Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

21 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 29. Miners’ Hut Replica, Ross, Westland.

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.


I came across this replica of a gold miner’s hut in the dank forest hills above Ross on the west coast of New Zealand’s south island. I’ve included it in my collection because I doubt if it’s possible to find a genuine one - one that dates to the gold fossicking and mining days of the nineteenth century - and because it is very well done, simple, sound, an honest endeavour and a nice evocation of times past.

It stands beside the Ross Water Race Walkway, a short, circular track that passes by Jones’s Creek where gold was first found in Ross in 1865. It’s a pleasant and peaceful walk on a fine day and you can stop and pan for gold in the stream if you have a mind to. It’s quite likely that you’ll get the ‘colours’ too, for Ross was a very rich source of yellow metal, and mining still goes on at the back of the town.

The hut was built to ‘fill a hole’ 1980. It seems that some wayward children had attacked a grove of pongas with axes, leaving an unsightly clearing in the bush, so a group of Department of Conservation men from Ross and Hokitika took the opportunity to show off their skills and dedication. They made it of local timbers: heart rimu walls and floors on silver pine piles, and topped it with the inevitable corrugated iron roof. It’s a working replica, the fireplace and chimney are functional and have occasionally given comfort to the transient backpacker.

It was modeled upon a photograph taken around the turn of the century which appears in ‘Goldtown’, a book written in 1969 by Philip Ross May in honour of the town where he was born and is now buried, and from which came his middle name. The picture shows ‘Old Geordie’, a ‘hatter’ sitting outside his vertically-slabbed timber hut. He’s on his best behaviour, wearing a suit jacket and stained-looking felt hat and his full, streaky beard has been combed. Smoke pours from the semi-detached, slab-and-iron chimney on a sunny day when the front door stands open and, despite obvious and serious patches of rust, there’s something of a reflection off the undulant tin roof.

‘Old Geordie’ personified a breed once common around the goldfields. They were called ‘hatters’ but nobody knows why: perhaps, being solitary, they kept things under their hats, or maybe, as one observer has proposed, they washed in them! Archdeacon Harper suggested that they worked hard and were happy in their solitude - living simply with a few books and a dog for company - and that it was those in the world outside, unable to comprehend lonely contentment, who thought them ‘mad as hatters’.

My fanciful ‘Old Geordie’, in sweaty pink flannel, pans the gravels of Jones’s Creek…



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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.