Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

19 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 27. Mitchell’s Cottage, Fruitlands, Central Otago



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.


MITCHELLS’ COTTAGE, FRUITLANDS
Central Otago is one big builder’s yard, a colossal litter of a remarkable construction material from which every conceivable type of building has been erected since European immigrants moved across the face of the land.

It’s that fine-grained, metamorphic rock called schist, in whose lasagne-layers wink and sparkle promises of Central Otago’s mineral wealth. It’s a stone that will split but not break across its grain, wonderfully suitable, in a variety of lengths and thicknesses, for horizontally-raised cottage walls, door and window lintels, quoins, chimney breasts and stacks, and even the odd roof, it makes walls and fence posts, bridges and cattle troughs, and even in its unquarried state it provided overhangs and cave-like niches for itinerant gold seekers stranded in winter’s fury. Artistically it’s a gemstone, providing texture and form to tempt the pen, and offering to the palette the rich ochres, browns and greys of the lichened landscape from which it springs
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Completed in 1904, Mitchells’ Cottage at Fruitlands, above the winding highway from Alexandra to Roxburgh, is an outstanding example of the drystone mason’s craft. It was built with painstaking skill, each stone carefully considered and cut so precisely that no mortar was used or needed. It was made by men who knew of no other way to work - no short cuts, no shoddiness - simply the best.

From the Shetland Islands by way of the Australian goldfields Andrew Mitchell arrived in New Zealand in 1866, followed by his brother John in 1872. They worked around the Otago goldfields until, in the 1880s, Andrew discovered a quartz reef on the hills of the Old Man Range above the Clutha Valley. Unlike most gold mining ventures it prospered over a long period and John and Andrew, using skills they’d learned from their father, started to build the cottage below the mine. What is now the foundation was quarried for the building’s schist and as they worked meticulously they yet found time to carve, in situ, a solid sundial platform from rock in the garden.

John and his wife Jessie brought up ten children in Mitchells’ Cottage (while Andrew lived nearby, alternating between a small stone cottage close to the mine shaft and a smaller iron hut next to John and Jessies’) and although the mine was sold in 1890 and John died in 1922, the cottage stayed in Jessie’s ownership until 1929. It is now in the care of the Department of Conservation.

Schist stone fenceposts are a common sight in Central Otago; this one is in the garden of Mitchells’ Cottage.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz
.


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Blurb

RANDOM SAMPLINGS F...
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:
‘Auckland’
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Aoraki-Mt.Cook’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Otago’
‘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.

[ENDS]