Harare East (Queensland and New South Wales)
Trip Start Mar 05, 2010
35Trip End Mar 04, 2011
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In Yandina, about an hour north of Brisbane, we spent a couple of days with Alf and Joan Smith. A lovely elderly Zimbabwean couple Burgundy knew from Juliasdale. They used to farm in Karoi, before the farm was taken over by one of Comrade Senile's cronies. They moved up to Claremont (hence the connection) for a couple of years before leaving for Aus in 2007. Needless to say, like most displaced Zim farmers they left with just about nothing. Rob and Mel Lucas, former farmers near Rusape now live a little further north in Mareeba, Queensland. They too left much the same, nothing. The right "honorable" Didymus Mutasa their agressive antagonist. But we'll start our story with the Smith's.
Alf is a fair bit older than my father, but way fitter than me! His mind and memory sharper than a box of blue two razors. In Yandina he and Joan kindly took us to the Ginger factory which was interesting and relaxing. Alf also took us to his place of work, a hydroponic cherry tomato farm set up and run by Zimbo's. Get in! Edo Brandes is the manager there. Those outside the interests of cricket may not know of him but I'll enlighten you with some recent sporting history to be proud of. It took a long hard fight for Zimbabwe to eventually be awarded test status as a test playing nation in the early 90's. England was one of the countries that campaigned hard against it. A few years after test status accreditation England came to us on tour. Edo, an old Prince Edward boy and a big strong fella with considerable bowling talent was called into the Zim squad that proudly hamered that England side. His most memorable contribution was that of a hat trick in a one day game in Harare, which I happened to be present at. Ah Zim cricket at the Sports Club. Those were the days. His achievement though is remembered more for the fact that Edo was a chicken farmer at the time and not a full time cricketer. So history was made legend and a factual statistic you can still wind any knowledgable cricket loving Englishman to this day with. And trust me I still do. Everyone in the know can affiliate a simple four word statement with that event. The 'chicken farmer hat trick!'
Another legendary story is that of different game a few years later against the Aussies. Some typically heavy sledging by the Australians was aimed directly at Edo. An Australian fielder directed a snide question at him, (Mom, Dad, Inlaws et all, please do forgive me for the rudeness but the story is no story at all without all the truths), "Edo why are you so fat?" in the heat of that tense cricket match, to which he got a swift reply of "Because every time I go by your mom's she gives me a cookie!". Rumour has it that such was the classic and totally unexpected reply that the entire Aussie team, right there on the field of play, rolled over in hysterics at the expense of their own player. I've laughed for many a day with many people too over that story and for two days I held high hopes that I could finally meet the man in person and find out from the horses mouth what really went down on that playing field. But despite Alf also trying to set it up, it was just not to be. He had just come back from leave but was still away from the farm. I never did find out which of the unfortunate Aussie fired the question at him, and perhaps now may never know.
Alf was full of his own stories of Zimbabwe and Rhodesia of old. Tales of his farm in Karoi, the war years and how him and Joan met.
During our last evening the four of us sat sipping wine and cold beers in the Smith's living room and stared at a painting quietly hanging on the wall in out front of us. The picture was unmistakenly of an African setting. The golden yellow hue of a mid afternoon African sun. Savana grass blowing in a gentle breeze. A ricketty farm gate hanging half open over vehicle tracks worn through a soft bushland sand. The picture we were looking at was of their old farm in Karoi. Alf told us of the picture, how it came to being and what the artist had painted. He spoke of how he came to purchase the farm and of the lifestyle of joys and hardships of the weeks, months and years of Zim and Rhodesian farm life. He told us of the war days and his time as a soldier and medic in his batallion. He remembered fondly a training session once when he was used as a guinea pig by the other soldiers (most of which were his farming neighbours) having to use him as a practice dummy to stick
a drip needle into a vein. The other farmers were so ham handed after about five guys or so he was in so much agony that to get out of it he falsly pointed out to the officer in charge that some fatty lumps he had carried for many years on his forearm had developed due to the needle pushing. The officer with some obvious concern subsequently relieved him! Another time as part of a similar training session the army commanders wanted all of them to know how to insert a large canular straight into the chest to drain blood and fluids from the lungs or around the heart until proper medical help arrived. Thankfully for him no practice was done for this one. He remembers thinking at the time that it was quite an obscure thing to have to train everyone for. But he noted later that during the entire war he knew of just one incident where this was done. The life of the soldier in question was saved.
The Karoi farming community had many losses during the war. On one particular occasion they took fire Alf got shot in the calf, to which he sports a large scar now, but he survived while two fellow soldiers, and friends, died either side of him. They had many contacts with the rebels, mainly up in the Kariba and Zambezi valley's but he humbly said the true brave ones were the wives at home.
With the men away, they were the sitting ducks. Open targets out on their farms. They had to defend themselves, their families and their properties. Joan interjected that all the farmer's wives were given gun training and encouraged to practice shooting with what ever weapons they had. For us a few nights later in Brisbane, a similar story was recited to us by Amanda Nicolls. She remembers as a young child growing up in Eastern border highlands running back into the house for the pets while they were being mortared. Dad was away on border patrol.
War was and still is absolutely senseless and I recall Alf saying all this death and destruction, for what? Nothing. I couldn't agree more.
