Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

31 October 2009

The Rat Trap, Takaka

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.

The Rat Trap, built in 1903, guarded the only road exit from the Takaka Valley to Riwaka, Motueka and the market gardens of Tasman Bay. I painted it on a number of occasions because it offered such a welcoming prospect after the breathtaking descent into the valley from the limestone heights of Takaka Hill-the ‘Marble Mountain’.

While well-known all over Nelson Province, the pub was never more popular than in the late 1930s when more than five hundred workers were constructing the hydroelectric dam in nearby Cobb Valley. That’s when the Upper Takaka Hotel was given its nickname. Life was hard at the remote dam site and the men sometimes became ’stir crazy’, so much so that absenteeism, caused by workers not returning to camp after making supply trips, became commonplace.

‘Where are the men?’ the overseer would demand.

The answer would come, ‘Caught in the Rat Trap1′

They solved the problem by buying truckloads of beer from the pub and selling it in the works canteen. They bought so much that the Rat Trap’s beer sales were greater than any other pub in Nelson Province.

It’s still possible to get trapped in Golden Bay if the hill is closed by snow and ice but, sadly, you won’t find comfort at the Rat Trap; it burned to the ground on 19 May 1994. It’s a tragic story; a husband and wife were proprietors and she, with tortured mind, fired the place which had trapped her and turned her into what her defence counsel at her arson trial described as ‘a lonely and terrified woman’. With heartening compassion the jury found her not guilty.

I grieve for her, her husband and the old Rat Trap. This watercolour was painted for a calendar which was published in 1994. On the last page of this book you’ll find the remains of this dear old pub . . .



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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.