Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 November 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 6. The Turrets, Orepuki

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.
I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.


If the earth was flat and you had a well-developed imagination you might see the Antarctic coast in the shimmering distance for at Orepuki, on the eastern end of Te Waewae Bay, nothing impedes the fury of the southerly winds from the pole, winds which are sometimes so salt laden that the macrocarpas stretch out their long, naked, flinching trunks as if to rip their roots from the soil and escape to the north. Here, with only a flimsy yet enduring stand of hardy trees for shelter stands a most unusual house.

I had first seen ‘The Turrets’ some years ago while travelling along the road from Riverton that parallels the southern coast until, faced with the uncompromising bluffs of Fiordland, it turns north to Tuatapere. The house lay in the distance, silver against forest green like a pavilion of towered Camelot. I determined that one day I would approach more closely.

John and Glenda Watson, who have lived at ‘The Turrets’ since 1960, have raised a family of five within the sheltering solidity of its timber walls. With pride they showed me over the house and were amused by my astonishment when I entered the sitting room and saw the most unusual pressed metal ceiling with its wonderful art nouveau frieze, which, they assured me, is entirely original.

The house was built in the late 1800s by George Valentine Printz for his son, John Louis (known as ‘Barney’ for no apparent reason). Printz, born in 1833, came from Sydney, prospered as a whaler and owned 7000 acres (2832 ha) at Paihia. He fathered ten children, two of whom died in infancy, leaving five sons and three daughters. They grew up in a lively community whose economy was based upon mixed farming, saw-milling, shale oil working and the unreliable rewards of winning fine gold from the black beach sands of the bay.

The turrets were a delightful eccentricity: George Printz built houses for four of his sons; Henry’s was towerless, George’s had one turret, William’s had two and John Louis trumped them all with three. They do sparkle so when the sun comes out …


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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.