Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

31 October 2009

The Rat Trap, Takaka

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

The Rat Trap, built in 1903, guarded the only road exit from the Takaka Valley to Riwaka, Motueka and the market gardens of Tasman Bay. I painted it on a number of occasions because it offered such a welcoming prospect after the breathtaking descent into the valley from the limestone heights of Takaka Hill-the ‘Marble Mountain’.

While well-known all over Nelson Province, the pub was never more popular than in the late 1930s when more than five hundred workers were constructing the hydroelectric dam in nearby Cobb Valley. That’s when the Upper Takaka Hotel was given its nickname. Life was hard at the remote dam site and the men sometimes became ’stir crazy’, so much so that absenteeism, caused by workers not returning to camp after making supply trips, became commonplace.

‘Where are the men?’ the overseer would demand.

The answer would come, ‘Caught in the Rat Trap1′

They solved the problem by buying truckloads of beer from the pub and selling it in the works canteen. They bought so much that the Rat Trap’s beer sales were greater than any other pub in Nelson Province.

It’s still possible to get trapped in Golden Bay if the hill is closed by snow and ice but, sadly, you won’t find comfort at the Rat Trap; it burned to the ground on 19 May 1994. It’s a tragic story; a husband and wife were proprietors and she, with tortured mind, fired the place which had trapped her and turned her into what her defence counsel at her arson trial described as ‘a lonely and terrified woman’. With heartening compassion the jury found her not guilty.

I grieve for her, her husband and the old Rat Trap. This watercolour was painted for a calendar which was published in 1994. On the last page of this book you’ll find the remains of this dear old pub . . .


29 October 2009

Thistle Inn, Wellington

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

This is the second Thistle on its site. It was built in 1866 and used to be dated from that year but in 1967, when renovations were under way, they discovered parts of a structure that were declared to be those of the first Thistle Inn, built in 1840. So, rightly, it may be described as the oldest pub in New Zealand on its original site and shares with that historic year the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (although the Thistle may be a little less controversial than that founding document).
Just a beer bottle’s throw from the House of Representatives, the pub is almost marooned on a promontory of land bordered by the chariot race of Mulgrave Street and quiet Sydney Street. It now overlooks an extensive area of reclaimed land carrying wharves and railway marshalling yards; but at its beginning, the Thistle was on the waterfront. It is said to have been popular with mid-nineteenth century sea captains who, having come to safe haven after the caprices of Cook Strait, could drop anchor in the wonderfully sheltered waters of Port Nicholson, row ashore and wash the salt out of their throats in the bar while keeping an eye on their ships and restless crews.

It’s also said that Te Rauparaha, that notorious Maori general, coming home in triumph to his headquarters at Kapiti Island or going marauding with the gleam of conquest in his eye, sometimes beached his waka below the Thistle and dropped in for a pint.

You’ll hear lots of other good stories in the bar.


28 October 2009

Royal Tavern, Featherston

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Upon entering Featherston after negotiating the numbing loops of the Rimutaka Highway one of the first things you notice is the Royal Tavern squatting solid and grey like a land-based battleship on the southern side of Revans Street. Impressive and reassuring, it seems to exemplify the essence of the town.

The infuriating thing is that as soon as you try to find out something of the pub’s history nobody seems to have any clear answers. One authority writes ‘We have been unable to establish the date… or for whom it was built, but in 1869 the proprietor was John Feast.’ Another reads ‘Early hotel licencees included Mr W. Buckeridge, of the Royal Hotel, which was built about 1870 . . .’ And if you ask why it sports the coat of arms of Queen Victoria they’ll tell you it’s because it’s called ‘The Royal’ or ‘Because the Prince of Wales visited’. I prefer to think it’s because it was a staging post for the Royal Mail coaches.

The first pub burned down and was replaced by the present building in 1893. A photograph in the ‘New Zealand Cyclopaedia’ of 1906 proves that it has hardly altered in nearly a century. It was then described as having thirty-five well furnished rooms, the best liquors and accommodation, a good table, being lighted by ‘a private installation of acetylene gas’ and having ‘up-to-date fire escape appliances.’ In an age of motels it’s now a tavern and most of the upstairs rooms are empty.

Featherston grew when, instead of taking the Palliser Bay route to the Wairarapa, travellers from Wellington could confidently cross the Rimutaka Range by road or, later, pass through it by rail. The first settler, in 1846, was Henry Burling and the Maori settlement of Paeotumokai was Anglicized to ‘Burlings’. Henry successfully requested a bush licence for a ‘house of refreshment… at the Wairarapa side of the Rimutaka Mountain’ and so became the town’s first landlord in 1849.

