Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

14 October 2009

Kaihu 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.

I first painted the Kaihu Tavern in 1991 (that’s the little drawing below) when it was looking a bit worse for wear and was in the early stages of a restoration programme. Now the flaking, biscuit-coloured exterior has given way to a fresh, clean coat of white paint but, praise the Lord of Pubs, the structure has been left alone and that half roof over the ground floor still seems to hang in space with little apparent means of support. I was tempted to show the pub as seen through the stones of the cemetery across the highway but Eric Lee-Johnson had already beaten me to it with a vibrant black and white drawing, done in 1967, depicting a building which has hardly changed in nearly thirty years.

I’ve read somewhere that Hone Heke made use of the accommodation — it’s possible. At first called the Opanaki Hotel, in its time both its name and its location changed. In 1895, when it was seven years old, it was shifted down Kaihu Hill to marry up with the new railway line from Dargaville; a line that should have been inaugurated by prime minister ‘King Dick’ Seddon but which, because he didn’t turn up, was opened by a drunk with a pair of hedge clippers who had been wheel-barrowed to the ribbon by the publican.

The most famous landlord was Albert Docherty who bought the pub in 1917. Like Bill Evans of Houhora, he was a man of many parts: hire-car operator, ambulance driver, nurse, athlete, cyclist, trophy hunter… he built a famous collection of kauri gum which adorned his main bar along with curiosities such as a two-headed calf, a four-legged chicken, a hair-ball from a cow’s stomach, several deer’s heads, stuffed trout, boars’ tusks, and Maori patu and taiaha. It became something of a tourist destination in its own right and was certainly an important stop on the way to Waipoua kauri forest and the Hokianga.

The museum went with Albert in 1951. It’s just as well, those bits and pieces are terrible dust traps. Since then the pub has been saner but you can feel the history oozing through the floorboards.



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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.