Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

05 August 2009

Country Churches of NZ 81. South Island New Zealand and St. John in The Wilderness, Koromiko, Marlborough

I wrote and illustrated Country Churches of New Zealand. It was published in 2002 by New Holland, Publishers and is still on sale in bookshops. The publishers have kindly agreed to me re-publishing some of the book’s images and descriptions in this blog.

St John’s, Arrowtown door.


I toured the South Island clockwise; down the east to Southland, a roam through Central Otago then up Westland and into the Nelson area. The first church I illustrated was at Koromiko, south of Picton, the last a not too distant neighbour at Havelock.

In trying to determine whether there might be essential differences between North and South Island country churches I concluded that they were influenced by their origins. There was far more of the 'missionary' up north, whereas in the founding provinces of the south, religion - Anglican and Presbyterian in particular - had been imported with the setttlers as part of their well-established social mosaic.

In view of the pre-European distribution of population, it is only to be expected that, with notable exceptions, Maori churches are far less evident than in Northland or the East Coast, for example.

I'm not sure to what extent those differences affect the external appearance of the churches although I'm sure that they do in subtle ways. But the characteristics of building materials certainly provide distinctions. There's far more stone in the South Island - scoria, limestone, schist - each has its own special colour and texture. And the architecture itself is different; there are fewer of those elegant belfries with their de Jersey Clere fl├Ęches. The works of architects such as Benjamin Mountfort seem more serious and authoritarian.


'Built 1871, first service 4 April. No graves in churchyard but large ankle-breaking Wellingtonia roots lie along surface because of stony substrate. A photograph in the church of it just built shows it surrounded by a hideous wilderness of shattered tree stumps. Inside, nave is bone-dry kahikatea (borer evident) with rimu trusses.' (SKETCHBOOK NOTE 30/10/01)

Koromiko is south of Picton where the land starts to open out into the old Waitohi Valley. St John in the Wilderness was designed by a Mr Alexander; the builder was Mr Pugh of Picton who had quoted £132.

Mill owner Captain Dalton, an early settler, gave most of the timber for the building. It is said that all of his employees gave a week's wages to the building fund - how willingly is a matter for speculation.

Here a swarm of bees interrupted the baptism of future Governor General the Right Reverend Sir Paul Reeves. Several generations later bees continue to be a problem. They seem to inhabit many of the churches I've visited - I wonder what attracts them?



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By Don Donovan

About Me

My photo

Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.