Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 34. Colonial House, Pipiriki

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.

Why is it that when I visit Pipiriki I feel like a trespasser? Is it because it sits on a restless river, long fought over - still fought over - in a valley whose hills and beaches have witnessed tragedies suffered by proud, sad people? Or is it because Pipiriki is a village where so many hopes have walked hand in hand with despairs like bad companions? For example there is, today, in Pipiriki, the shattered ruin of a modern tourist lodge, abandoned uncompleted. It was successor to Pipiriki House, burnt down in 1959, which itself replaced another built in 1903, itself successor to ‘primitive accommodation’ established before 1891 when tourism on Whanganui paddle steamers was becoming increasingly popular and fashionable.

For well over a century The Colonial House has mutely witnessed the ebb and flow of Pipiriki. It was built sometime after 1860 and its first known occupant was Pipiriki’s first chairman of the school committee, Reone te Maungaroa, in 1896. It stayed in his family until 1937 when it was taken over by Captain Andy Anderson a legendary river steamboat skipper who followed in his father Andrew’s footsteps (or rather, wake) as pilot of the Ongarue, a light draught steamer that carried sixty-five passengers and connected with the main railway line at Taumarunui. Captain Andy’s death, as well as his life, was patterned upon his father’s, as they both drowned, at different times, in the river on which they had made their lives’ work. Andy died in August 1958 but the house remained in his family for some years after.

Looking the worse for old age it was extensively restored from 1976; but although it was repiled, the floor levelled, it gained a new roof and lost an ugly concrete chimney, it is a faithful representation. Inside, walls were re-painted, scrim replaced, and plastic lighting fittings were superseded by old brass ones. And the garden was planted with ‘old fashioned’ herbs and flowers rosemary, lavender, violets and roses. Now administered by the Department of Conservation, it’s a local museum.

From the elegant dormers with their serpentine barge boards, Captain Anderson must often have stared south towards Wanganui along the historic river; reflecting, perhaps, upon its turbulent past: private, cryptic, secret …


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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.