Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

01 January 2010

N.Z. House & Cottage 36. Wyllie Cottage, Gisborne

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 should explain ‘Mac’ before I go any further. When planning these texts I asked owners and administrators of properties to help with information and anything quirky that might be of interest. It was Jan Colbert of the Gisborne Museum and Arts Centre who pointed out Mac’s burial plaque and told me that ‘Mac’ (Museum and Arts Centre - get it?) made the museum and adjacent Wyllie Cottage his home, having been rescued from near death as a vagrant teenager. He died, having begged snacks and lorded it over staff and visitors for some years, in his feline dotage. His kidneys had packed up; all that junk food, I guess.

One thing you can do with old cottages that you can’t do with old cats is restore them. Wyllie Cottage (strikingly similar to the one in the NZ Historic Places Trust’s logo) was the first house of European design constructed on the Whataupoko bank of the Taruheru River in Gisborne. It was built in 1872 by James Ralston Wyllie and his wife Kate. As their family grew to eight children they extended the house but, interestingly, it never had a kitchen venting chimney and it’s thought that Kate, of Maori background, did her cooking outdoors. There’s nothing outstanding about the cottage but, restored, it is a good example of kauri-shingled vertical board and batten: pleasingly simple.

To make room for a larger house the cottage was removed in 1886 to its present site by its then owner, J.C. Dunlop. His wife ran a school in the cottage and it appears to have served as a school three times, the later schoolmarms being the Misses Evans and a Miss Aylmer. A dressmaker, Miss Simeon, also occupied it (I wonder whether she was related to the transient Captain Simeon of Lyttelton?). Eventually it was bought by W.D. Lysnar whose daughter, Winifred, sold the property, in 1954, to Gisborne City Council.

Thereafter Wyllie Cottage slowly decayed until, partly as a bloody-minded response to the bruited intention of the council to demolish it, the cottage was saved by public subscriptions. Restoration began in 1970 when it was found that the sagging building was not quite as bad as had been thought. Indeed, the biggest job was the restoration of the roof, which was done with shingles supplied by the Historic Places Trust.

As for Mac, he’s buried round the back, among the bedding plants.



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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.