Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

08 November 2009

Hurunui Hotel

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995. It’s 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.

John Hastie, a man known widely for his kindness, opened the ‘Hurunui Accommodation House, South Bank’ with a licence issued in Christchurch by J.W Hamilton, Resident Magistrate, on 1 June 1860.

There were conditions: ‘All premises to be kept in good repair… Not less than eight beds for travellers in not less than four rooms… Accommodation for at least six horses… A lamp to be kept burning from sunset to sunrise but not to be visible from the north bank of the Hurunui River… The licence to be cancelled if any drunkenness be proved or if spirits be supplied to any aboriginal native’. Hastie was also required to be sworn in and perform as a constable if required.

The limestone building, still standing well into its second century, was constructed of stone quarried from the gentle hills of nearby Weka Pass. Therein, perhaps, lies the secret of its survival for when most other pubs of its vintage, ticking like tinder-dry time bombs, have gone up in flames these thick, white walls remain. That is not to say that the Hurunui Hotel hasn’t faced its perils. There was a mighty flood in 1868 when the river burst its banks and flowed ‘a mile wide’. Although the hotel suffered no damage it was moved, block by block, to its present site in 1869. By then poor Hastie had died of epilepsy.

The hotel was a meeting place for North Canterbury farmers who would ride in for their mail and to catch up with gossip, maybe pausing for a pint while they watched drovers from the north dipping their sheep to keep Canterbury clear of ‘the dreaded scab’. Through the years the pub experienced varying fortunes and there came a period, as with so many architectural gems, when the worth of its heritage was misunderstood and it fell into disrepair. It had reached its nadir in 1980, patronless, beerless and on the point of closure when, at the eleventh hour, a group of locals, after surprisingly little discussion, pledged over $100 000 and set up a trust to save it.

And so it continues its tradition of welcoming travellers on the Lewis Pass and Hanmer road to its shade and hospitality; and is it too much to fancy that in some cool corner of its restful bar the spirit of John Hastie smiles and nods approvingly?



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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.