It’s always fascinating reminiscing about the early days at Londolozi and how things have changed. Every so often we hear from someone who visited us back in the day and if we really lucky they send us pictures too. In this case we were lucky; Russell MacWilliam writes to tell us how he become familiar with Londolozi and shares with us some of his pictures:
“I grew up, in large measure, a city slicker. My mother enjoyed hotel holidays and my father had sworn never to camp again, after having served for an extended period in the Western Desert during the Second World War. He relented when we could not get into the Kruger National Park except to camp. In any event, I developed a passion for the bush.
When I was 21, while in my third year completing my B.Comm degree at Wits, I played inter-faculty rugby for the Commerce Faculty. As it turned out, John Varty played for the Arts Faculty. As I recall, in September 1973 we played against each other and met afterwards for a drink in the Devonshire Pub in Braamfontein. I had never met John before that. Over a beer he must have recognised my passion for the bush, and invited me to come and help out for December 1973, when John intended to start operating Londolozi full time. I accepted with alacrity and it changed my life.
Some time during December Dave Varty arrived at Londolozi. I remember him being taken aback to find this stranger there who had so little to offer any sensible operator of a game lodge. Peter Norton, who was also there, was as I recall studying Zoology – and his father owned a Land Rover. Mackie, who also spent time there in December could fix Land Rovers. Dave Lawrence could play the guitar and sing – a quality much admired by John Varty.
I, on the other hand, did my best to keep out of trouble and not to make a nuisance of myself.
When I read Boyd’s book recently, he gave the best explanation for my being so fortunate to have been in Londolozi that December. “John Varty”, he stated, “is in his own wacky way, when you least expected it, incredibly generous and big-hearted”. I was the recipient of that generosity and big-heartedness.
I remember being on the back of a Land Rover and doing my best to identify birds as we went along. Halfway through, to my horror, I discovered that there was an ex-ranger on the Land Rover who had spent 5 years in the Rhodesian National Parks Department! On another occasion, John Varty sent me out to take a game walk. I carried the rifle. I am not sure what use I would have been in a crisis. I remember a bushbuck exploding out of the bush right next to me – my heart leapt into my mouth and I had trouble keeping my knees under control. Sensibly, however, he had sent Two Tone as the back-up.
On another occasion John and I were taking two teenage girls for a walk. My contribution was to see if I could sail one of their shoes across the water hole where we had stopped for a break. Although John and I thought that it was very funny, it ended up in tears as one of the girls, for some strange reason, was mortified. If I am to be brutally honest, my contribution was worth less than the cost of feeding me!
What I was able to do though, was to take the photographs which I now send to you, which, at long last, I hope have contributed something in return for John’s generosity and Dave’s long-suffering.
Having said that, my time at Londolozi ignited my passion for walking in the bush, as well as the basic skills to be able to do that. It also meant that I was invited to spend 6 weeks on Toulon (now Harry’s Huts) a year later and 10 days helping with the game count on Kingston (now Sabi-Sabi).
In 1980, I left Johannesburg to work in London for a year and I spent the next year cycling from London to Israel, whereafter I emigrated to Cape Town. After that I lost contact with all of my connections to Londolozi and the Sabi Sand. It is with enormous nostalgia that I will return more than 40 years later to be with you this weekend.”