Davin's 100th birthday celebrated

PAT VELTKAMP-SMITH
Last updated 08:59 02/09/2013

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Writer Dan Davin has been dead 20 years but it was his birth on the first day of a Southland spring 100 years ago that was celebrated in Invercargill in Saturday night.

2013 DAN DAVIN
SHORT STORY COMPETITION

Read the winning entries in this year's Dan Davin story-writing competition.

Adult section: Both Sides of Love by Patricia Soper

Senior section: The Willow and the War by Christine Grove of Aparima College

Junior section: In My Prime by Mitchell Mawhinney, of Wakatipu High School

Davin was born in Gore on September 1 1913, moving with his "Irish Catholic working-class family" to Morton St in Invercargill and going to Marist school.

Brother Egbert, Eggy, recognised Davin's potential and arranged a scholarship to the Marist Brothers' flagship college, Sacred Heart in Auckland.

From there he won a scholarship to the University of Otago and some years later a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University.

He went to the United Kingdom with his bride, fellow student Winnie Gonley, of Otautau.

At the outbreak of World War II he joined the NZ Expeditionary Force, 2nd division and, in his war histories published 50 years later, wrote of the Southland roadworkers and West Coast miners whose toughness made them "good companions in arms".

He was to become publishing editor of the prestigious Oxford Press and helped many New Zealand writers make it into print.

At Saturday's birthday celebrations, photos of his eldest daughter, Delia, now in her 70s and visiting her dad's old Morton St home, were shown by Bob Simpson along with film he and his late wife Margery shot in 2005 while visiting Davin's storeyed brick Oxford house, pubs he had drunk in, and a thatched cottage he'd written in.

Davin's three daughters sent messages, as did his younger brother Pat, now living in Wellington.

Nieces cut the birthday cake, which was shared around as people sang Happy Birthday.

Rory Sweetman, who teaches modern Irish history at the University of Otago, said today there were no real signs of Davin in Oxford. But in the south, the place of his birth, his work and life is cherished.

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Dunedin writer Sue Wootton was commissioned to write plays from Davin's words - each a scene bringing the Davins of the day to life, with Gwenda Benjamin, nee Holloway, the clever peacekeeping mother, Hamesh Wyatt the dog-tired dad, Ange Newell the pesky neighbour, Lee Richardson a teenage Dan winning a bob from his mother's meagre purse, and Heather Christie his put-upon young sister.

The plays, directed by Sarah McCarthy, were achingly familiar perhaps because Cilla McQueen's kitchen table poems written at her Liffey St home in Bluff had set such a scene.

Stewart Island personality Gwen Neave started the commemoration of Davin, which led to story-writing competitions and then to the centenary celebration of his birth.

Davin Foundation trustee Louise Pagan said they were surprised and delighted at the near-full house on Saturday night.

- The Southland Times

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