Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

06 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 14. Tylee Cottage, Wanganui

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.


The zealous desire to save all old buildings is a modern phenomenon. But you can’t keep everything, and just because a thing is old doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth saving. There’s a balance to these things and I believe that we should try to save old buildings if by destroying them we risk losing a key piece of history or architectural style.

Up to about twenty or thirty years ago most of the ordinary New Zealand houses and cottages whose origins could be traced to the earliest days of European settlement were allowed to rot once their families had no more use for them. It was common to see dilapidated houses used as storage: in the towns you might see what had once been a proud family villa now the tottering ‘office’ of a demolition yard; and in the country it was common to see the old farmhouse stuffed full of hay a couple of hundred metres away from the new house with its mod cons.

Tylee House went through a dangerous phase when, quietly crumbling in commercial ownership, it was used as a tyre storage depot. Fortunately it was rescued and restored and moved in 1984 from its place of origin in Wilson Street to the corner of Bell Street and Cameron Terrace where it sits now, so scrubbed up that it almost looks like a replica.

It was built during the New Zealand Wars, in 1854, by John Tylee who had been appointed to take charge of the commissariat responsible for the supply of food and other necessities to the 65th regiment, which, with the 58th, comprised the town’s British garrison. The 65th were stationed in York Hill stockade which had previously been the fortified Patupuhou Pa. Armies needed to be self-supporting to a large degree and Tylee encouraged the cook of the 65th to grow vegetables near the stockade on a spot which has since become famous as Cooks Gardens. (There’s an irony here; Tylee is remembered but the cook’s name is not. Indeed Captain Cook is the name likely, mistakenly, to be associated with the modern sports stadium).

The rather forbidding notice on the front gate reminds me of a story: a past occupant of the house was rudely awoken one morning by an uninvited history buff who wanted to know the origin of some holes in the wall. The irritated occupier dismissively told him that they were bullet holes from the ‘troubles of ‘47′. The story became legend. The house was built in 1854, remember? The ‘bullet holes’ resulted from the removal of some telephone insulators!



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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.