It wasn’t long before things became more formal and, around 1854, the first Superintendent of Wellington Province formally chose the town site and generously allowed it to be named Featherston after him. (With delightful pomposity most of its streets were also named after his colleagues on the council). Burling, not very well treated and probably a bit fed up, left town in 1860 and died, much later, in Waikanae in 1911. He was 110.


27 October 2009

The Tin Hut, Tauherenikau

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

My first experience of Tauherenikau was on a hot summer’s day at the nearby racecourse where a friend’s horse won its race. Later, under shady trees in the gardens, we celebrated with a champagne picnic out of the boot of his cream Chevrolet Impala (the one with the gold seats) and felt ourselves to be quite special. Heady days!

Many years later, while cruising down State Highway 2, two things about the Tauherenikau Hotel stopped me in my tracks. One was the bold brilliance of the lettering ‘THE TIN HUT’ on the roof, which screams itself halfway up the Wairarapa; the other was that fascinating door to nowhere with its Parisian canopy. It used to lead to a first floor balcony that became unsafe: now (it still opens) it’ll lead to a broken ankle if anybody’s daft enough to walk though it.

The first licencee, in 1857, was Thomas Hales, who also ran the ferry across the Tauherenikau River. It was quite a large establishment, having eighteen rooms. From around 1865 the hotel became inextricably entwined with horse racing. At that time the Ferry Reserve, which eventually became the site of the race course, was covered with scrub and holes made by the 1855 earthquake, and was considered ‘a dangerous piece of land to ride over’, but Robert Rowe, lessee of both the hotel and the reserve, reckoned that if it could be made safe for racing both the district, and the hotel, would benefit. Trustees were appointed but nothing much happened until a new owner of the hotel, C. Potts, offered to form and fence the course for them in return for a lease of the ground for 21 years at a small rental. His offer was accepted, the course was finished and the Wairarapa Racing Club had their first meeting at Tauherenikau in 1874.

Publicans came and went, a motley bunch. One, Robert Lucas, who was clerk of the course, is buried where the horses gallop; another, John Barlow, ran a hotel that was ‘badly conducted’ with ‘accommodation very indifferent’; and James Barber took off in a hurry leaving ‘numerous creditors’. On the other hand, in 1896, James Cress, an ‘all round sport’ owning ’several racehorses, his colours being blue and gold’, ran a popular hotel, ‘large and commodious’, at the back of which he had a substantial bottling establishment.

A big fire happened in 1925 and in order to maintain the licence a ‘Tin Hut’ was erected from which customers could be served until the new pub was built. This was a common practice, most such temporary arrangements were conducted from tin huts, but in the case of Tauherenikau, the name has stuck to the present day.
Tauwharenikau is the proper spelling of this place. It translates as ‘the whare [house] whose walls and roof are thatched with nikau fronds’. I’m quite sure that was never a description of the pub, even when it had a bush licence.


25 October 2009

Wimbledon Tavern

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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 was born near Wimbledon in England and assume that this eastern Wairarapa town was named by somebody whose descendants may have been my neighbours.

As for the tavern, they call it the ‘Top Pub’, the ‘Bottom Pub’ being ten kilometres away in Herbertville. Why they don’t call it the ‘Only Pub’ beats me! It’s a most attractive building and comes as a pleasant surprise to the casual traveller in its wooded valley close by the Wainui River.

A once remote sixty kilometres from Dannevirke, the first hotel, built in the early 1880s by George Cripps, was burnt out but it was immediately replaced, in 1889, by the present building. It served travellers and settlers in the dense ‘Forty Mile Bush’ that once stretched from Masterton to Woodville. In early times it was not unusual for forest tree-fellers to come to the hotel with their cheques for several months’ labour. They were provided with music and entertainment, as well as liquor and accommodation, to meet their needs and would stay until the publican told them their pay was ‘cut’ whereupon axes were sharpened for the next earning spree.

One famous publican, Arthur Allan, blind as a bat and known as ‘Popeye’, who took the pub on in 1939, sported a glass eye which, locals maintain, would occasionally finish up in a customer’s beer. The only way ‘Popeye’ could tell whether a glass was full was by hanging his thumb over its rim - when the thumb was wet the glass was full! These days standards are much higher and the pub is clean, neat, very well maintained and also incorporates the local Post Shop.



24 October 2009

The Dudley Arms, Mangatainoka

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Closing the bar in any pub, especially at times when the conversation is coming thick and fast and the world’s troubles are on the point of solution, is a delicate moment. The time-honoured words used to be ‘Time, gentlemen, please!’, other stratagems being a rapid flicking on and off of the lights or the harsh rasp of an electric buzzer. Perhaps one of the most original, though, is attributed to Mrs Connell, the diminutive but dominant wife of Wally, proprietor of the ‘Dudley’ before and after the second world war, who, at 6.00 p.m., would cast her eye sternly around the patrons and announce: ‘Mr Connell’s tea is ready.’

