Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

28 October 2009

Royal Tavern, Featherston

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.

Upon entering Featherston after negotiating the numbing loops of the Rimutaka Highway one of the first things you notice is the Royal Tavern squatting solid and grey like a land-based battleship on the southern side of Revans Street. Impressive and reassuring, it seems to exemplify the essence of the town.

The infuriating thing is that as soon as you try to find out something of the pub’s history nobody seems to have any clear answers. One authority writes ‘We have been unable to establish the date… or for whom it was built, but in 1869 the proprietor was John Feast.’ Another reads ‘Early hotel licencees included Mr W. Buckeridge, of the Royal Hotel, which was built about 1870 . . .’ And if you ask why it sports the coat of arms of Queen Victoria they’ll tell you it’s because it’s called ‘The Royal’ or ‘Because the Prince of Wales visited’. I prefer to think it’s because it was a staging post for the Royal Mail coaches.

The first pub burned down and was replaced by the present building in 1893. A photograph in the ‘New Zealand Cyclopaedia’ of 1906 proves that it has hardly altered in nearly a century. It was then described as having thirty-five well furnished rooms, the best liquors and accommodation, a good table, being lighted by ‘a private installation of acetylene gas’ and having ‘up-to-date fire escape appliances.’ In an age of motels it’s now a tavern and most of the upstairs rooms are empty.

Featherston grew when, instead of taking the Palliser Bay route to the Wairarapa, travellers from Wellington could confidently cross the Rimutaka Range by road or, later, pass through it by rail. The first settler, in 1846, was Henry Burling and the Maori settlement of Paeotumokai was Anglicized to ‘Burlings’. Henry successfully requested a bush licence for a ‘house of refreshment… at the Wairarapa side of the Rimutaka Mountain’ and so became the town’s first landlord in 1849.

It wasn’t long before things became more formal and, around 1854, the first Superintendent of Wellington Province formally chose the town site and generously allowed it to be named Featherston after him. (With delightful pomposity most of its streets were also named after his colleagues on the council). Burling, not very well treated and probably a bit fed up, left town in 1860 and died, much later, in Waikanae in 1911. He was 110.



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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.