Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

31 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 73. William Smith O'Brien's Cottage, Port Arthur, Tasmania



William Smith O'Brien was a political prisoner at Port Arthur and had his own cottage and privileges. I drew the cottage as a pen sketch at first but then, because it was the brightest thing in a doleful setting, I painted it again in colour. Again function dictates form and I wonder whether the designer of the house knew what an elegant object he had designed?





© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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30 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 72. Highfield House, Stanley, Tasmania

 


The first name of Tasmania was Van Diemen's Land. There's still a Van Diemen's Company that was set up by some 18th century London businessmen to exploit the resources of Tasmania. This house, at Stanley, was built for its manager. Stanley is at the top left corner (north-west if you insist) and must have been horribly remote at its beginnings.

I was reminded of south-west England as I drew this rather dour looking house, although the corrugated iron roof (which I don't think is original) is hardly associated with Cornish architecture. Nearby the a big rock called 'The Nut'. It's an ancient volcanic plug. Quite weird.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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29 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 71. School of Mines, Zeehan, Tasmania



I'm not sure what style of architecture you'd call this but I think it has an appropriately Dutch flavour because it's named after one of Abel Tasman's exploratory ships. They mined silver-lead ore here but the school of mines and metallurgy is now the town museum.

The people propping up the doorway kept looking across the road at me nervously; I can't think why. Perhaps they were wondering why a silly fellow would want to draw such a funny looking building. I think it's wonderful, they just don't build this architectural quality any more.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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28 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 70. Clarendon Arms Hotel, Evandale, Tasmania


I don't know whether they have earthquakes in Tasmania but this building, built in 1817, looks as if it's been hit by several. Those huge esses are the ends of tie-bars that run right through the building to similar ones at the other side. They hold all those bricks together like a corset. As I sat on a bench doing these drawings I hoped the owner of that Jaguar was well insured!

For the artist, the bricks, weathered like an ancient mariner's face, are a gift; age and mould leaving lovely colours and textures.



© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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27 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 69. Oast House, Elllendale, Tasmania



Brewing must be a big business in Tasmania because there are oast houses (hop drying kilns) everywhere in the midlands. As I sat on a folding stool painting this one I wondered whether it might tumble down before I finished! This is dilapidation on a grand scale.

I have a feeling that this structure burned to the ground or fell to pieces in later years.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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26 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 68. Hop Drying Kiln, Bushy Park, New Norfolk, Tasmania



This was hop drying on a large, industrial scale and yet because function dictated the form of these buildings they had a rare grace and dignity. Although I sketched this en plein air I took a bit of extra time over it, the shapes are deceptively complicated and consequently the perspective is demanding.

The funny thing was that I saw nobody and I worked in complete silence as if in a dream.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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25 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 67. Oast House, Valleyfield, Tasmania


It came as quite a surprise to find a building like this in this part of the world. Oast houses are associated in my mind with Kent and with an artist called Rowland Hilder whose forté was Kentish rural landscapes complete with oast houses, plough furrows and winter elm trees with flocks of rooks flying about them

I must say I enjoyed doing this open air sketch but the perspective of the circular brickwork extended me and I'm still not sure that I got it quite right.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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24 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 66. St. Luke's, Richmond, Tasmania


As I was making this drawing my friend Robin was setting up his camera to do what any artist can but most cameras can't - to capture the image without undue perspective, narrowing towards the top.

He had a fancy shift lens on his SLR Leica which was designed to give a front elevation - rather like an architect's rendering. These days it's easy to correct parallax with Photoshop but digital cameras and computer manipulation hadn't been invented when we went to Tasmania.

There's that lovely butterscotch sandstone again; you could almost eat it!

