Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

21 July 2010

Oamaru Railway Station 1900.

Twenty-first century railways in New Zealand are mediocre remnants of a romantic past when triumphs of engineering drove the line north to south, linking the main centres of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. Those early engineers, armed with none of the earth-moving or computerized technology of today, overcame enormous difficulties: bridging raging river gorges, spiralling prodigious heights, and carving slender paths through rough bush and scrub, moorland and desert.

It was a past when glorious steam engines transported both people and goods, when the road system was rudimentary and neither petrol not diesel engines had been invented.

As if in homage to the achievements of the permanent way the terminals and way stations that served goods and people were architectural monuments as much enriched by their handsomeness as their practicality. All of the major cities had railway stations as important to rail as cathedrals are to religion. Those in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin survive, the latter being one of the greatest and entirely home designed of all (the others are based on exotic designs).

The man who designed Dunedin station was George Troup. He was also responsible for many minor stations along the way, all uniquely his and New Zealand’s.

One of the best – a wooden building in a town noted for its limestone structures – is at Oamaru north of Dunedin on the main trunk line. Troup’s Oamaru Station was built in 1900 at a time when the station thrived and trains were heavily patronized. An indication of its substance is that its dining room had seating for over 200 people at a time!

In the twenty-first century nobody would design and build such an architectural beauty as Oamaru Station because there is virtually no architecture in New Zealand that looks to the future, only to commerce, practicality and the need to build to the lowest price.

We should be grateful to Oamaru, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and those who care, that George Troup’s way station lives today.




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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.