Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

10 October 2009

Houhora Tavern

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995. It 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.

Houhora Tavern

Seventy kilometres south of Cape Reinga is the Houhora Tavern, the most northerly pub in New Zealand. It stands in a loop of what used to be the main highway before it was re-aligned to facilitate the passage of coachloads of tourists, rushing headlong to click their camera shutters at the lighthouse that presides over the restless confrontation of the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific Ocean.

Being sidelined suits the Houhora pub, which frames up artistically beyond the macrocarpa, where it rests peacefully overlooking the harbour. It started life as a trading store set up by the Evans family in 1888 to supply the kauri gum seekers who came to range across the northern peninsula with rods and spades and big thirsts. The store was licensed in 1892 and, sometime later, it was given status when the old, two-storey building was dragged here by bullock cart from Ninety Mile Beach where it had been the Hukatere pub.

Bill Evans is famously associated with Houhora, where he was not only a farmer and landlord of the inn, but also ran the store, post office, billiards room, stables and dance hall. To cap all that he was a Justice of the Peace. As James McNeish records in ‘Tavern in the Town’, one of Evans’s drunken defendants protested ‘… you has a store, then you has a licence, then you sells me booze - and now, so help me, you fines me for drinking it!’

Evans, being something of a lord of the manor around these parts, had a reputation for toughness but fairness; he helped out many a hard-up digger. So it’s not surprising to learn that, when the ‘Elingamite’, a steamer on the trans-Tasman run, foundered on one of the Three Kings Islands in 1902 with a cargo of gold bullion, he sheltered the forty or more survivors who landed from a lifeboat near the Houhora pub until they could continue their journeys.

The Old Dance Hall 

Bill died in 1952 and was succeeded by his nephew Fred who sold the pub in 1964. A new bar wing was added in 1971 after which the pub was sold again and the old part became somewhat neglected. Happily, the latest owners, 'Crunch', Jennie and Robert Bradley, have upgraded the grounds and are intent on restoring the original building and its bars. Meanwhile the ghost of Bill Evans dwells in the rusting dance hall and cinema, built of horizontal corrugated iron, that stands forlorn in the next paddock.



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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.