Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

10 September 2009

New Zealand’s West Coast Road

Rummaging through a shoe box I came across this photograph of our Volkswagen 1200 taken above Lake Hawea in 1964. Despite the warning we attempted to complete a circumnavigation of the lower South Island from Canterbury through Otago, across the Southern Alps by way of Haast Pass then north up the West Coast to turn inland to return to North Canterbury via Arthurs Pass.
Vastly optimistic and in a fit of cognitive dissonance I thought we might convince somebody at the Ministry of Works camp at the southern end of the gap in the new road to take us across the last river to the north end on a Works truck.

No such luck. Hours after taking the picture we had travelled the long, hazardous, dusty shingle road over the mountains and up the coast to a point where the nascent highway ended abruptly at a deep, sluggish, tea-brown stream. We had arrived on a Sunday afternoon; a cluster of temporary huts showed no sign of life. We got out of the car and stretched while gazing around at the almost tropical high native forest that crowded upon the ruthless scar of human intrusion. Sandflies hovered like malignant spirits ready to bite any uncovered skin - even ankles through socks.

Eventually there emerged from one of the huts a stocky, ginger, freckly paunchy man wearing only a pair of filthy shorts. He stood squinting at me, dishevelled as if aroused from deep sleep that I suspected to be alcohol induced for his throaty Irish accent was slurred beyond belief. He informed me that he was the weekend watchman and was the only one there. I asked him how wide was the gap between the two ends of the road. ‘Half a moil, no more’. But, he said, although ‘puddle jumpers’ (by which I assumed he meant the Works trucks) could cross, there was no way we could in the VW either unaided or by truck-tray.

He squinted past me down the road. ‘A woman came the other day on a boik,’ he said, as he scratched the red sandfly bites that blotched his lard-white skin. ‘She said she was going to cross the creek so she carried her boik into the bush on her shoulders and we haven’t seen her since.’ He said it sadly but showed little concern.

That was in 1964. I wonder what happened to her after she entered the almost impenetrable forest whose roots were mostly bog bound. Did her bones turn brown to match the rusting frame of her ‘boik’? And did anybody miss her?

It was a very, very long drive back to Central Otago that afternoon and night.

The following year the road opened and they took the warning sign away.



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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.