Lost, then found, the gentle baker of Christchurch finally laid to rest


IT SEEMS Shane Tomlin, the quiet man, had a sense of the end. He certainly had a sense about the Christchurch earthquake.
That Tuesday morning, when he arrived at the bakery where he worked, he foretold it.
In a tribute from a colleague, Bev, read at his funeral yesterday: “You came to work that Tuesday and told me there would be a quake that day. You said there had been a quake in Argentina and all the whales had recently beached. And then we joked about which bench we would shelter under if it turned out to be the big one. But he didn’t get the chance.”
Within hours, Mr Tomlin became the human face of the tragedy. When the quake hit, he fell through two floors to land in a women’s dress shop. After he was pulled from the rubble, his head cradled in the lap of one of his rescuers, his dust-caked face was captured by a photographer in an image of survival that was picked up around the world.
But Mr Tomlin did not survive. He died later in hospital. Yesterday he was remembered in his home town of Kaikoura, 200 kilometres north of Christchurch.
Mr Tomlin, 42, would have hated all the fuss, his sisters told the congregation at St Paul’s on the Hill Presbyterian church. He was a gentle, unassuming man who disliked being photographed and loved quiet things: his work, his turtle, Star Trek and Doctor Who, cooking and gardening — but not flowers, only vegies. Yesterday the bright sunflowers on his coffin were arranged with humble corn, broccoli, asparagus and onions. On the back of the order of service was a close-up photograph of the turtle.
His former partner, Melanie, said: “I remember Shane as a spirited, private person who just didn’t want to make a fuss. He had a lot of love in his heart to give but I think sometimes he held it in rather than giving it out.”
He was unassuming right to the end. One sister said he had urged his rescuers, “Help the others first. Don’t worry about me. I’ll look after myself.”

First published in The Age.