Most historic country pubs that have been brewery-owned have been spoiled by ‘improvements’ but the Dudley Arms, probably because of its simple, unpretentious shape, looks original. It was owned by Dominion Breweries for a few years before reverting to private, independent ownership in the 1980s. It’s of no great age, having been built in 1920 to replace the even squarer (and much more forbidding) 1888 ‘Dudley’, a plain, mainly corrugated iron affair, nicknamed ‘The Tin House’, which had joined the long list of fire-razed New Zealand pubs.

The first Dudley Arms was established one year before its neighbouring Wagstaff’s North Island Brewery, later to become better known as the Tui Brewery, the distinctive tower of which dominates the landscape beside the Mangatainoka River.

One of Tui’s notable achievements was the licence to brew Guinness stout, which it did for seven years from 1960. The complex was taken over by Dominion Breweries in 1969 and is now the DB Central Brewery.


23 October 2009

Broadcasting’s Ego Trippers

Fifty years ago the only medium in New Zealand that would have qualified for the description ‘electronic’ was radio with its system of AM signals radiating from various regional transmitters.

Principally, they were coded: ‘YA’ which designated bland, easy-on-the-family programmes supported by voices redolent of floral cups and saucers from English tea rooms; ‘YC’ announced by a man with a lisp and delivering the very best of classical music whose inherent quality valiantly over-rode the cracked shellac disks upon which it was recorded; and ‘ZB’, slightly pushy, avant garde, larded with recorded and live commercials greatly hedged in by a pathetic little blue book of rules issued by the New Zealand Broadcasting Service.

The powers-that-were frowned severely upon any attempts at personal aggrandisement, ensuring that broadcast voices, male or female, were not distinctive and could easily be replaced by others without offending listeners’ sensibilities. (With a few exceptions like ‘Aunt Daisy’ who somehow got away with not only using her good old gossip-over-the-back-fence patter but also the use of her name, her wireless name, that is, for Aunt Daisy was, as half of my readers will remember, Mrs Frederick Basham. ‘Good morning, good morning, good morning!’ What days they were when women were known by their husbands’ Christian names!)

In essence, then, the announcer’s rĂ´le was that of a herald, to pass on messages without getting in the way. Television changed all that. No doubt the high-headed ones would have liked to have continued radio’s anonymities but once the face was put to the voice the cult of personality was away laughing, released like Hope from Pandora’s Box to give Talent a chance not only to be known but to be paid for its unique characteristics.

Thus over the adolescent TV years we delighted in Philip Sherry’s eyebrows whose caterpillar-leg filaments would have wriggled unsuspected on the wireless; Dougal Stevenson with his serious and reassuring air of authority; vivacious Relda Familton; Bill Toft; Murray Forgie… need I go on?

They gave us comfort. They were Our People nightly coming into our homes like family, standing tall against the stars who strode the elaborate sets of imported soaps, dramas and comedies. Good kiwis, one-of-us jokers humbly speaking our language. Above all they were modest.

But thereafter the thing turned a little uncomfortable. Modesty and humility ebbed. Some of our personalities, aware of their apparent ability to affect the ratings and thereby the telecasters’ balance sheets and encouraged, perhaps, by those very telecasters’ avarice, flexed their money making muscles and put themselves up for the highest bidders.

They failed to recognize what your modest newsreader instinctively knows: that he or she is to television what paper is to newspapers - a means of conveying the news. The best of newsreaders will not stamp their personality upon that duty and in their unobtrusiveness will gain the trust and welcome of their audience.

The muted masses who tune in at six o’clock every week-night vote with their remotes. It’s a simple, sublime power, the same unseen swell of the ballot box that brings down or elevates governments; it determines, in one word, ratings.

I have a paradoxical relationship with newsreaders and presenters. They come into my sitting room every night and convey to me those happenings of the world that, to a greater or lesser degree, might interest me. I think the best ones are aware that they create nothing and have no right to be named or to be ‘personalities’; they gain public identity and acceptance only because we need to put names to those faces whose unassuming modesty endears them to us. The moment they turn into tall poppies we, the viewers, must cut them down.

As for breakfast shows, well, they're now all boiled egos, one good crack on the head with a remote will finish them!


Railway Hotel, Woodville

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

It’s the relief lettering on the balcony that appeals to me. I’ve seen nothing quite like it elsewhere. It is in a style known as ‘Stencil’ and is typical of the art deco period. The veranda wing, which incorporates the balcony, some decorated farmhouse shutters and support posts with strange, pyramidal bases, looks to date from about 1930 and has been added to an unremarkable nineteenth-century hotel.

