Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

20 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 28. Stone House, Hakataramea Downs

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.

The Hakataramea River runs through a wide valley at the head of which is the little used pass from whose narrow, shingle road looms the haze of Mackenzie Country: farther north lies Burkes Pass.

Hakataramea (’Haka’) Station once extended from Hakataramea to Burkes Pass and it was said that the property had ‘a pub at the front door and a pub at the back door’. Those two pubs are eighty-five kilometres apart by road. At the mid-point is Hakataramea Downs, which was incorporated into ‘Haka’ Station when at its largest between 1900 and 1925. The earliest buildings there date to the 1860s and J. W. Dalzell’s ownership.

The house in my illustration is one of them. It began with the portion on the left, a three-roomed cottage whose off-square rooms and crude window apertures contrast with the more sophisticated construction of the 1878 extension. The walls are almost a metre thick at their bases, consisting of large river stones bedded into a stone chip and cob ‘mortar’; inside walls were rendered with cob then distempered.

In 1877 Dalzell sold to a quartet of Dunedin businessmen who added this block to others to form ‘Haka Downs’. Then the rather dishonest extension to an honest cottage was added: not only was one of the chimneys false (see how it sits directly over the nearer window) but a return wall had a fake window painted on to it! The whole building was then coated with a black pitch and pointed to look as if it was made of expensive bluestone.

Things are seldom what they seem. It wasn’t until some time after I’d done my drawings that I sought some history of the owner, Dr. Mervyn Smith of Dunedin. In a letter he wrote: ‘The iron gate in your painting was constructed by the station blacksmith in the 1890s… It was lost for some years… buried under the ground. In 1986 we re-discovered it not all that much worse for wear…’


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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.