Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

17 October 2009

Opotiki Hotel

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.

Opotiki is in the eastern Bay of Plenty but I feel it has more in common with the real stuff of East Cape than the gentility of its prosperous westerly neighbours, Whakatane and Tauranga. If you’re travelling to Gisborne or the east, Opotiki presents you with two choices: you may either meander leisurely along the sparkling coast and around the hump of the Raukumara Range, or head south through the valley of the Waioeka River and into its forested gorge. Either way brings big rewards.

In this junction town, ever threatened by flooding, three pubs stand out: the Masonic, over-decorated and typical only of a certain architectural extravagance (it has a soul-mate in the Provincial, Christchurch); the sturdy and reliable Royal Hotel and the archetype of colonial pubs, the Opotiki Hotel. In 1868 an Opotiki Hotel was one of two pubs in the town, but it burned down and its replacement - the present pub - was brought in by barge from Thames and erected on the old site. Others obviously share my opinion that it is a typical good old Kiwi pub; it has starred in movies and television shows and has been associated with such good old kiwis as Prince Tui Teka and Barry Crump.

Opotiki towards the end of the twentieth century seems in the last stages of reconciliation for a frightful atrocity followed by excessive revenge. Carl Volkner, the anglican vicar of St Stephen’s, was savagely murdered here in 1865. A local Whakatohea chief, Mokomoko, was wrongly executed and tribal land was confiscated by the British by way of punishment. In 1992, Mokomoko was pardoned. Since I painted St Stephen the Martyr there has been a service of reconciliation and a new sign board now describes the church as ‘Hiona St Stephens’, Hiona being Maori for ‘Zion’, the church’s original name.

There remains the question of the confiscated land …



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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.