Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 November 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Treaty House, Waitangi

This is a much recorded subject in New Zealand history but I doubt that many pictures of the treaty house are from behind. I wanted to be different and so, instead of a formal single storey mansion with pillars, I painted this modest back entrance with its wings and out-houses.

The building is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by New Zealand's first governor, William Hobson RN, and chiefs of various tribes of Maori in 1840. The treaty, while the founding document of co-existence between Europeans and Maori, has led to continuous, but relatively peaceable, dispute ever since.


29 November 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Maori Grave Board, Waimate North


In 1987, while exploring the churchyard of St. John the Baptist, Waimate North, I came across this fascinating grave board. It's Maori, completely made of wood and carved in a European rather than Maori design. There's an aspirational feel to it; it strives heavenwards as church steeples and spires do. 

The inscription commemorates a chiefly man who was born in 1830 (i.e. pre-European colonization) and died at 70 in 1900. This man was born before Anglicanism took hold in Northland and died a Christian. I have always been amazed at how quickly Maori took to this new faith. 

Perhaps the most appealing aspect for me, illustrating a book about New Zealand, was that nowhere else in the world could such a grave marker be found.


28 November 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Russell, Bay of Islands

'New Zealand Odyssey', published in 1989 by Heinemann, was authored by Don Donovan (who did the text and illustrations) and Euan Sarginson, who did the photography and design. In this series of blog posts, I will publish some of my drawings. 

This charming house was (and may still be) called 'The Moorings'. It looks across the narrow lane that fronts Russell and over a stretch of harbour to Paihia. Russell - known as Kororareka (sweet, or tasty blue penguin in Maori) was briefly capital of New Zealand when most of the early European activity took place in this area. It was also once known as 'the hell hole of the South Pacific' where sealers, whalers and informal colonists lived lawlessly.

There's a modern dimension to Russell that reminded me of Cornish fishing villages: intimate and tranquil. The hideous public lavatory on the beach has a guardian cannon alongside, no doubt to stop people like me from trying to demolish the local council monstrosity.


26 November 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Rawene Hardware

I find this sort of subject irresistible. The weatherboards are distorted, there is an almost complete absence of rectangles, and the site must have caused the builders so many problems that they might be considered sculptors rather than constructors!

The street on the left is flat and runs by the waterside of the Hokianga Harbour, the hill on the other side is so steep that it takes a lot to imagine where the ground floor actually is. I drew it in about 1987; I'm not sure that the building still exists.


25 November 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: The Four Square Store at Rawene

This watercolour was done from the vehicle ramp that gives access to the car ferry to Kohukohu on the Hokianga Harbour. It was a fascinating collage of corrugated iron, its roof a patchwork, and that odd panel on the green wall between the window and that hideous Four Square man - was it once a door, or another window?

As for the ugly man himself: he's a symbol that appears on Four Square grocery stores throughout New Zealand. His very grotesqueness has made him 'iconic'. Indeed, one of this country's most fashionable artists, Dick Frizzell, has made as much use of him as Andy Warhol did of the Campbell's Soup tin.


New Zealand Odyssey: Lynne's Place, Awanui

Awanui is the last substantial township in Northland before you take the long peninsula to Cape Reinga. This shop, combined with a 'gum diggers trading post', and wood turning facility took my eye because of its ramshackleness caused by so many layers of addition and alteration that the original building is almost engulfed. (The gable might be original). 

I did this drawing in about 1987; I doubt if the shop still exists.

Gum diggers were like itinerant gold miners, a lot of them came from Dalmatia. They used to probe swampy ground with long poles hoping to strike lumps of resin - gum - deposited as exudations from ancient Kauri trees. The gum was an important constituent of resin-based products like varnishes and paints. It's still found but I doubt that, in the face of new chemical technologies, it has the value it once had.


24 November 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Rawene Courthouse

'New Zealand Odyssey', published in 1989 by Heinemann, was authored by Don Donovan (who did the text and illustrations) and Euan Sarginson, who did the photography and design. In this series of blog posts, I will publish some of my drawings.

Many provincial New Zealand towns have a 'wild west' look about them - all fronts and lesser backs. Rawene's court house gains a new character when seen from an opposite alley whose buildings are of the standard, cheap, ubiquitous, nationally-revered building material - corrugated iron; in this case much dented and over-painted. Graphically, I found the combination completely satisfying.

The court house was built in 1875. It was about 112 years old when I did this watercolour.


23 November 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Masonic Hall, Kohukohu

In the late-ish 1980s Kohukohu, on the northern shore of the Hokianga Harbour, had a tired and remote feel about it, coupled with an almost tropical air of bush-growth fecundity. Old buildings were falling apart and one had the impression that if the hamlet were not the terminus of the Rawene to Kohukohu car ferry the town would have died years ago after having exhausted its surrounding kauri forests.

The masonic hall looked a bit rickety (very appealing) and was evidence of the self-importance local businessmen and dignitaries might have imbued themselves with in the nineteenth century.


22 November 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Monday's Washing, Oruaiti


'New Zealand Odyssey' was all about everyday things that distinguish this country, some unique, some commonplace. What could be more ordinary than Monday's washing blowing in a drying wind? And yet in how many places in the world would you find that much washing in such a grand, open landscape?