As its name implies, the hotel sits beside a railway line, the one that runs the length of the Wairarapa to join, at Woodville, lines from Palmerston North and Hawke’s Bay. Over the years its relationship with the permanent way has been such that, at one time, the pub was called ‘The Office’ because the boys from the railway station tended to spend significant parts of their working days in the bar. The goodwill engendered kindliness all round and the pot belly stove in the bar was usually white-hot from the free coke dropped off from passing trains!

Woodville, a horse training and farming town, also has an important geographical raison d’etre; it guards the eastern end of the Manawatu Gorge, which separates the Ruahine and Tararua Ranges and provides easy access to Palmerston North and the west coast.


21 October 2009

Albion Hotel, Shannon

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Shannon was laid out in 1886 as a settlement of the Wellington-Manawatu Railway Company to which the government had granted both the right to develop the line and 86000 ha of land to help with its cost. At that time it was New Zealand’s largest private company and so it’s hardly surprising that the new town was named after one of the directors (as was Levin, on the same line).

In 1908 the track through Shannon became part of the North Island Main Trunk Line that connects Wellington and Auckland.

In the area from Linton to Shannon and between the Manawatu River to the north-west and the foothills of the Tararua Ranges lay the enormous Makerua Swamp containing almost 6000 ha of flax. Flaxmills were established to process the fibre, sustaining an industry that went into decline in the 1920s because of plant disease and the draining of the swamp for pasture.

Miranui Mill, the largest flaxmill in New Zealand, survived from 1907 to 1935, having hung on for fifteen years after the swamp was drained. The mill was just north-cast of Shannon and its workers would have been familiar with the Albion, which is at the same end of the town. Indeed, Mr Shannon himself - and, perhaps, Mr Levin - may have stayed at the pub when it had nine bedrooms and catered for commercial gentlemen from the big cities.

The first Albion was built in 1890 but was destroyed in 1915 in a blaze described in the local paper as ‘a splendid sight from an onlooker’s point of view’. It was rebuilt at a cost of £2500 ($NZ5000) in 1916 by William McKegg of Otaki. For obvious geographical reasons, the locals call it ‘the Top Pub’, to distinguish it from the Club Hotel - the ‘Bottom Pub’ -which pre-dates the Albion by two years.


20 October 2009

Marumaru Tavern, Eastland

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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 came down from a visit to the Tuai Power Station, just below Lake Waikaremoana, at a height where snow flurries had made me keen to seek a better climate at sea level. I had turned at Frasertown to take the inland road to Gisborne and soon, at a point exactly where a traveller in times past would have welcomed food, drink and warm shelter, I found the Marumaru Tavern.

It lies among peaceful hills north of Wairoa, a little time-worn hut with all the characteristics of a good old Kiwi pub. It was once an accommodation hotel that was able to serve not only travellers and farmers but also, having one hundred acres of its own grounds, drovers moving cattle along the Wairoa valley. Supported, these days, by loyal locals, hunters, fishers and passers-by, the tavern is a popular meeting place, especially at the time of the Easter Pig Hunting Competition.

The Marumaru Tavern was built by James Archibald Fletcher in the 1890s just a few years after Captain Preece, with his Arawa Flying Column making the last expedition of the New Zealand Wars in pursuit of Te Kooti, passed through on his way to Wairoa to obtain rations and clothing for his men.

The inland road to Gisborne is also famous, farther north, for Te Reinga Falls and the breathtaking Poverty Bay panorama from Gentle Annie Hill.


19 October 2009

Roseland Tavern, Makaraka

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

One of the proprietors practically begged me to leave the telegraph pole out of this illustration. She hated the knotty monstrosity leaning at a drunken angle outside her front door.

She didn’t know that I have a passion for power poles. To me, they are a bizarre blending of that ‘No. 8 Fence Wire’ ingenuity for which we’re renowned, and the high-tech digital efficiency of modern communications. Not only that, they are practical, everyday sculptures - especially the wooden ones with their splits and bulges, cross trees and junction boxes. I dread the day when all cables are underground

Despite its historic look, the ‘Rosi’, erected in 1890, is the second pub on its site, the first having been built in 1875. A report from 1902 mentions that the hotel was heated and lit by natural gas from artesian wells. The gas was considered ‘one of the marvels of the district…much more than can be used in the hotel, and [it] blows to waste all day long’. The same report mentions stabling for thirty horses which confirms that, even then, it was on an important junction of roads to and from nearby Gisborne.

