to finish, they got him. Two policemen who decided to go for the doctor and get him and they did when of course they could have both been blown up”.
Asked if he had an opinion on whether the murders were born of a current political environment or were just a freakish tragedy, Peters was very much the life-time politician. “Extremism, from wherever it comes, the far-left or the far-right or wherever it might be, is not acceptable and extremism that leads to this kind of terrorism has to be opposed at every turn by people who believe in values, freedom and the quality of democracy”.
As Peters goes to leave he says, “we’re a long, long way from the rest of the world, but this evil came from the outside and we have to deal with it”.
As we walk though the terminal doors he says, “How’s the boy going?”. Peters is talking about “H” the New Zealand minor who was detained in Melbourne last year by Australian Border Force.
When I say we are off the record, we briefly discuss the current Australian government’s heavy- handed deportations of New Zealanders.
Then I get my suitcase which miraculously made the same flight as me, and get into a car with my oldest friend. Nicole — who is Maori, just like Deputy PM Peters — hands me a bag and says “don’t worry girl, I made you a feed”.
Everything has left me thinking of Tarrant.
My god, how he must have hated it here. How long and hard he would have had to work to nourish his hate in a country filled with people who are relentlessly pragmatic and helpful.
I’m here now, back home, in my former home, the small city of Christchurch. Over the next week, we’ll be reporting on a city impacted by a disaster that is not at all natural. It will affect so many people and policies, from mental health to trans-Tasman relations which have are already at an all-time low.