Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

07 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 16. Riverlands Cob Cottage, Marlborough

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.


It comes as a visual relief; a picture postcard cottage crisply whitewashed, within a small garden of lawn, and floral borders that splash colour on to the otherwise dun, dried landscape of the plains east of Blenheim.

I wonder whether the builder of Riverlands cob cottage ever contemplated the possibility that State Highway One would run within a metre or so of its front door? Indeed, I wonder who the builder was - Charles Redwood or John Emmett? The record seems unclear.

Henry Redwood, Charles’s father, had arrived in Nelson in 1842 from Staffordshire. He soon took up land on the lower Wairau Plain, and by 1870 the Redwood family owned tracts that extended from the secluded inland Taylor Valley to the sea at Cloudy Bay, and included blocks in the Wairau and Awatere Valleys. Charles, one of Henry’s nine children, established the Riverlands Run of 5600 acres (2270ha): the cob cottage stands on Section 32 of that run. He had bought the plot from John Emmett in 1865 and it’s possible that Emmett had had the cottage built.

It’s two-storeyed, with a small attic bedroom. The walls, 40 cm thick in parts, are of a puddled clay and chopped tussock mixture reinforced with horse manure containing ‘undigested’ chaff (an ‘essential’ component according to one account!). Having housed members of the Redwood family and a succession of farm labourers and itinerant shearing gangs, it served as the official schoolroom from 1906 to 1909 and, at some stage, as a headquarters for bookies attending the local racecourse and a shelter for stud sheep. It did worthy war work, too, as quartermaster’s store and area base for the Home Guard in World War II.

The Marlborough Historical Society and Historic Places Trust started a major restoration in 1960, clearing overgrowth, rebuilding walls, re-shingling and furnishing with contemporary displays. The cottage was opened to visitors in 1965, since when it has been maintained with commendable care.



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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.