Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

20 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 28. Stone House, Hakataramea Downs

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.

The Hakataramea River runs through a wide valley at the head of which is the little used pass from whose narrow, shingle road looms the haze of Mackenzie Country: farther north lies Burkes Pass.

Hakataramea (’Haka’) Station once extended from Hakataramea to Burkes Pass and it was said that the property had ‘a pub at the front door and a pub at the back door’. Those two pubs are eighty-five kilometres apart by road. At the mid-point is Hakataramea Downs, which was incorporated into ‘Haka’ Station when at its largest between 1900 and 1925. The earliest buildings there date to the 1860s and J. W. Dalzell’s ownership.

The house in my illustration is one of them. It began with the portion on the left, a three-roomed cottage whose off-square rooms and crude window apertures contrast with the more sophisticated construction of the 1878 extension. The walls are almost a metre thick at their bases, consisting of large river stones bedded into a stone chip and cob ‘mortar’; inside walls were rendered with cob then distempered.

In 1877 Dalzell sold to a quartet of Dunedin businessmen who added this block to others to form ‘Haka Downs’. Then the rather dishonest extension to an honest cottage was added: not only was one of the chimneys false (see how it sits directly over the nearer window) but a return wall had a fake window painted on to it! The whole building was then coated with a black pitch and pointed to look as if it was made of expensive bluestone.

Things are seldom what they seem. It wasn’t until some time after I’d done my drawings that I sought some history of the owner, Dr. Mervyn Smith of Dunedin. In a letter he wrote: ‘The iron gate in your painting was constructed by the station blacksmith in the 1890s… It was lost for some years… buried under the ground. In 1986 we re-discovered it not all that much worse for wear…’

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By Don Donovan