Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

07 October 2009

Kick Out All The Aliens

‘They are wonderful plants for holding sloping ground in place, in the front of the border, among shrubs and flowers, entranceway plantings to the house, around the swimming pool and in cool green tropical plantings.’
Thus spake Colin Hutchinson in The Art of Gardening published in 1991 and described as ‘New Zealand’s finest gardening book’.

The plant Mr Hutchinson was describing was Agapanthus.

Only fifteen years later that ‘wonderful’ plant that graces our motorway medians and one single head of whose glorious blue or white blooms can fill a vase is facing the chop because the biosecurity apparatchiks at both government and local level have decided that: ‘…they are invasive and/or poisonous and crowding out native plants.’

Now, although aganpanthi grow in all the otherwise dead spots of my garden, I don’t know much about floriculture; and it’s not the particular attack on those plants that bothers me. What does make me nervous is that hiding inside the biosecurity police’s statement is a politically correct blinkered yet starry-eyed philosophy that New Zealand should digressively outlaw anything that isn’t ‘native’.

Not long ago there appeared a report that moves were afoot in the South Island to restore parts of Canterbury to its pristine pre-pilgrim state. It was asserted that large areas of native bush had been supplanted by what is now the characteristic patchwork of British agriculture. It was misleading to some degree and although it is true to say that Canterbury has undergone an enormous change, its farmlands have mainly replaced swampland and tussock. The surveyor of Canterbury, Charles Torlesse, writing in 1849, while he described large areas of bush, made much of a country the most part ready for the plough.

This revisionistic urge to take New Zealand back to its beginnings is absurd. The country has moved on, developed, improved, become productive. Inevitably, in its forward march since human occupation around the 14th century of the Christian calendar, there have been casualties: moa, huia and other species have gone, and others are or have been under threat.

Some we can save but the idea of returning New Zealand to a golden age by taking a huge, politically correct leap backwards is nonsensical. To start with agapanthus is like sacking the tea lady at General Motors in order to improve the bottom line. And after agapanthus what? Rabbits, stoats, rats, cats, dogs, cattle, sheep, deer, trout, deciduous European trees; we’ll have to get rid of them all. Maori, European, Pacific Islanders, Asiatics; they’ll all have to go home. But before they go we’ll need to rip up the roads, wipe out transport, raze the cities, eliminate power and telephone lines and, because they won’t be needed ever again, shut down government departments. (Not a bad idea).

Perhaps all that might be left would be a self-sustaining remnant of biosecurity police-persons trotting around planting kauri, totara, kowhai, flax and tussock seeds and cuttings, and warming tui eggs in their hairy armpits. Finally, as they self destructed or paddled away in raupo rafts, they would leave these now unnamed islands to sleep once again awaiting discovery.

There would be only the forest and the birds. Just as it was in the belle epoch before that despicable species homo sapiens came and used its intellect, courage, flawed human wisdom and ingenuity to change it all.
And then, perhaps, a latter day Thomas Gray might imagine from afar a land where:

‘Full many a bird of iridescent sheen
The black-green boughs of hidden bush doth bear:
Full many a rata born to blush unseen,
Now wastes its scarlet on the man-free air.’

Yeah. Right.



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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.