Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, was the best place on earth for a boy to grow up in. Most of my early years were spent on a farm, and most every boy that grew up on a farm in Africa had as his first friends and companions the sons of the farm labourers. I was no exception. Together we roamed free, hunting with catapults bows and arrows and terrorising everything that moved. We spoke the same language and were seldom home before dark. I had a horse and shared my bed with my two large dogs. I was given my first .22 rifle on my tenth birthday. Then came the shock of boarding school in Bulawayo, a name that means ‘place of slaughter.’
My treasured rifle was confiscated on the first day by the matron and I was caned on the second. Hunting was not on the curriculum. At school I was a dismal failure. My talents leaned more towards dreaming than academia, and the books I learned the most from were written by Zane Grey and Capt.W.E. Johns. These were usually read late at night in one of the toilets by the light of a candle.
After four years of failing at boarding school, I had four years of spectacular success at the more satisfying pursuits of beer, girls and Rock ‘n Roll. I learned to play the guitar and joined a band at the time when Elvis and the Beatles ruled. I read The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau, took up diving, and new horizons beckoned.
The first horizon culminated at the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco; the headquarters of Jacques Cousteau. I had to fill in a lengthy questionnaire as to why I wanted to see him, which I ignored, simply writing at the top that I had come five thousand miles from Africa to work for him. Astonishingly, he agreed to see me, a humbling experience. Even more astonishing was that he agreed to employ me. Not as a diver on the Calypso as I had hoped – he already had more than enough divers – but at the museum, refurbishing aquariums and cleaning the sea-lion pools. He tried to get me into Club Med and other tourist type diving work, but under French law at the time I was not allowed to work in France. For a month Cousteau paid me out of his own pocket, then paid my fare back to London. A great man.
With that dream in shreds, and the British weather beginning to pall, I looked around for fresh horizons. These expanded over the next four years into a full-blown circumnavigation. Accompanied by a friend I immigrated to Canada and tried dairy farming, only to discover that cows, and most of the farmers, had no conception of reasonable hours, weekends or holidays.
Becoming a cowboy on a ranch in British Columbia suited me better. I could ride again, and herding cows was better than milking them. Then came winter and a new, summery horizons came into view; a mirage of grass skirts, coconut palms and blue water.
Defying the Canadian authorities, who unrealistically insisted I repay the fare owed to them before leaving Canada, I found work on a Norwegian cargo boat and departed, first for Hawaii, then Samoa. But nobody had warned me about seasickness. At Rarotonga the mirage became real, with palms, turquoise water, and girls galore. I decided to stay. Unfortunately, there was a law against this. The police broke down the door of the hut in which the girl was hiding me and I was bundled out, half naked, rushed through the palm groves with a policeman on each arm, and all but thrown onto the waiting pilot boat, which then raced off to catch the ship which had already sailed.
Undeterred, I made good my escape in New Zealand, jumping ship in Auckland and working in that country for the next year and a half, until Australia beckoned from just over the horizon. To leave, I had to surrender to the wharf police, who had an outstanding warrant for my arrest. I appeared in court wearing suits, waistcoat and tie, and this must have worked. The Norwegian shipping company wanted me to pay costs, but the Judge ruled against them. There was no provision under the act, he said, for British subjects deserting foreign ships in British territorial waters. Sometimes, the law is not such an ass.
I spent a year in Australia (legally), diving in Sydney’s Balmain Harbour for broken moorings, working on a sheep station, cane cutting in Queensland (even worse than milking), and tending the bar at South Mole Island on the Barrier Reef. Then it was back to Rhodesia, where I got married and took up flying. With the travel bug still nibbling, my wife and I moved to Australia where I did my Commercial Pilot’s license. I flew for a mining company based in Marble Bar, aerial prospecting, then aerial mustering cattle for an adjoining property.
When my wife became pregnant with twin girls, it was time to get serious. The doctor who delivered the twins, was also the president of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and through him I got a job as the base pilot at Meekatharra in West Australia. They were exciting and often rewarding times. Then my father became ill and it was back to Rhodesia.
It was 1973 and the first rumblings of the Bush war. Territorial call-ups had begun. Saturated with flying, I joined the Police Reserve Anti-Terrorist Unit (PATU), then later did a Selous Scouts course on Tracking and bushcraft and joined an army reserve tracking unit. When the war ended it was obvious where the country was headed, and with the girls just thirteen and a son of seven, the children were still young enough to adjust, we decided to return to Australia. Foreign currency was at a premium. All we were allowed to take out of the country was eight hundred dollars and a container of our possessions.
Starting again with a family of five in another country without money is all uphill, and it took us a climb of some twenty years to get to the top again, along with a few landslides along the way. I started writing twenty five years ago, when I was with the Flying Doctor Service, doing a novel course with Stotts then buying every book I could find on the subject. Now that I have more time and a wealth of life experience behind me, the passion is building once more. Writing is the new horizon; a way to adventure once more without the unpleasant or risky bits.