Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

07 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 15. Glens Of Tekoa Sod Hut, Culverden

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.


You can still see the hole in the ground whose contents were turned into the seven-roomed sod hut at Glens of Tekoa. It was all done in the summer of 1859: beneath a bullock’s hooves, clay soil and tussock were trodden and scrunched into a homogeneous mud pie from which the cob walls were hand moulded. The rafters were of beech from a nearby hillside and the roof was shingled, to be replaced by iron in 1895.

It’s the oldest surviving building in Amuri County and is astonishingly good to look at; as picturesque as The Cuddy at Waimate but without the prettiness. No tended gardens surround it, just a carpet of wanton periwinkle and a backdrop of sheltering trees. It demands to be sketched and painted.

The hut was home to its builders, George and Roderick McRae,whose father William bought the 22,500 acres and leased a further 85,000 acres (43,500ha in all) which, by 1864, comprised Glens of Tekoa. William, a Scot, had arrived from Ireland in 1849 to make his permanent home at ‘Bonovoree’, near Richmond, while his sons became managers of the North Canterbury estate.

The layout of the hut is slightly more complex than was usual in pioneer days, with each of the main rooms having a separate front door and fireplace; probably to allow for the possibility that if one or both of the brothers married some privacy might have been necessary.

The brothers lived there until their new, brick house was built in 1865 just a few metres away. Since then, the sod cottage has continued in use, as overflow accommodation for visitors, as a schoolroom, and latterly as a museum, housing sundry maps, plans, photographs, letters, accounts and artefacts gathered over the years and relating to the McRae family and Glens of Tekoa.

George married Mary Moore in 1868 and brought her home from Nelson. William having died in 1867, Roderick returned to the family farm at Nelson in 1872 and later the brothers drew up a deed which gave sole ownership of the Nelson property to Roderick, and Glens of Tekoa to George whose descendants have farmed the station ever since.

When I sat having coffee with Beau and Georgie McRae on the terrace of the ‘new’ house from which the sod cottage is plainly visible it occurred to me that not too many people can be so close to their ancestors. With the fortitudinous spirits of William, George and Roderick in the air, one would think twice before making a big decision affecting the Glens of Tekoa.



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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.