Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

29 November 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 5. Highwic, Auckland

I wrote and illustrated ‘New Zealand House and Cottage’. It was published in 1997. It’s a snapshot of some historic New Zealand homes - both grand and modest - as they were preserved at the end of the 20th century.
have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.


Gothic Highwic has a cottage-like look which has something to do with its proportions. It’s a large house but it lacks the height and so the dominance usually associated with a mansion. The outside walls are unassuming, too, a step beyond vertical boards and battens but lacking that heavy, earnest look of horizontal kauri with timber quoins made to look like stone.

It has the air of a friendly family house and I don’t doubt that that’s exactly what it was in its palmy days since Alfred Buckland - for whom Highwic was built in 1862 - had nine children by his first wife, Eliza, and another eleven by her ‘companion’, Matilda Frodsham, who he married after Eliza died of pneumonia in 1866.
Imagine having twenty children plus servants rattling around in your family home! Little wonder that by 1873 the house had been expanded from the original part (the left hand portion of my illustration) by the addition of a ballroom, sitting room, dining room and various service rooms and outhouses.

Despite its having grown bit by bit there’s a satisfying rhythm to the building: each addition has been carefully considered so that barge boards, finials and balustrades are harmonious and complementary; and even the large brick kitchen at the west end is not out of place.

The billiards room, which stands alone at the northwest corner of Highwic is a gem of a building and, like its large neighbour, whose style it matches absolutely, is a joy to sketch and paint. I particularly like the way the roof ridge sags slightly in the middle. I went to the winter wedding reception of Sophie Gray (the 'Destitute Gourmet') there some years ago; there was a generous fire burning in the grate and the atmosphere within the honey-hued timber walls was so agreeable that the celebration turned into a memorable party.



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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.