Cafe Reflections and Responders: Deb Donnell looks at Christchurch

Search the catalogue for Cafe reflectionsWriter and publisher Deb Donnell has done great work post-quakes – opening our eyes to Christchurch past and present. She has been an important part of the popular Facebook page CHCH EQ Photos. Her book Cafe Reflections on Christchurch City, 1975-2012: A Tribute to the Christchurch Central Business District Community highlights 20 cafes, from Madras Cafe books to Black Betty. In its pages she stops in at Christchurch landmarks like the Globe, Java, Honey Pot, and Dumplings.

Deb has been working on her Cafe reflections for some time:

Cafe reflections started in 2004 as a journey to get to know myself, to make sense of that particular time in my life, and to pay homage to the city I’ve lived in since 1969. (p.57)

This is not merely a book of cafe reviews, it also tells the vivid and painful story of what it was like to be in town on 22 February 2011. It is a tale of before, and after. She has writings from the time between the 4 September 2010 and 22 February 2011 quakes – sometimes they read quite eerily. On 19 January 2011 she said:

I walk down Cashel Mall to work every day, but I no longer feel safe. There is something that doesn’t feel right along here either …

Deb counterpoints pre- and post-quake situations. The book is full of personal memories, images, and anecdotes. Its great strengths is her knowledge of the central city and its people, businesses, and buildings. She shares what some of the cafe staff are doing now.

Search the catalogue for RespondersDeb’s next book was written with NZ-RT member Peter Seager: Responders: The New Zealand Volunteer Response Teams, Christchurch Earthquake Deployments. This book gives you a chance to look behind the scenes. It features more than 280 photos, and stories, from the New Zealand volunteer response teams – post 4 September 2010 as well after 22 February 2011.

Responders explains such things as how commercial and residential buildings were searched, how the engineers carried out their work,  rubble clearance, and business recovery and salvage.

The strength of this book is in the images combined with the words of the people who were doing the most difficult of jobs. It is a hard book to read – but only because the subject is hard. It doesn’t deal in nostalgia or sentimentality – and is honest and straightforward in its text, photographs, and captions. A Bealey Avenue two storey home has collapsed into one – a wall is inscribed “Clear: Smell is seafood. Confirmed 4 Mar” – “The source of the smell was found to be coming from a bag of mussels in a defrosted freezer …”(p.149)


A clock lies in the rubble, and the resident’s vinyl collection is scattered among the bricks. (p. 99)

Stonehurst Hotel is described as looking “as if someone dropped a dolls house from a great height …” (p.126).  The Hotel Grand Chancellor “discussions were fascinating and we learned a lot. They were so casual talking about how to bring a 22 storey building down on its own footprint”. (p.129)

Responders and Cafe reflections are two very interesting books with a unique perspective on the earthquakes and Christchurch.