Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

10 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 19. Cobblestones Colonial Cottage, Greytown

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.


One thing’s certain: NZ Historic Places Trust’s Registered Building No. 4001 is a pretty piece of symmetry. Another certainty is that it was built by a Mr. Towsey and stood near the Anglican Church before it was removed in 1972 to its present site. Beyond that all facts are in dispute, little is known, and there’s much speculation. A notice beside the front door reads:


which might mean that Mr Towsey erected more than one cottage in 1862, not that it was one of Greytown’s first dwellings: which it certainly wasn’t.

Greytown had been set up as a ‘designer’ town six years earlier, in 1854, by the Small Farm Association whose objective was to help working class early settlers to gain proprietary access to land. Named after Governor Sir George Grey it was an important town (and might have remained so had the railway line laid in 1878 from Wellington not by-passed it). It started with 110, one acre sections and it’s obvious that even if only a few had had cottages built on them Mr Towsey’s wouldn’t have been among them.

In one of the back rooms of the cottage I found an old poster. I’m pleased somebody saved it. From it I deduce that they didn’t name the orchestra because they hadn’t yet hired one; that the difference between two shillings and half-a-crown was a sixpenny supper; that the ‘trophys’ (they couldn’t spell even then) were for the highest number of bulls scored with .22 rifles on a 25-yard range; and that ‘old time’ meant the polka and old fashioned waltz not those ghastly new-fangled things like the fox-trot and quickstep! Ah, happy days in Greytown.



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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.