Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

31 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Springbok Rugby Tour Protests

In 1981 South Africa's Springboks came to New Zealand to play our All Blacks at rugby union. Two nations devoted to the sport, but two nations with vastly different racial attitudes. The South Africans classified our Maori as black and so, with apartheid the order of their day, our Maori were not accepted in the Union.

Consequently anti-racial protesters in New Zealand wanted nothing to do with the Springboks; they protested strongly against the 1981 tour and in time honoured fashion daubed their 'Subvert The Tour' slogans on other people's property. New Zealanders who wanted nothing to do with anti-race protest but just wanted to see some games of rugby between two highly competitive teams took their turn with similarly vandalistic graffiti 'Support The Tour'. 

Slogans such as these appeared up and down the country. The ones in my illustrations were on roadside sheds quite close to each other on the main highway near Warkworth; still visible six years after the event.

History finally had its say: apartheid fizzled and now the Springboks and All Blacks compete with mixed race teams. It's drawings like mine that will remind us of a different time not so long ago.


30 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: History at Warkworth

In 1987 riverside Warkworth, seventy kilometres north of Auckland, was a comfortable town just east of the main north road, a shopping centre for various adjacent beaches and farms. Its history goes back earlier than official colonial settlement to about 1829 when ships came to the Mahurangi River to get timber for spars.

There is a number of old buildings, not least a brace of good pubs and a courthouse, but two in particular caught my eye: one was the 1863 Masonic Lodge made of wood to look like stone and then painted to look like wood, and the other Broomfield House, built in 1870 which I sketched in black and white because I liked it better that way.

Warkworth is busier but less comfortable in 2010. It has become very popular and its main street is almost as dangerous for pedestrians as Queen Street, Auckland.


27 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Helensville Quality Meats


This kind of retail butchery is a very rare sight in New Zealand post millennium; there are but few left. But when, in 1997, I sketched this old fashioned shop with its brick inserts and hygienic-looking white tiles it was not uncommon; it warranted, I felt, inclusion in our book about things kiwi. 

These days most urban and suburban folk get their meat from the supermarket but when the founder of Helensville Quality Meats set up his shop (about 1900?) he was soooo proud of that ornate exterior with the one word 'BUTCHER' moulded into the plaster.

He must have known that the shop would outlive him.


26 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: LPG Shed at Helensville

It seems unbelievable in 2010 that this shed could have been in existence in 1987. These days it would be highly illegal containing, as it did then, cylinders of liquefied petroleum gas protected only by a feeble warning sign and a hopelessly inadequate padlock.

To me as an artist it not only expressed a practical New Zealand oddity but also a very 'drawable' subject! It was near Helensville, at the south end of the huge Kaipara Harbour. I've often wondered what happened to it; it could have exploded, of course...


24 December 2010

The Christmas Tui

This beautiful bird is the New Zealand Tui which the early European settlers called the Parson Bird because of the white tuft of feathers above its breast. Maori bird names are often   onomatopaeic which, in the case of the tui, very much suggests its mellifuous song.

At the close of the year, which is early summer in New Zealand, the native flax bush phormium tenax thrusts a spear skywards whose flowers are rich with nectar. Tui cannot resist the honey and come to sip from the flowers; while doing so their foreheads collect pollen which they then carry to the next flax bush and so pollinate the flora.

This tui landed on a flax spear just outside our sitting room window and I was not only lucky to photograph him so clearly but also while he was in mid-song. I was intrigued to see that the feathers on his head rose as he sang; I had never seen that before.

To anybody reading this blog post I and my wife send a Christmas greeting for 
25 December 2010.


23 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Dargaville Post Office

When I did this watercolour of the Dargaville Post Office it was just that. But, as with so many Post Offices in New Zealand, it was later de-commissioned and is now an office complex listed in the top category of the NZ Historic Places Trust. Saved, but just another example of how NZ Post has lost its pride and lost its way.

It was built in 1914 and was then probably the most substantial building in a town that otherwise had little else of note and was declining after years of comfort associated with the exploitation of kauri forest and kauri gum deposits.

It's an interesting place, Dargaville, before any decent roads were built it was possible to travel there from Auckland by way of Riverhead (near Coatesville), portage over the hills to Helensville, and then by barge up the huge Kaipara Harbour to Dargaville on the Wairoa River and thereby into darkest Northland. Terra incognita.


16 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Pakiri Beach

I was somewhat mortified to find this unfriendly private beach at Pakiri, north of Leigh on the eastern side of the north Auckland peninsula, I had fondly believed that the beaches of New Zealand were open to all - after all, in 1987, our population was little more that 3.5 million with plenty of space to share.

What made me even sadder was to see this crude warning attached to a fence that was rusty and in disrepair, an obvious indication that however jealously the beach's owners might have guarded their property, they didn't care much for it.

