Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

16 October 2009

Brian Boru Hotel, Thames

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.

Like all old gold towns Thames has been home to large numbers of pubs. In fact, when the 1855 Reefers Arms changed its name to Brian Boru in 1867 there were probably more pubs in Thames than there were in Auckland. While that’s no longer the case, Thames still rates as a big town and it’s booming again. This time it’s not gold that brings prosperity but solid enterprises like car assembly and the ever increasing numbers of tourists who are discovering the Coromandel Peninsula.

Today’s Brian Boru, built in 1905 by Edmund Twohill, stayed in the family for 106 years with four generations of Twohills operating it until 1974 when it was sold to a brace of property developers. For a few years this cherished old hotel lost its way; there was nobody around to look after it and things got so bad that the citizens started to give it nasty nicknames like ‘The Pits’ and took their patronage elsewhere.

It was rescued in June 1983 when entrepreneur Barbara Doyle bought it and set out to return it to its former glory. She has made the Brian Boru famous through her insight, dedication and business acumen. Perhaps the most laudable thing she’s done is to preserve its original form; even the recent additions have been harmonious.

The Brian Boru plays host to over ten thousand guests a year, a large percentage of whom are international visitors who enjoy the ambience, and shiver with delight on hearing stories of the ghosts remaining from the old gold mining era. (Head ghost is Florence Twohill who, with her sister, ran the Brian Boru in the twenties).
And speaking of pub ghosts - Barbara Doyle’s ‘Mystery, Intrigue and Murder Weekends’ have achieved great fame. In true Agatha Christie style, guests are invited to take part in solving mysteries in the Brian Boru where ‘windows rattle, floorboards creak and ghosts come out after midnight’. There’s a reward for the successful sleuth and ‘the unlucky victim’s estate receives a 50% “mourning” refund’!

This is a big hotel where, I think, one gets a good impression of the activity and energy found in the coaching inns of the nineteenth century.



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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.