How Locke led the Loop

SES, 14 June 2021

Our birdwalk pays tribute to a champion of the Avon

It was a warm May afternoon and great to be marching out in the fresh air. Once again there were the usual suspects out and about – Sparrows, Blackbirds and a dozen Canada Geese on the water of the Avon Loop.

Chris noted in passing that there were some Swallow nests under the high overhang of the petrol station in the Rental Car building. They are no doubt empty now – much like the nests of reception counters inside the building, which have been mostly abandoned since Covid-19 turned off the tourists.

We passed the new fire station nearing completion, crossed Barbadoes St and got to the start of the inner Avon Loop promenade…

Swallows seem to be early colonisers of any new rental space becoming available as our city rebuilds. They are so much more welcome than the messy Rock Pigeons that we have tried to evict from our building, with spikes up now on the roofline. Unfortunately there are another ten rows of sun baffles for them to move to, sequentially if they choose to be really annoying!

Speaking of annoying pests, rats are coming into my house again for the winter. So too was the big river rat recently spotted again by Justin in the Otakaro Orchard, stocking up on fruit no doubt.

We passed the new fire station nearing completion, crossed Barbadoes St and got to the start of the inner Avon Loop promenade. With all houses removed from the red-zoned precinct the remaining section-spaced domestic trees and shrubs make for a unique park-like setting here.

Ironically, the Avon Loop was designated “Botanical Garden”, before it got re-assigned to its present location in 1864.

It delineates the layout of an equally unique community of residents that used to live in the Avon Loop. Coincidentally, in one of the architectural buildings open to the public a fortnight after our walk, there was an early copy of Edward Jollie’s 1850 grid-line survey of Christchurch central on display. This shows the Avon Loop (at the top right hand corner of the photo). Ironically, the Avon Loop was designated “Botanical Garden”, before it got re-assigned to its present location in 1864.

With the recent changes in landscape the Avon Loop has come full circle!

Perhaps the most famous resident here was Elsie Locke, renowned feminist, communist and childrens’ writer. She, along with Rod Donald, set up the Avon Loop Planning Association.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

She died in 2001, aged 88. In 2009 a bronze bust of her was placed outside the Christchurch Arts Centre in 2009, part of our ‘Hall of Fame’. While this bust was removed after the earthquakes the description on the plinth read, “Political, social and local community activist, well-loved historian and writer, determined and doughty fighter for the rights of the under-dog, active to the end.”

The following appeared in an obituary by Murray Horton.

She and (husband) Jack were central figures in the Avon Loop community for more than 50 years, running recycling schemes, Avon River clean ups, and carnivals (complete with a visit from Elizabeth, the city’s resident sea elephant, on one memorable occasion). She was a leading figure in the struggle between those wanting to “develop’’ the Loop and those wanting to retain its character, with some development… As the central city became fashionable and gentrified, this neighbourhood of 19th Century workers’ cottages became a model. She became intimately involved in the politics of the city… She was instrumental in restoring the environment of the Avon as it flows through the Loop, getting the banks replanted in natives, which have attracted back a great variety of native and exotic birds.

Elsie Locke also fought tooth and nail to preserve the Centennial Pool as a public amenity, free from corporate sponsorship. Sadly for her memory it was demolished in 2014 to make way for the Margaret Mahy Playground, named after another of Christchurch’s childrens’ writers.

 

At the mid-point of the Loop Promenade remains a quaint brick building that was once a ‘pumping shed’. It would fit right into one of Mahy’s stories as it now has a lovely lean towards the river. At least this was spared from demolition, presumably as an earthquake memento. It still makes a nice focal point.

And so, arriving at Kilmore St, the straight fourth side of the Avon Loop precinct, we completed the semi-circular promenade, From here it was a straight and quick march back to Southern Eye Specialists several blocks west, the building’s logo (and pigeon spikes) now clearly visible.

On the way Chris commented on the “Wings” sculpture across the road, which she photographed later. This had a bird theme to supplement our meagre sightings – it was a memorial to Chris Swallow. Chris was a Wellingtonian who died in the Isle of Man TT Motorcycle Race in 2019. Why it is here we do not know.

Nearing the end of our walk I found that I had a Ladybird hitching a ride on my wrist, apparently a sign of good luck. At least, as Jade said when I got back to work, it might count as another ‘bird’.

AJS