Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

08 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 17. 115 Rue Jolie, Akaroa

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.


When I first visited Akaroa in 1960 I found an unpretentious seaside hamlet of villas and cottages. Beach Road was a curve of clapboard shop fronts with lace canopies. You could buy fish from the boats moored at the end of the jetty and the salt-and-fish perfumed air was filled with the screech of seagulls fighting over scraps. Akaroa’s inhabitants were mainly people who worked in and around a town that seemed at the turning-point of life and death; many of the houses, a number of them empty, were in various stages of decay. While to an artist that sort of scene had appeal I don’t imagine any long-term resident would have shared the feeling.

Akaroa’s Frenchness was then, I fancy, seen as little more than the mildly interesting result of an historical quirk, but at some point it seems to have been re-discovered, identified as a ‘unique selling proposition’ and marketed so successfully that Akaroa, today, is in danger of becoming cute.

One of the positive benefits of the town’s renaissance has been the rescue and restoration of so many of its early cottages and villas, and Rue Jolie (once called Jolie Street), especially between the fine 1875 Coronation Library and Selwyn Avenue, contains more than its fair share of them. I think that one of the best is No. 115; what sets it apart from the others is the glorious range of ochreous tints and shades slowly acquired during years of weathering of its totara timbers.

Doctor Daniel Watkins, who became Akaroa’s first doctor, arrived in Christchurch in 1850 followed by his son Henry in 1857. His older son, Stephen (who must have been an artist of some repute for he was an Associate of the Royal Academy) arrived in 1860 and also made his home in Akaroa. The villa at 115 was built for Stephen and his wife who shared it with the doctor until he died in 1882 aged ninety-one. With fifteen acres it was sold to François Narbey, an early French settler, in 1884. He had a family of nineteen and his descendants owned ‘Narbey House’ until 1973 when it was bought, having lain empty for ten years, by Dick and Barbara Allison.

They found it hugely dilapidated but bit by bit restored it through moods of despair at the size of the task, or elation when, perhaps, some thrilling aspect of its history was suddenly revealed behind old, tattered scrim. I was delighted, having made 115 one of my three choices from Akaroa, to discover that Barbara Allison had complemented the restoration by writing an excellent book, An Akaroa Precinct, about the villa and its neighbouring houses. Such dedication is rare: I hope that Barbara Allison’s opinions are listened to when Akaroa’s future is discussed.

The Louis Quinze door knocker is a recent addition, but entirely appropriate.



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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.