Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

17 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 25. Woodside Manor, West Taieri

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


‘Tis distance lends enchantment…’ My first illustration of ‘The Poplars’ was for New Zealand Odyssey published in 1989. On that occasion I could get no closer than the locked gates, from which distance it had a romantic, Caledonian promise, as if it had been transported, fully built, from some remote Scottish glen. It came to mind again when I was planning New Zealand House and Cottage.

I daresay that Ray and Eve Beardsmore’s first impression was the same as mine. But they would have been under no delusions about the restoration task ahead of them when they bought the house at auction in 1974. It had been empty since 1958, vandals had broken windows, birds nested in the rafters and cattle roamed through the ground floor. The first thing the Beardsmores did was to restore its original name, ‘Woodside Manor’, then they set out to put it all back together again - a long term project upon which they are still working.

It was built by a Scot, Francis McDiarmid, in 1866. He had bought the land unseen and had come to Maungatua on the Taieri Plain in 1848 to win his farmland from forest and swamp. He and his wife Janet prospered during the Otago gold rushes and improved their accommodation from a wattle and daub cottage to this brick, limestone and slate mini-mansion. The bricks were fired from local clay, the stone came from Oamaru and the rafters and joists were of pit sawn native rimu, but from Wales came the roof slates, and the nobler timbers were of Baltic pine; a happy combination that has fought well against time’s depredations.
Woodside Manor is a treasure house: the Beardsmores have a jackdaw hunger for collectables everything from cups and saucers to Rolls Royces and Model T Fords. They intend to leave it to the people of Dunedin - not too soon, I hope.
There’s an unsolved mystery here: in the central gable there is a stone tablet which records Francis McDiarmid’s completion of the house in 1866. Above his initials are the letters: ‘PR. OF. WS.’ I’ve found nobody who knows their meaning.

(Later note: PR. OF. WS. could mean Prince of Wales - but in what context?)




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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.