Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

21 October 2009

Albion Hotel, Shannon

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were at the end of the 20th century. I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.

Shannon was laid out in 1886 as a settlement of the Wellington-Manawatu Railway Company to which the government had granted both the right to develop the line and 86000 ha of land to help with its cost. At that time it was New Zealand’s largest private company and so it’s hardly surprising that the new town was named after one of the directors (as was Levin, on the same line).

In 1908 the track through Shannon became part of the North Island Main Trunk Line that connects Wellington and Auckland.

In the area from Linton to Shannon and between the Manawatu River to the north-west and the foothills of the Tararua Ranges lay the enormous Makerua Swamp containing almost 6000 ha of flax. Flaxmills were established to process the fibre, sustaining an industry that went into decline in the 1920s because of plant disease and the draining of the swamp for pasture.

Miranui Mill, the largest flaxmill in New Zealand, survived from 1907 to 1935, having hung on for fifteen years after the swamp was drained. The mill was just north-cast of Shannon and its workers would have been familiar with the Albion, which is at the same end of the town. Indeed, Mr Shannon himself - and, perhaps, Mr Levin - may have stayed at the pub when it had nine bedrooms and catered for commercial gentlemen from the big cities.

The first Albion was built in 1890 but was destroyed in 1915 in a blaze described in the local paper as ‘a splendid sight from an onlooker’s point of view’. It was rebuilt at a cost of £2500 ($NZ5000) in 1916 by William McKegg of Otaki. For obvious geographical reasons, the locals call it ‘the Top Pub’, to distinguish it from the Club Hotel - the ‘Bottom Pub’ -which pre-dates the Albion by two years.



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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.