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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23 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 65. Houses At Richmond, Tasmania



I was born and brought up near Richmond in England and can say that there's no similarity between the English and Tasmanian towns. I guess the name, as are so many Tasmanian names for towns and rivers, came with homesick immigrants - settlers or convicts.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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22 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 64. Uniting Church, Ross, Tasmania



I could have been sitting in an English landscape but here I was, 20 000 kilometres from Surrey or Devonshire, drawing a church that has its architectural origins firmly based upon the old world. The butterscotch colour of its masonry, such a contrast to England's dull greys, made the day feel warmer.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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21 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 63. The Bridge At Ross, Tasmania



Tasmania is a wonderful island state of Australia, one that has a treasure of Georgian architecture much of it built of local sandstone and using convict labour from the penal settlement days. This beautiful bridge crosses the Macquarie River. A folding stool on a grassy bank was all I needed.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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20 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 62. Big Tree, Wainoni


I think most artists would say that they have a favourite brush or pen, one that seems to comply and always work well, one that fits the hand and mind without protest. I tried many pens over the years but eventually settled for an old Shaeffer fountain pen that I would dip into Indian ink (dip, not store, mind you, you can't put Indian ink into a fountain pen) and that old favourite allowed me to 'dig in' boldly without fear of running dry or splattering.

That's what I like about this old drawing of a big macrocarpa tree at Wainoni, not far from where I live. The house (another derelict!) was almost incidental but it gives scale to the tree, don't you agree?

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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19 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 61. Ruined Cottage, Motueka




For a few years in the 1960s New Zealanders were blind to the treasures in their midst. That's when many colonial buildings were destroyed for ever. Fortunately we came to our senses and a significant amount of heritage has been preserved thanks to organizations like the Historic Places Trust. This cottage at Motueka, among the tobacco and hop fields, was not beyond repair but I doubt if anybody saved it.

I found it a delight, so much so that I did another drawing of it on a white, porcelain Thomas plate, using iron oxide mixed with oil of cloves to make an ink. As the oil evaporated it left the oxide as configured 'dust'. Then, very carefully, it was placed into a kiln and baked until the plate's glaze ran and permanently incorporated the image.

I had it in mind to do a whole dinner service of cottages but, apart from a series of round tiles, I only ever did the one plate which now graces our sideboard, a paved intention on my road to hell!

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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18 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 60. Gowan Bridge Store, Murchison-Nelson Highway



This shop suffered the same fate as the Longford Store (see previous post) but was lively and active when I sat on the bank opposite and boldly scratched it into my pad. It serviced local farmers and the traffic that passed on the Nelson to Murchison highway.

I tried to find any hint of its existence some years later but it had disappeared without trace. I am pleased to have recorded it for history's sake.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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17 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 59. Old Longford Store, Murchison



Supermarkets, good roads and reliable cars killed old stores like this one on the Murchison to Nelson Highway. By the mid- to late 1960s they were either gone or falling into disrepair. Fortunately I got to the old Longford Store before it disappeared and I sketched, painted and photographed it.

Sqiggle, squiggle and you have a poplar tree, another set of squiggles is a pine and some more make the long grasses and the hill form beyond. It's all cheating until you get to the building, than you have to be more diligent.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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16 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 58. Ruined House near Nelson



I don't for a moment suppose that this house is still there. It was obviously too far gone to restore but presented me with a joy of dilapidation. 

It occurred to me at the time that the tree might have been planted by a proud new house owner, a sapling that would one day tower over the house and long outlast it. When I drew this scene in the 1960s I used to sign all my stuff 'DF Donovan' but the vast bulk of my work has been by 'Don Donovan' in later years. Less formal.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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15 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 57. Church of The Epiphany Gebbies Valley, Christchurch



This drawing dates to the early 1960s when I had a steady hand. As you age and your body lets you down you have to compensate through speed and impression rather than the precision of earlier years. It's no bad thing; but it leaves a yearning regret.

My late friend Derek Margetts (who lived next to this church) and I often went sketching together and he taught me a lot. We sat side by side on gravestones as we did these renderings in failing light. Afterwards we compared notes while supping some cheese spuds and a Bavarian bitter and by the fire in his cottage. Great days.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

14 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 56. Sugarloaf, Port Hills, Christchurch



I did this sketch from the jetty close to where we used to live in Governors Bay. I remember how incensed local people were when that TV transmission tower was built on the Sugar Loaf but after all these years it looks as if it has always been there. I loved the drive over Dyers Pass from the city and the winding road that followed that sweep of hills  to the bay below.