Westward are two roads to Wairoa; the main highway that turns south and then parallels both Poverty Bay and Hawkes Bay, or the inland road over ‘Gentle Annie’. The tavern looks out along another highway that runs through the market gardens of Ormond and ultimately winds through the Waioeka Gorge to Opotiki on the distant Bay of Plenty.



18 October 2009

Babies and Animals

It was W.C. Fields, wasn’t it, who made that enlightened and penetrating remark about the wisdom of avoiding animals and children?

In past ramblings ‘at large’, I have probably established in your mind that I am no great animal lover. Not that I’d do them any harm, mind you, but I always circumnavigate paddocks containing beeves that look the least aggressive and I’ve always thoroughly disliked zoos.

I think I was finally put off animals when, as a small boy on a school outing to a zoo, I bit into a packed lunch at precisely the same moment as an adjacent ostrich decided to relieve itself. They are large birds and quantity seemed no difficulty. Needless to say, my Marmite and lettuce filled roll finished up being torn apart by some gibbons; or were they rhesus monkeys?

I guess I had been set up, by illustrated books received from indulgent aunts at Christmas, to expect animals to be colourful, clean and sweet smelling. They never prepared one for the truth that elephants are covered in grime, hippos have stained teeth and vile breath, and that the back ends of sheep merely prove what terrible things ruminants can do to sweet meadow grasses.

In my household where rule is far too democratic for my liking, I have been forced to live in uneasy propinquity to five cats. But, so far, I have managed rigidly to bar our German shepherd guard dog from crossing the threshhold. It is far too large an animal to share with us our tiny house. 

Even outdoors I ignore it completely but despite that it follows me everywhere. The Lovely Mrs Donovan says the dog is devoted to me but I know that it is simply ensuring its presence when I drop dead, whereupon it will eat me in marginal preference to dog roll. At that point, thankfully, I shall not be able to hear it eating.

When I visit friends (and enemies, I guess) their damned cats and dogs make bee-lines for me. I know, with absolute certainty, that when all others at the gathering are cooing over the cats and trying to attract them to their laps, they will, unerringly, make for me.

But I have reached an age where I can handle unpopularity; where, once, I should have smiled a sickly smile and put up with unwelcome attention I now openly reject the advances of precious pets and, if they also smell repulsive, I draw their olfactory offensiveness to the attention of their owners.

Proud owners seem not to have sensitive noses when it comes to their pets. I can smell smelly dogs a mile off and when I tell their owners that their dogs pong it’s interesting to see the tussle that goes on in their minds - is Donovan’s friendship that important to me? Or shall I back the dog? I don’t always win.

Children are the other side of W.C. Fields’s caveat.

I quite like children but I am no great baby lover. I guess I haven’t the patience that Nature demands. I have never been able to understand why it takes so long for the little horrors to gain control of themselves. Every hole seems to leak interminably - the plumbing’s third rate. And babies are ridiculously immobile. In that respect, at least dogs can run away from a well aimed slipper within a few days of birth.

Human kids can’t walk for about a year, yet they poo and wee with reckless abandon. They belch and break wind indiscriminately. They dribble, they wail, they do nothing useful. Newborn babies, to me, look variously like baked apples, microwaved potatoes, partially deflated balloons, saveloys, badly filled salamis, larvae, cream horns and plastic bags. Yet they induce, in women, a desire, almost as uncontrollable as babies’ apertures, to just about swoon with admiration upon peering into the nearest pram.

At this point the sexes are farthest apart. Men have no place in women’s lives when there’s a baby around. Our opinions are worthless. If we try to lighten the atmosphere with a witty observation it is either ignored or taken as an affront.

For example, I was in the supermarket the other day and saw a woman wheeling a chariot of wire towards me upon which was an infant lying in its special compartment. The baby had look of intelligent pre-occupation, as if it was counting the fluorescent tubes in the ceiling, but it was probably only putting one of its little outlets to use. In a friendly sort of way I said to the mother ‘I see you’ve brought your lunch with you’, but she couldn’t seem to see the funny side of my remark at all and I gained the distinct impression that I’d said the wrong thing.

I suppose, if you’ve read this far, you think I’m a bit of a curmudgeon; an irascible old misery. But I’d like to point out that far greater brains than mine have reached similar conclusions to mine when it comes to babies and animals:

Quote: ‘Cats - they smell and they snarl and they scratch; they have a singular aptitude for shredding rugs, drapes and upholstery; they’re sneaky, selfish and not particularly smart; they are disloyal, condescending and totally useless in any rodent-free environment’.

Quote: ‘A soiled baby, with a neglected nose, cannot be conscientiously regarded as a thing of beauty’.

Quote: ‘If I am asked by a doting mother what I think of her baby, I am not obliged to tell the truth’.


