The Gisborne Earthquake of 1966. Part 4: Fractious Times

As Gisbornites set about sweeping up the rubble, repairing damage and returning to a normal life, a fractious interlude occurred during the week after the earthquake.

The BBC, which had broadcast a story about Gisborne being destroyed by the quake, came in for criticism. Gisborne’s mayor, Harry Barker, and Member of Parliament, Esme Tombleson, leapt into the fray. There was concern that the story would affect Gisborne’s attractiveness to tourists.

Not that the town had a dearth of visitors. The Civil Defence controller from Wellington City Council was in the town, along with insurance assessors, scientists, engineers and many other officials. Claims that locals were causing traffic jams by rubbernecking at damage sites hit the papers and were instantly refuted. The townsfolk even came under criticism for jamming the few telephone circuits into the area via the Kaiti Hill VHF station with unnecessary conversations, when they should have been available to Civil Defence staff.

Earthquake preparedness was a hot issue in Wellington at the time and newspapers had stories and editorials about a mysterious list of unsafe public buildings prepared by a civil servant. Gisborne’s earthquake experience added fuel to the flames, and the Wellington City Council came under fire for not being ready for a similar earthquake in the capital. Little did they know that their test was just over a month away.

But Gisborne’s story soon faded against a backdrop of other news. The third passenger jet crash in Japan in the space of a month had just occurred, when a BOAC Boeing 707 plunged from the sky onto Mount Fuji. TEAL was advertising its DC-8 international services, and the hostesses sported pill-box hats.

David Scott and Neil Armstrong were aloft in their Gemini VIII spacecraft. Frank Borman and Walter Schirra, two of the astronauts from the first space rendezvous (Gemini VI and VII) were due in New Zealand with their wives in a few weeks. Project Apollo was rolling with the aim of putting man on the Moon. The Vietnam War was in the news, as the United States had just suffered a setback when its base at A Shau was wiped out.

History was moving on and Gisborne was left to get on with getting things back to normal.

And that old tectonic clock was again ticking away ….

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