Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

07 November 2009

Lake Mahinapua 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.

Not so long ago it stood on a quiet back road. Now the main highway runs right past the front door, which suits New Zealand tourists with long memories who want to see for themselves this pub made famous by a television advertising campaign. Advertising themes are notoriously short-lived but the clever use of nostalgia, personified by a grumpy old man and given location by the almost ramshackle pub made those Mainland Cheese TV commercials rather more memorable than most.

When I painted the pub and its wild west sky the advertising campaign had developed to a point where the Mainland people, in return for cheesy wrappers sent in by consumers, were giving cash to a good cause - the establishment of a protected area where penguins could make love in peace. But things arc seldom what they seem; that grumpy old man didn’t live within cooee of Lake Mahinapua, he was an actor from Wellington; and the habitat of the Hoiho, or Yellow Eyed Penguin, is over the alps and far away, somewhere between Oamaru and the Campbell Islands!

A Mahinapua Hotel was built in 1905, close to the lake, eleven kilometres south of Hokitika. It was described as a ’solidly built house’, containing twelve accommodation rooms, and offering a ‘moderate tariff’. The proprietor, James Henderson, a Scotsman from Edinburgh, had spent time in Otago and, later, on the West Coast as a miner and dredge worker.

It would be interesting to know whether he was familiar with or had worked on the Phillips Dryland Dredge. Unlike most gold dredges, which were waterborne, this one was operated from a railway line. The first gold dredge in Westland County was a Phillips and it first operated on the sandy foreshore of Lake Mahinapua between 1897 and 1902.

In gold mining days, on the shallow lake which is only one metre above sea-level, steamers and barges plied its seven kilometre length conveying the constant flow of gold-seekers rushing from from one strike to another, as rumours of riches flew up and down the coast. It’s now a favourite spot of yachties and picnickers, much prized for its clear, colourful reflections from the surrounding bush.




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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.