17 October 2009

Opotiki Hotel

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Opotiki is in the eastern Bay of Plenty but I feel it has more in common with the real stuff of East Cape than the gentility of its prosperous westerly neighbours, Whakatane and Tauranga. If you’re travelling to Gisborne or the east, Opotiki presents you with two choices: you may either meander leisurely along the sparkling coast and around the hump of the Raukumara Range, or head south through the valley of the Waioeka River and into its forested gorge. Either way brings big rewards.

In this junction town, ever threatened by flooding, three pubs stand out: the Masonic, over-decorated and typical only of a certain architectural extravagance (it has a soul-mate in the Provincial, Christchurch); the sturdy and reliable Royal Hotel and the archetype of colonial pubs, the Opotiki Hotel. In 1868 an Opotiki Hotel was one of two pubs in the town, but it burned down and its replacement - the present pub - was brought in by barge from Thames and erected on the old site. Others obviously share my opinion that it is a typical good old Kiwi pub; it has starred in movies and television shows and has been associated with such good old kiwis as Prince Tui Teka and Barry Crump.

Opotiki towards the end of the twentieth century seems in the last stages of reconciliation for a frightful atrocity followed by excessive revenge. Carl Volkner, the anglican vicar of St Stephen’s, was savagely murdered here in 1865. A local Whakatohea chief, Mokomoko, was wrongly executed and tribal land was confiscated by the British by way of punishment. In 1992, Mokomoko was pardoned. Since I painted St Stephen the Martyr there has been a service of reconciliation and a new sign board now describes the church as ‘Hiona St Stephens’, Hiona being Maori for ‘Zion’, the church’s original name.

There remains the question of the confiscated land …


16 October 2009

Brian Boru Hotel, Thames

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Like all old gold towns Thames has been home to large numbers of pubs. In fact, when the 1855 Reefers Arms changed its name to Brian Boru in 1867 there were probably more pubs in Thames than there were in Auckland. While that’s no longer the case, Thames still rates as a big town and it’s booming again. This time it’s not gold that brings prosperity but solid enterprises like car assembly and the ever increasing numbers of tourists who are discovering the Coromandel Peninsula.

Today’s Brian Boru, built in 1905 by Edmund Twohill, stayed in the family for 106 years with four generations of Twohills operating it until 1974 when it was sold to a brace of property developers. For a few years this cherished old hotel lost its way; there was nobody around to look after it and things got so bad that the citizens started to give it nasty nicknames like ‘The Pits’ and took their patronage elsewhere.

It was rescued in June 1983 when entrepreneur Barbara Doyle bought it and set out to return it to its former glory. She has made the Brian Boru famous through her insight, dedication and business acumen. Perhaps the most laudable thing she’s done is to preserve its original form; even the recent additions have been harmonious.

The Brian Boru plays host to over ten thousand guests a year, a large percentage of whom are international visitors who enjoy the ambience, and shiver with delight on hearing stories of the ghosts remaining from the old gold mining era. (Head ghost is Florence Twohill who, with her sister, ran the Brian Boru in the twenties).
And speaking of pub ghosts - Barbara Doyle’s ‘Mystery, Intrigue and Murder Weekends’ have achieved great fame. In true Agatha Christie style, guests are invited to take part in solving mysteries in the Brian Boru where ‘windows rattle, floorboards creak and ghosts come out after midnight’. There’s a reward for the successful sleuth and ‘the unlucky victim’s estate receives a 50% “mourning” refund’!

This is a big hotel where, I think, one gets a good impression of the activity and energy found in the coaching inns of the nineteenth century.


15 October 2009

Albany Inn

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Albany was called Lucas Creek until 1891. It was named after Daniel Lucas, a whaler who’d come ashore and set up a flax mill here before 1840. The name was changed because upright, decent settlers were unhappy about a reputation the hamlet had gained both for illegal whisky distilling and for harbouring deserting sailors and other ne’er-do-wells who, it seems, were able to melt into the background here while they earned a bob or two as labourers. The muddy, tidal stream that slides under State Highway No. 1 north of the village is still called Lucas Creek.

The Albany Inn is my local. It’s about four kilometres down Albany Hill from my place. It’s still called The Wayside Inn bv some people for it only changed its name a short time ago. While its architecture is hardly typical of the classical historic New Zealand pub, it has a certain solid dignity that gives it distinction and lifts it out of the ordinary. To my mind it’s an inviting sort of place with a touch of class about its shape and decor.

Local history sets 1847 as the year of the first pub in Lucas Creek. It was called The Wharfside Inn. It burned down in 1886, the same year that the first pub was built on what is now the site of the Albany Inn. It was built by William Stevenson, whose descendants still live in Albany and it was named The Bridge Hotel in honour of what turned out to be a succession of bridges which were repeatedly washed away by floods until something more reliable was constructed in 1906. The present, totally inadequate, concrete ‘Hotel Bridge’ has stood since 1935.

