Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

13 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 21. Beach Road, Kohukohu

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.


There’s sometimes a sub-tropical feel about Kohukohu; a tangible, scented humidity upon which tui songs toll from the surrounding hills: there’s a sound of running water from overgrown runnels and the shadowed sides of fence posts are padded with emerald mosses. It would not take nature long to reclaim the town.

Indeed, when I first saw Kohukohu thirty-five years ago, my impression was of neglect. Rotting timbers peeled off old houses whose mildewed windows were cracked and broken, and road seal crumbled. It seemed that apart from being the northern terminal of the Hokianga Ferry all its glory was in a past when its harbour bay bustled with the scream of milling kauri and a latter day dairy factory flourished until its closure in 1957.

But I have seen Kohukohu re-born. The colour has come back to its face. They say it’s because of newcomers with different ways of living; they’ve brought their children with them and increased the population, and they’ve seen the potential that lies in the recovery of distressed villas and cottages.

The Beach Road house - a residence expressing a certain social eminence - was built in 1889 by Fred Halliwell (who also owned Kohukohu’s first motor car in 1907). In the 1920s it was occupied by the manager of the Rangiora Timber Company, after whom came a train of owners: McArthur, a dentist; J.H.A. Skipper, printer and publisher of the Hokianga Star (who ran it as a boarding house); Doctors Rule and Alexander (in the late thirties); the Methodists; then farmer Brian Gundry, followed in the 1980s by Sue and Alan Clarkson, he a veterinary surgeon.

It’s had coats of many colours, some more controversial than others, no doubt. Not to worry, it’s the structure that matters, not its colour, and its fresh, pink coat offered an opportunity for me to use some of the rarer pigments in my paint box.



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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.