Our book was designed to present some typical aspects of our country and this scene didn't quite fit - but maybe I was making a protest!


13 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Windmill Roadsigns at Matakohe

In 1987, when I was working on the Northland section on 'New Zealand Odyssey' I found this piece of landmark roadside sculpture which reminded me of John Piper's and John Betjeman's 'Tree of Knowledge'. There's a wealth of information here. The museum is famous for its history of kauri forestry and gum-digging around the north Kaipara area and the Coates Memorial church honours New Zealand's first native-born prime minister.

Then again, the Maori names are descriptive: Tinopai means 'very good'; Hukatere = 'driven foam'; Matakohe = 'headland of the kohekohe tree'; and Taparoa = 'long spear'. Dargaville isn't Maori, of course, it was named after an Irish immigrant called Joseph Dargaville.


12 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Roadside stalls, Northland


Misleading information and creative spelling characterize many roadside sales sites in New Zealand. Some are more permanent than others. Both of these were in Northland. The more established of the two promised tomatoes but offered only pumpkins. The temporary one on the trailer not only offered bulk wine at $5.00 a 'flagen' but also presented a few boxes of locally grown oranges at, apparently, no fixed price!


11 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Whakapara - Maori protest

This roadside shed was at Whakapara in Northland. In 1987, when I did this sketch, New Zealand was going through yet another period of Maori dissatisfaction as a result of the failure of a tribunal properly to reconcile perceived Waitangi Treaty grievances. Many Maori activists in the 1980s stopped asking for the founding treaty to be honoured and instead argued that it was a fraudulent document. They argued that Maori had been tricked in 1840 by the British and that consequently the New Zealand government had no right to sovereignty over the country.

This all came over 140 years after the signing of the treaty, at a time when Maori constituted about 12% of the New Zealand population. Many citizens wondered what Maori would do if they became an elite sovereign class - kick out all the descendents of the colonists, and return to the Stone Age?

As a result of anger on the part of the protesting minority, graffiti appeared on many public (and in this case, private) buildings and it was hard to decide whether they were justified as signs of anger or just plain vandalism.


08 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: School Buses, Hikurangi

While I painted these particular school buses at Hikurangi, north of Whangarei in Northland, they could have come from just about anywhere in New Zealand. Twice a day, our country roads are populated by motley fleets of student-laden coaches, mostly drawn from local contracting companies. Some of them are smart, some smoke like tramp steamers. These three old ladies had an elephantine look about them; I got the impression that they might be having a slanderous conversation!

Hikurangi was a coal mining town until 1971, it also had quite a substantial dairy factory serving the surrounding cattle farmers. Its intriguing area of limestone outcrops still distinguishes an otherwise modest town long ago by-passed by the main highway to the north.


06 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Whangarei Town Hall


When I painted this imposing edifice in 1987 I was not only attracted to its important-looking shape but also to its colour - entirely inappropriate, I thought, for a public building. 

I imagine that some penny-pinching treasurer of city hall finances discovered a warehouse full of old green paint and bought the lot.

It's still there (well it would be, wouldn't it?) but I'm pleased to tell that it's been re-painted much more compassionately.


05 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: The National Bank, Waipu

It was ever necessary for banks to look reliable and unassailable; how else could you get the locals' trust? When this building was put up it was probably one of the most serious and pompous in the town. Waipu's an interesting Northland settlement; it was founded in 1853 by just over a hundred Scots who came here, via Nova Scotia, Adelaide, Melbourne and the Victorian goldfields. 

When other Nova Scotians heard of the settlement nearly a further nine hundred came here, too. It's worth stopping a while in Waipu and checking up on its history - some pretty weird things happened here!

I went a bit overboard painting the bank, vide some migrating wet-in-wet watercolours! But it gives the character to the building as it was in 1987. I expect its gone by now.


02 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Kemp House, Kerikeri


At Kerikeri in Northland this, the Kemp House, is the oldest dwelling in New Zealand having been built in 1822. James Kemp, who died aged 74 in 1872, was a missionary who took up residence in 1832. The Kemp family lived there for the next 142 years and it was probably because of their long ownership that the house has survived.

The usual view of Kemp House is full frontal which shows it as a box with a roof. My drawing, from the side, is unusual but, I think, more interesting, more shapely, especially as it shows the lean-to at the back which was added in 1834, and the latest version of the verandah which has been renewed twice.

For the technique-minded, I did this drawing in sepia because it gave date to the subject much in the style of a nineteenth century photograph.


01 December 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Opua's Tourist Train Loco


I couldn't resist drawing this steam engine at Opua in the Bay of Islands. It was (and still might be) used to pull the tourist train from Kawakawa to Opua, where the ferries leave regularly to make a short cut to Russell, saving a road trip of about 110km.



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By Don Donovan