This is a very old drawing; we left Christchurch in 1967; but what memories it recalls...

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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13 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 55. Giant's Causeway, Port Hills, Christchurch



When I lived in Christchurch I loved walking on the Port Hills which, in an odd way, reminded me of Dartmoor where I liked to take holidays before we came to New Zealand in 1960.

It was a fine day when I did this sketch of Witch Hill Dyke, a basalt intrusion that emerges from the volcanic soil of Lyttelton Harbour. That dark patch on the right is where some of the rocks had tumbled in the past; now, 40 to 50 years later, I'm sure there must have been more falls, especially after the earthquakes.

I've never been a rock climber - can't take heights - but I've heard that these bluffs were quite good training challenges for mountaineers

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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12 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 54. Stone Hut Remains, Allandale, New Zealand



I've searched frutlessly for some Internet history of this shed. I saw it among undergrowth some years ago and decided to draw it even though it was not a particularly interesting subject. But I think I might have preserved a bit of Lyttelton Harbour that's gone for ever.

I made a note on my drawing that reads: '9/7/1966. All that remains of a cottage which began as a wood hut for workmen on the Vigers property at Allandale. It was added to in stone in 1880 by Henry Jennings, a settler. For many years it belonged to William Garlick, was bought by Dunbier and was destroyed by fire in the 1950s being then 100 years old'.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

11 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 53. Lowry Bay, New Zealand



I used to live in Lowry Bay, a middle class seaside suburb between Petone and Eastbourne, Wellington. A desirable address, a privileged place to live. I did this sketch from its beach for a Christmas Card. While working I reflected upon the Maori family who were collecting shell fish (you can see two of them in front of the boat house). Maori had come gathering from this bay long before it became a fashionable enclave. I wrote this poem in my head.

Cheerful Tane Ngati Ira
Crept about the marsh of Whio-rau,
Noose on pole through flax grass thrusted;
Sudden cease of pot-doomed blue duck!
All about the sea and sunshine,
Bush, kotare, tui, bellbird
Looked on Tane, Man, outsider,
Fronted by his callous trespass
Quietly prayed he'd go away.

Ample Rangi Atiawa
Fumbles on the bed of Whio-rau
Picking sewage-sated pipis,
Sacks full, tea for sagging mother
And six mouths in Chevvy waiting.
All about the middle-classes
Peep from terylene-net windows
Tutting at this rude intrusion
Wish to God he'd go away!


© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

10 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 52. The Old Gardner Homestead, Glorit, New Zealand



There's nothing I enjoy more than drawing old, colonial houses. This one, north of Auckland, on the road from Helensville to Wellsford is one of the best and the only one I know of with a double roof. I was particularly pleased with the way this piece turned out - it's a good sketch even if I say it myself.

Later, I did a large, very large, watercolour of it which hung in the old Auckland Club for a long time. It's now leaning against a wall in my studio.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

09 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 51. Meathouse, Glen Helen, West MacDonnell Ranges, Australia



Glen Helen, like an oasis, is a destination. It's a spot recognizable as civilized in a very uncivilized desert-like moon-scape. This is its century old meathouse which, I guess, must have been where they stored meat before refrigerators were installed. I imagine that the thatch insulated it to some extent but I shudder to think what the meat might have been like in Glen Helen's oppressive heat.

As far as I was concerned it represented something draw-able in a place that offered few satisfactory subjects for pen and ink.


© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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07 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 50. Glen Helen Gorge, West MacDonnell Ranges, Australia



The Australian landscape is a challenge for any artist, especially in black and white with no references such as buildings to give scale. This ordinary looking scene is extraordinary because in outback Australia water is a rare sight. As I drew this my photographer companion was about 30-40 metres up those rock bluffs on the right, carrying camera and tripod to get 'the shot'.

