Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

18 November 2009

Vulcan Hotel, St.Bathans

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.

St Bathans was born of a gold boom in 1863. A year later it had ten hotels, forty businesses and a population of up to 2000 in the surrounding hills and gullies. Across the road from the pub you can look down into ‘The Glory Hole’, a blue lake that was once a hill 120 metres high! Gold fever hit St Bathans in a big way and, blinded by the urge to win metal above everything else, the early citizens tolerated a mushroom shanty-town of ‘corrugated iron, red iron, tin, gin cases, staves and canvas’. But there seems to have been born into gold miners a need for dignity and a prayer for permanence and so, as the town survived into and beyond the 1870s, more substantial buildings appeared, some of them with sufficient stamina to have lasted into modern times.

St Bathans today is like a time capsule from which it’s possible, in just a couple of hours, to get an appreciation of the composition of a goldfields town: a public hall that was the miners’ billiards saloon, the Bank of New South Wales Gold Office of the late 1860s, the stately old Post Office and postmaster’s residence, the ruins of the 1866 public school, damaged irreparably by earthquake in 1948, the church of St Alban the Martyr given to the town by Captain Dalgety and shipped out, pre-fabricated from England in 1883, and the stone cottage, one of the earliest permanent buildings in the town, first occupied by Sam Hanger who owned the first Vulcan Hotel.

Bank of New South Wales Gold Office

There’s been a Vulcan in St Bathans since 1869. Sam Hanger’s first one was a little farther north than is today’s, an impermanent affair thrown up to cater for thirsts rather than architectural appreciation. Twelve years later, they replaced corrugated iron with a structure of sun-dried bricks that became the new Vulcan: it stood until early 1914 when it was burned down. In its turn it was replaced by red brick which was also destroyed by fire. The Vulcan’s licence was transferred at this time to the Ballarat Hotel, which was not in use.

It had been built in 1882 and is the uniquely handsome little Vulcan Hotel in my illustration.
Through the left hand door is a narrow, intimate public bar and beyond that, the lounge bar. There are four accommodation rooms, one of which is said to be haunted. The hotel is owned by a company mainly consisting of local shareholders. I can’t think of a nicer place to hold a shareholders meeting.



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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.