Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

26 May 2010

Fyffe House, Kaikoura Peninsula

Since before recorded history there were whales off Kaikoura. They mewed unmolested because Maori, who flocked to this coast for its fish and crayfish, had developed no technology that might harm them. But the whalers came in the early eighteen hundreds with their harpoons and flensing knives; the seas and beaches hereabouts must often have been a loathsome sight.

Kaikoura’s first whaling station, the Wai O Puka Fishery, was established in 1842 by Robert Fyffe and John Murray in ‘Fyffe’s Cove’ (now called Armers Beach). Twelve years later Fyffe was joined by his cousin, George, who unexpectedly found himself in charge of farming and whaling operations when Robert drowned just a few weeks later.

The Fyffes’ house was built in three distinct stages. The first, a simple cottage, possibly built in the mid 1840s, was earlier known as Cooper’s House. Its construction materials were standard for the times: cob, lath and plaster, pit sawn native timbers and eucalypts. But it also had whale vertebrae for foundations!

By 1857, George had added a kitchen with a store room above; then, with his wife, Catherine, he continued the extension, at right angles to the old cottage, until they had, by 1861, completed the west wing of Fyffe House. Only two other families, the Goodalls and Lows, have owned Fyffe House since it was built. George Low bequeathed it to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1981.

In the intervening years Kaikoura has grown into a flourishing tourist town and it’s difficult to picture life when it was a remote whaling station on a harsh and craggy peninsula below mountains whose snow lasts all summer.



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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.