Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

22 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 30. No.259 Williams Street, Kaiapoi

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.

State Highway No. 1 used to run through Kaiapoi but the Christchurch motorway now by-passes it. That’s not to say that the town has lost any mana - in fact it has become more interesting - but it’s a long way short of the expectations of prime-minister-to-be Henry Sewell, who observed, in 1853, that Christchurch had reached its peak, and that the newcomers were all off to Kaiapoi!

Besides its development as a port and woollen mill town, Kaiapoi’s claim to fame was the 1831 attack on the Kaiapohia Pa, nine kilometres north of the present town, by Te Rauparaha, an assault so violent that twenty years later ‘drayloads’ of human remnants of the cannibal feast had to be carted away by Canon Stack.
Modern Kaiapoi was born only ten years after the massacre and, by 1871, William Dickie, a labourer, had bought the land upon which the cottage at 259 Williams Street now stands. Despite such appalling recent events, a holding like this was considered a ‘worker’s paradise’ to immigrants from a land of inflexible privilege; three-quarters of an acre and house were deemed sufficient for a man to keep hens, a goat or sheep, and to grow fruit and vegetables for his family.

Dickie probably built the cottage but there is a slight possibility that it was already in place, erected by the former landowners ‘R.H.Rhodes and another’ as early as 1867. The central front door opens into the sitting room next to a bedroom complete with four-poster. Beyond are kitchen and scullery and, between, a narrow stairway leads to two attic rooms whose ceilings parallel the roof. From research and investigation done by its present owner, Ted McCulloch, it most likely began as a small one-roomed shed with a fireplace at one end but was soon enlarged to look very similar to its present appearance. (’Unspoilt’ is one of the descriptions most often heard.)

The cottage has had a number of owners since William Dickie. In 1925 a young couple, the Thompsons, paid £165 for it. Despite raising six children they made surprisingly few alterations beyond installing electricity and a bathroom and so, when Ted McCulloch (whose Austin 7 Ruby saloon graces the driveway)

bought the house in 1989, he found himself with a charming heritage building which he has sensitively maintained since (although he was once growled at by Mrs Thompson’s daughter for not having polished the brass light switches!) While restoring the sitting room he removed and preserved samples of twelve separate layers of wall-covering, the earliest of which were sheets from the London ‘Times’ of 1866.


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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.