Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

11 November 2009

Valley Inn Tavern, Heathcote

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

Much history lies in and around the Heathcote Valley and most of it is to do with the fact that the Christchurch settlement had, as its deep water harbour, the flooded crater of an extinct volcano - Lyttleton Harbour. When the first settlers arrived in 1850 they had to tramp up a precipitous bridle path to the saddle above Heathcote, from which they could gaze down into the estuary of the Heathcote and Avon rivers and across the tussocked Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps.

It didn’t take the newcomers long to realize that a railway tunnel through the hills would make life easier and, amazingly, within nine years of the pioneers’ arrival trial shafts were being sunk by the English contractor’s agents. The first sod of the tunnel’s construction was turned on 1 7 July 1861 in the Heathcote Valley and the first passenger train ran through on 9 December 1867. The second tunnel was built in 1964 for road traffic, and a recently constructed gondola cableway now makes light of the old bridle path. Thus what should have been a peaceful valley enjoying its micro-climate - so favourable for orcharding - became an increasingly important artery between port and city.

The Valley Inn, I was assured, originated as an accommodation house for the workers on the Lyttleton Rail Tunnel; but the house was built in 1870, three years after the tunnel opened. The truth of it is that the workers were building a 500 000 gallon reservoir 65 metres above sea level on Te Tihi o Kahukura, otherwise known as Castle Rock, overlooking Heathcote Valley. It was the town supply for Lyttleton and its water was piped through the railway tunnel.

In 1877 the Valley Inn, with its trapeziform rooms and not a right-angle anywhere, became a licensed hotel. Out the back, beyond the garden where they hang the bar towels to dry, you can still see the original stables; in the lounge bar is an old, brick lined, artesian well, sunk in the 1860s, from which they drew water for the animals working on the tunnel.



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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.