The Albany Inn was built in 1936 so it’s quite young. One hopes that it will, in future years, continue to be looked after as well as it is today for it represents that generation of good old Kiwi pubs that will succeed the pioneer classics of the nineteenth century.


14 October 2009

Puhoi Tavern

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Captain Krippner, a Bohemian who owned property near Orewa, hit on the idea of getting the government to offer parcels of land to some of his countrymen back in Staab, south-west of Prague, with the view to expanding the slowly growing European population with some much needed new settlers.

The result was that in February 1863, about fifty families variously composed of farm labourers, shepherds, miners, dairy maids and domestics, sick of the feudal miseries of a care-worn continent and filled with seductive tales of a golden land over the seas, set sail for New Zealand. They arrived in Auckland in June of that year and were promptly transferred north to the mouth of the Puhoi River and then upstream, in small Maori-propelled craft, to their new home.

They arrived to find their 40 acre sections overgrown with the primaeval bush and almost impenetrable vine that clothed the precipitous hillsides and razor backed ridges. There was hardly a flat piece of land anywhere. But over many years those hardy and resolute settlers carved out, from a jungle of dismay, the charming, leafy township that stands today on the banks of the river. In its lower reaches the sluggish, meandering stream was once navigable to steam boats which were by no means rare in the early days for Puhoi was remote and the best access for trading goods was by sea.

Despite its having been ‘discovered’ by city folk looking for alternatives over the last few years Puhoi’s origins still figure strongly in the town; I have been told that even now it is possible to detect a slight German accent in some older residents. To the casual visitor, the first clue to its beginnings is the wayside calvary shrine that stands on the hill overlooking the village. Beyond is the tavern, classically colonial.

The first pub, ‘The Baby Saloon’ was set up in 1873. It closed when, in 1879, both John Schollum’s ‘German Hotel’ and Vincent Schishka’s ‘Puhoi Hotel’ were opened. Then, when Schishka’s enterprise failed, Schollum took over the name ‘Puhoi Hotel’ which has remained, except that the pub now has just a tavern licence and the old accommodation rooms form part of a museum.

Puhoi, and its welcoming tavern, are at just that critical a distance from Auckland to make it mecca for weekend drivers, bikies and family picnickers all of whom, on most occasions when they find themselves together, seem to benefit from a certain local air of tranquility.


Kaihu Tavern

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995. It was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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 first painted the Kaihu Tavern in 1991 (that’s the little drawing below) when it was looking a bit worse for wear and was in the early stages of a restoration programme. Now the flaking, biscuit-coloured exterior has given way to a fresh, clean coat of white paint but, praise the Lord of Pubs, the structure has been left alone and that half roof over the ground floor still seems to hang in space with little apparent means of support. I was tempted to show the pub as seen through the stones of the cemetery across the highway but Eric Lee-Johnson had already beaten me to it with a vibrant black and white drawing, done in 1967, depicting a building which has hardly changed in nearly thirty years.

I’ve read somewhere that Hone Heke made use of the accommodation — it’s possible. At first called the Opanaki Hotel, in its time both its name and its location changed. In 1895, when it was seven years old, it was shifted down Kaihu Hill to marry up with the new railway line from Dargaville; a line that should have been inaugurated by prime minister ‘King Dick’ Seddon but which, because he didn’t turn up, was opened by a drunk with a pair of hedge clippers who had been wheel-barrowed to the ribbon by the publican.

The most famous landlord was Albert Docherty who bought the pub in 1917. Like Bill Evans of Houhora, he was a man of many parts: hire-car operator, ambulance driver, nurse, athlete, cyclist, trophy hunter… he built a famous collection of kauri gum which adorned his main bar along with curiosities such as a two-headed calf, a four-legged chicken, a hair-ball from a cow’s stomach, several deer’s heads, stuffed trout, boars’ tusks, and Maori patu and taiaha. It became something of a tourist destination in its own right and was certainly an important stop on the way to Waipoua kauri forest and the Hokianga.

The museum went with Albert in 1951. It’s just as well, those bits and pieces are terrible dust traps. Since then the pub has been saner but you can feel the history oozing through the floorboards.


13 October 2009

Cock-a-doodle doggerel

Quite easily misunderstood,
While at first they appear
To be stupid and queer
They do hundreds of things that are good.

All flashy like bright troubadors,
With capes iridescent
And combs fluorescent;
Like rainbows with feathers and claws.

When they come out and crow at sunrise.
Cocks look hedonistic,
Arrogant, chauvinistic.
(Their hackles make super trout flies).