21 November 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Urupa, Mangamuka

'New Zealand Odyssey', published in 1989 by Heinemann, was authored by Don Donovan (who did the text and illustrations) and Euan Sarginson, who did the photography and design. In this series of blog posts, I will publish some of my drawings.

I found this cameo near the inland waters of the Hokianga Harbour, western Northland. Urupa is Maori for cemetery and in the corner of this one was this rusty tin shed, an oil drum and some lovely carvings of traditional tongue-protruding heads with paua shell eyes.

I have never been quite sure why they might have been there, they looked to me like interior pilasters from Maori meeting houses. Perhaps they were on their way to decorate a building somewhere in Mangamuka for they would certainly not have served as grave markers.


20 November 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Kaeo Post Office

Kaeo is a small town near Whangaroa Harbour. It was established around a Methodist mission in 1823 but destroyed by marauding Maori in 1827. Somehow or other the town revived (despite a propensity to flood quite regularly). The post office still functioned in this building in the late 1980s but New Zealand Post lost its pride in the face of email and the Internet and the old building is now a museum.

For me as an illustrator the building held much charm; I never did like straight lines!


18 November 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Cape Reinga

The book started in Northland and works its way, zig-zaggy, south. Cape Reinga is at the extreme northern tip of New Zealand's North Island, almost but not quite farthest north. The lighthouse was built in 1941 and overlooks the restless confrontation of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. I wasn't so much interested in illustrating the lighthouse as in showing its remoteness; in 1988 the road to it along the peninsula was long, dusty, rough and tortuous. (These days it's an easy trip).

Maori tradition has it that from the cape the spirits of the dead depart to return to their ancestral homeland, Hawaiki. Although Maori were the first human inhabitants of Aotearoa (New Zealand) they, like every other human and not a few birds and animals, are  of immigrant stock.


17 November 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Omanaia

'New Zealand Odyssey', published in 1989 by Heinemann, was authored by me, Don Donovan (I did the text and illustrations) and Euan Sarginson, who did the photography and design. In this series of blog posts, I will publish some of my drawings.

The first illustration was of this 1884 Maori Methodist church on a hill near a village school in Northland not far from Rawene on the Hokianga Harbour. A simple, colonial style porch and nave building, at the time I illustrated it (C1986) it was well-used but looking tired.


10 November 2010

My Books: The Wastings

This was my first novel. It is set in no specifically named location (but nearly all of its locations are in New Zealand) during the boom years before and after the stockmarket crash in the 1980s, a time of nouveaux riches and great economic and political change.

The villain and main character is Morgan Campbell-Pye. The story begins when the author, a distant cousin and sole beneficiary of Campbell-Pye’s, finds, when putting the deceased’s affairs in order, a computer disk that contains a chilling portrait of Campbell-Pye as a killer whose sense of perfection compelled him to devise a series of perfect murders.

Campbell-Pye's story concerns his desire to belong to the Thursday Club, a group of high-status businessmen who meet socially for lunch on Thursdays. One of its members recruits a group of eight men from the Thursday Club to start a ‘tontine’ in which they each put $30,000 into a communal pot for investing; the tontine is to run for fifteen years, and if anyone dies his share is left in the portfolio.

When Philip Lawson, one of the tontine members, commits suicide, Campbell-Pye fantasizes about the possibility of the other members dying, leaving him sole beneficiary of the fund. It occurs to him that he could achieve this by murdering the others - believing that the prospect of pecuniary advantage appeals to him less than the intellectual challenge of devising undetectable murders.

With time on his side - the tontine has another twelve years to run before it matures - Campbell-Pye kills the other members of the tontine one by one, planning the murders in such a way that they cannot be traced back to him.

The Wastings is a study of a man who is obsessive and deluded.


Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse stories wrote this letter to me after having read 'The Wastings':

'456 Banbury Road, Oxford

'Dear Don,

'A very brief line to say how much (yes!) I enjoyed and admired The Wastings. So did my wife. So did my daughter. A lovely idea & a beautifully written work. You've made a splendid debut in crime fiction. More please!

'Good luck with your opus secundum.

'Colin Dexter'

This book is still available through Amazon, ABEBooks and second hand booksellers. I also have a few copies left.



07 November 2010

My Books: Open 7 Days

I wanted to record, in watercolours, the old colonial stores that had served New Zealand communities for many years. But I was almost too late and had to extend this collection to include some colourful local corner dairies, many of which are run as family businesses.

Stores that sold everything to closely knit, local populations were killed off by the motor car, good roads and supermarkets. But there were a few left when I toured New Zealand seeking them, and I think I got most of them in this collection which was published by Random Century.

'Open 7 Days' has been out of print for many years but copies can still be found at ABE books, TradeMe, E Bay and many second hand bookshops.



01 November 2010

My Books: New Zealand House & Cottage

Saint Publishing published this book and, associated with it, a number of calendars on the same theme. The subjects are from all over the country, the oldest dating back to the very beginnings of colonized New Zealand (mid-nineteenth century).

The front cover illustration (above) is of 'The Cuddy' a thatched cottage built by the Studholme family at Waimate in the South Island. The labrador is the modern Studholmes' friendly pet, the lady patting the dog is my wife, Patricia, who helped me enormously with all of the books I have written.

I should be so lucky!

New Zealand House & Cottage has been out of print for a long time but still turns up in second hand bookshops and websites like ABE books. Also on TradeMe and EBay. I have none left for sale.




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By Don Donovan