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Messing About On The River

Submitted by on October 11, 2012 – 3:13 pm

By Steve Carter

Spring has sprung and it signals the end of what many have described as our toughest winter.

Aftershocks may be decreasing in frequency and intensity but it is now that the tiredness has begun to set in – the long-haul nature of our experience has hit home as we have struggled to keep homes warm through a bitter Canterbury winter while still negotiating difficulties with EQC or dodging road cones and potholes.

So the blossom-laden trees, the lengthening days and the frolicking gangs of ducklings and lambs really do help to shine a light on the more positive side of things.  It is in this spirit of hope and inspiration that the Spring River Festival has been developed.

It’s time for the East to let its hair down and celebrate all that is great about our side of town.

The Avon/Ōtakaro River has been such a central icon to the experience of most in Christchurch, wherever people may be based.  While much of the Residential Red Zone flanks the river corridor to the East of the city and houses are disappearing faster in those fractured suburbs, the river continues to flow, an inexorable force of nature.

Along its length, people continue to take time out to reflect, catalysed by events such as the River of Flowers in February this year.  There is a huge collective voice advocating for large tracts along the river to be reclaimed as parkland, sports locations, native planted areas and community gardens.

At the heart of this advocacy is the Avon-Ōtakaro Network (AvON) and it is they who have contributed much of the brains and drive behind a slew of events to be held on October 20th and 21st to celebrate the river, to help people reconnect to it and to each other, and to hold fast to all we still have to be grateful for and to share.

AvON Co-Chair Evan Smith puts it beautifully when he says, “Since the earthquakes and the red-zoning of many of our homes we have understood very acutely what it is we took for granted.  It has brought home to us all how important the river is to our history, our wellbeing and our sense of community.  The idea for the Spring River Festival is in response to this.  It is an attempt to acknowledge the importance of the river to the city again, to showcase the vitality of communities and the potential of the East to become the playground of the city.”

All along the Eastern reaches of the river from Avonside to the Estuary at Brighton and Ferrymead, a quite staggering array of events has been planned, building on local energy and expertise and making the most of the many connections the city has to the river.  As the festival blurb states quite clearly, it will, “[R]estore confidence in the recovery of the East.  By taking the opportunity to look at what we could be, we […] imbue our visions for the future with hope and aspiration.”

The programme features community fairs and neighbourhood Fun Days; sports and recreation activities; walks and tours, and seminars on subjects such as local geology and water quality testing. There’s kites, shadow puppets and a jump jam.  You can try your hand at sailing, kite boarding or golf … or you can just sit back and enjoy other people’s exertions at the Flat Water Sports Regatta, featuring dragon boats, waka ama, canoes and kayaks.

It may be a cliché but there really is something for everyone.

Evan is not at all surprised at the way the various communities have responded to make such a fantastic line-up in such a short space of time.  As he says, “Despite all the horrendous issues of the here-and-now there is still a tremendous spirit in those communities and a longing for anything that will give some respite from the challenges of the day, some hope for the future and something that brings us all together again.”

At the height of this long, packed programme, the beach will be rocking (though hopefully only musically, not literally!) at the B-Town Rocksteady gig in New Brighton.  The location, in a hitherto largely deserted ‘dead zone’ behind Couplands bakery, has already been stunningly transformed by graffiti artists spurred on by the forthcoming Mural Madness month in Brighton and on the night of the 20th, Raglan’s brilliant Cornerstone Roots will be joined by local heroes Taos and RDU’s DJ Aleon for what promises to be the biggest night in Brighton since … well, the last big night – its all going down in B-Town right now!

The Festival is planned as an annual event, an evolving reminder of the importance of the river to people who will, in time, have moved away from its banks.  As Evan says, “Absolutely we see this as an inaugural annual event to be held every Labour weekend along the lower Avon corridor.  We hope that in ten years time, folk will be coming from all over the world to participate and celebrate our triumph over tragedy.”

There really is no reason to think that they won’t be.  The spirit is strong on this side of town and the Spring River Festival is its fanfare.

Labour Weekend.  Eastside.  Be there.

Full details of the activities for the Spring River Festival are on the website at http://www.springriver.org.nz/ or you can join in the conversation at the Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Spring-River-Festival/425182630851727

For more information or to add your voice to the many at the Avon-Otakaro Network, check out http://www.avonotakaronetwork.co.nz/ or join the community at Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/AvonRiverPark

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