Is usually dowdily dressed,
She provides, it’s expedient,
A useful ingredient
With which I am greatly impressed.

The secret of many a treat -
Such as chocolate log,
Benedict, or egg-nog
And most other things you can eat.

I’m sure they have saved many lives.
Boiled, poached; fried with rice;
They’re a meal in a trice,
(And an easy way out for young wives).

They make such a taste-tempting sight;
With little tan flecks
On their shells, they’re quite sexy:
And much more attractive than white.

The odd bedroom pillow or two;
And the tails of the roosters
Are great ego-boosters
For military officers who

And taking salutes from the soldiery.
Without realizing
They look just like over-dressed poult-ery.

(And free the poor hens from the batteries).
We must stop being hateful
And show them we’re grateful;
Let us heap on them plaudits and flatteries.

And Orpingtons, buff, black and blue;
Wyandottes white
And Light Sussex bright
And Rhode Island Reds, of course, too.’

Despite all the good points it’s got,
Is shamelessly used,
Exploited, abused
And destined for oven or pot.

Coq au vin or rottiserie hen
When life comes to its close
It becomes Parson’s Nose
‘Nother helping?’ ‘Yes please - oh . . .




12 October 2009

Hukerenui Hotel

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995. It was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Kauri gum dominated the economy of Northland in the latter years of the nineteenth century and it was to serve an army of gum diggers that the ‘Huka’, at first a single storey inn, came into existence. Unlike most old pubs, its birth can be dated precisely. At noon on 4 June 1890 a Whangarei lawyer, appearing on behalf of Carl Jorgen Rasmussen, appeared before the Hikurangi Licensing Committee to apply for an accommodation licence. It was granted forthwith but subject to a list of conditions proscribing drunkenness, profiteering and discourtesy and prescribing liquor of good quality, proper maintenance of drains, an abundant supply of pure water and stabling for horses.

Rasmussen and his wife Sarah ran the hotel, which they combined with a store, butchery and post office, until she died in 1894 whereupon he sold out to William and Catherine Woods. During the next eight years they expanded the accommodation and stabling and gained a reputation for honest dealing in the community. They moved on in 1902 and for the next 70 years the Hukerenui Hotel was owned by the Keatley family.

Meanwhile the railway was creeping north from Auckland and Hukerenui became its latest terminus, changing the focus of the town so dramatically that the pub had to be moved from up the hill beside the highway down to the railhead. At a cost of £500 ($1000) using screw jacks and bullock teams, it took some weeks to shift it, during which time the pub was open every day for fear of losing the licence! In the move, the building was turned 180 degrees so that the front faced the railway; that means that today what you might think is the front is really the back but you wouldn’t know unless somebody told you. It’s still a fine looking tavern run by Dennis and Colleen Clark who, with a well developed sense of history, mean to keep it that way.
One of the pub’s nicknames is ‘The Picket Fence’ and while it’s true that little fences now adorn the entrance, I’m inclined to believe the name goes back to days when you could walk out of the public bar through a turnstile and on to the station platform. A photograph taken in 1912 shows a splendid two storey building from the railway side (the front, remember?) with a handsome balustrade along the first storey and, below, the neatest picket fence you ever did see in the whole of Northland.


11 October 2009

Mangonui Hotel

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995. It was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Mangonui Harbour, a protected inlet at the south-eastern corner of Doubtless Bay, is always tranquil when I pass through but its expanse is great enough, I imagine, for its surface to become severely ruffled at times. From studying historic photographs, it’s clear that Mangonui has retained its old time seaside village dimension because little has been done to widen the narrow road, squeezed between the hills and the sea, that winds around the foreshore.

A particular delight is the general store, dating from 1907, which rests on piles over the harbour. It is opposite the old courthouse built in 1892 on a slight elevation as if to conduct the serious business of the law with a dignity slightly removed from the everyday. Such enchantments arc likely to be preserved since State Highway 11 has been re-aligned to by-pass the village.

The Old Mangonui Courthouse 
Mangonui is one of New Zealand’s oldest towns; it was established as a port for whalers hut it later prospered from the felling and shipping of timber from the Northland kauri forests. Its first hotel was the Donnybrook at Mill Bay, built in 1842, which was replaced by the Settlers after a fire in 1873. The Old Oak, no longer licensed, dates from 1861 (when it was called the Mangonui Hotel). It played host to some of the tough seamen who came to trade around the sheltered waters of the harbour.

This ‘new’ Hotel Mangonui, built in 1905 by John Bray, is original and unspoiled - a classically colonial pub; it offers accommodation for ‘19 guests in 19th century comfort’.



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By Don Donovan