Me, I don't climb. I like to be where I would finish up if I did.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
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Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 49. Church Detail, Dover, England



This is another of those sketches done from the passenger's seat of the car while somebody goes shopping. The sketchbooks are in the glove compartment with the pen and ink. You balance the ink bottle on the gear box cover and pray that it won't slide off. 

Although it's a small piece I see that I put decent effort into this because the random rubble fabric of the church wall is as fascinating as a complex mosaic. The masons must have gone half mad trying to fit all the blocks together.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.


06 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 48. Gatehouse, Dover Castle


The moment I opened this page in this very old sketchbook my right thumb started to hurt. Why? Because just after I'd recorded this historic portion of this historic castle my daughter shut my thumb in the car door.

And that, after all this time, is one of the - at times doubtful - delights about posting these pages; you re-live the scene again. Which, when I come to think about it, is why I did these sketches in the first place!

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

05 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 47. Gatehouse, St.Albans, England



I wanted to visit Verulamium, the Roman remains at St. Albans but when I arrived, puffing, the pompous official on the entrance wouldn't let me in because it was fifteen minutes before closing time and I wouldn't have time to view them. 'But I've come twelve thousand miles.' I protested. 'Then you should have left earlier.' he replied, dispassionately.

Swearing copiously I backed off but not long after found myself outside this 14th century gatehouse, now part of St. Albans School. So I worked off my fury on the sketching pad, my mutterings fading with the remains of the day.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

04 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 46. Baconsthorpe Castle, Norfolk



With my daughter I had paid a visit to my old Royal Air Force station at Bircham Newton in Norfolk and on our way back to London we looked for a spot for a picnic lunch. This is what we found, the ruins of the gatehouse of a fifteenth century moated manor house.

For somebody from a 'new' country like New Zealand ruins such as these are sketchers' delights and remain so for as long as the drawings live in the sketchbook.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.


03 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 73. William Smith O'Brien's Cottage, Port Arthur, Tasmania



Port Arthur, Tasmania's most notorious convict settlement, is a dolorous place and the beauty of its setting and astonishing architecture are still not enough to overcome a sense of horror at its history.

William Smith O'Brien was a privileged political prisoner with his own cottage. I'm certain that whoever designed and built it had little idea of how modestly elegant it is. I sketched it quickly in pen and ink first but because it was the brightest structure in the whole, gloomy precinct, I painted it in watercolour, too. That yellow wash is inspired; I wonder whether it has always been that colour?

The final selections from my sketchbooks will follow this one.




© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 45. The End, Buckland Ripers Manor, Upwey, Dorset


Friends live in this portion of a mid-eighteenth century manor house in Dorset, England. I chose to sketch it through a profusion of garden growth because that's the atmosphere of the place: quiet, dignified and nestled in verdant garden at the end of a wooded country lane.  

It was once shielded by elm trees in which rooks nested and cawed incessantly but Dutch elm disease changed things for ever . 


© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

02 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 44. Via Matteoti, Todi, Umbria



To the right and out of shot was a group of men re-fitting a shop front. They laughed a lot at my frustration over the crowded street where traffic was constant and constantly blocking my view as I tried to work. I didn't even try to draw the moving traffic, those vehicles are all parked, so you can imagine the chaos of up and down cars trying to negotiate the narrow alley.

At the top of the street is the church of San Fortunato. I didn't paint it because it was one of the hottest days and there was little shade so this is all I took away from Todi.

© DON DONOVAN.     donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

01 October 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 43. Casa Terremoto, Umbria




This house, a short way from where we stayed on a farm near San Gemini, had been brutalized by earthquake and abandoned. It begged to be painted and I climbed on to  nearby water tank to do the work. The colours, the cracks, the shapes!

As I worked an Alfa-Romeo saloon packed with old, black-clad folks came along and stopped. They all looked hard at me with unsmiling faces. I had the feeling that the house might once have been theirs and that by drawing it I was stealing its soul. Or perhaps it was crammed with cannabis - who knows?

© DON DONOVAN.     donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz
.

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Blurb

RANDOM SAMPLINGS F...
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:
‘Auckland’
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Aoraki-Mt.Cook’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Otago’
‘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.

[ENDS]