Alf though cherishes one fond story that no matter how often they tell it it still cracks him and Joan up even to this day. He and a few others were on road block duty when a local Zimbabwean pulled up in his car. The soldier that attended to this car was a French emigree then also farming in Karoi. He told the driver he had to return home as he was travelling without a licence and therefore without identification, illegal in the war days. The driver got irrate (again I dont mean to repeat this as racist or rude, just merely as historical fact, and I do apologise if anyone is offended by it) and retorted to the soldier, "Do you know who I am?". The reply, in a heavy french accent of, "I don caare who you aare, you still a blaady k***** to mee!" had the whole road block in absolute stitches.
Rob Lucus in Mareeba also served in the Rhodesian army and told us of a training exercise during the war years that amused him too. One day while practicing mounted machine gun fire, the officer doing the targetting directed the gunners to fire a few degrees to the right after spotting a termite mound he thought a suitable target. The soldiers followed orders and opened rapid, heavy fire at the given target. Rob got a flurry of hot expended shells down the back of his shirt which burned him no end but the pain was soon forgotted when he found out that the termite mound was not the only target to take the wrath of the best the Rhodesian army had to give. A bull standing either close beside or directly behind the mound had also been mown down and completly shredded by the hail of bullets. Burgundy and I found his story particularly amusing as he was so entertained by the event, despite being a farmer himself!
Alf never told us of the ordeal of leaving his farm due to the invasions but Rob did. Didymus Mutasa, a high ranking minister on the dark side wanted his property and illegally went after it. Rob faught as long and as hard to keep what was and according to law, still is rightfully his. For a time he succeeded to hold him off, but Mutasa's rage and perserverance went up to an all new consuming level when he was told point blank to join the back of a queue by a white person in line to buy some goods at the farmer's co-op. That person Mutasa later found out was none other than Rob's son. It all but cemented Mutasa's no limit agressive quest for the Lucas's farm. The Lucus's felt very much that Rob's life was in danger. Farmers had recently been murdered by intruders and Lucus already had more than their own fair share of scary confrontations at thier farm. In the end Rob had to leave his farm, and the country. He left virtually secretly, purposely misinforming even close friends of his departure date as to avoid any chance of being intercepted by CIO operatives at the airport. The concern for his life was so great they had an intricate plan B worked out for escape at the airport and a different quick way out the country. He departed succesfully, but with little more than his suitcase and a few other belongings.
It is immensely hard to hear stories like these. We've all heard and read about them, but to have it told to you face to face by someone who went through it all and seeing life seemingly drain from their expression as they tell it is nothing short of heart breaking. Both Rob and Alf put a lifetime into their farms, their homes and ultimately Zimbabwe. The loss of everything they were and are in such a way is akin to having you heart and soul ripped right out in front of you. To add to the tragedy both are in retirement age and closer to 70 than 60 and after working so hard and so long all their lives have earned that right to retire. Instead they work to make ends meet and may have to work until the their last days such is the disentitlement they were handed by those thugs.
Their stories are far from unique and indeed here in eastern Australia and of course everywhere else, there are many Zim farmers with similarly devastating stories.
I am though in complete awe of them, putting it all behind, well as much as they can, and trying to build a new life for themselves. I know they do not want my pity so I wont give it, but instead I openly respect and honor them and all the others for what they have gone through and for the courage and committment they show today. True, honest, hardworking Zimbabweans the rest of us younger generation should be proud of and look up to.
On Mutasa's unatural pshycotic obssession with Rob, I suggested to him that he should spread rumours that he is back in Zim and rotate his location periodically. Give Mutasa a white ghost to chase. Let it consume his malicious and deeply twisted mind. Rob smiled a sly grin.
Burgundy and I encouraged both to write their memoirs so that the truth will forever be known. It was refreshing, if sad to read individual stories from Cambodians tortured and killed during their genocide, but wholly correct that history be documented truthfully and correctly. We read as many of those individual stories as time allowed us that day at the genocide museum in Phnom Penh and there was no shortage of interested persons reading ahead and behind of us. Growing up in a post independent era the history they taught us in Zimbabwean schools often varies quite substantially from what we hear from men and women who grew up and experienced the war in Zimbabwe. Alf and Joan were particularly receptive to the memoirs idea stating there were many things about thier grandparents they never knew but always wanted to know and this was perhaps a great way to leave behind something for their grand kids. We assured them both it would not be just for them but for many others, like us. The experiences of farm life, wild animals in a Zimbabwean bush, bringing up a family on a farm, how they coped during the pre-independence sanction years, the war years, political and social history and generally about their daily lives will be endlessly interesting. They had experiences many will never again have. Not even those living and growing up in Zimbabwe today. We're already looking forward to reading it.
We encourage everyone to write their memoirs. Even if just for their families. It's a special thing to read and cherish for future generations. And there's nothing more special than hearing your family history directly from your family.
We left Alf and Joan and were closing in fast on New South Wales. We had spent far too much time with interesting and friendly folks and that time was quickly catching up with us. Lloyd and Katie had booked flights to Sydney to come spend a long weekend with us before we left Aus for our second and final time. Before we got to NSW though we had one or two more planned stops. Just an hour north of Brisbane is Beerwa. The town holds no significance, (I'm sure the locals would be highly unamused at that statement) well to us anyway other than the fact Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo is nearby. The zoo itself I must be honest was a little unimpressive. Certainly the Crocodile Hunter series and Steve himself made the zoo, and not the other way around. We did finally see our first orange coloured tigers (we saw white ones in Singapore). Beautiful animals. The rich, deep colours of their coats are mesmerizing and the animal's are nothing short of majestic. I'm an
African and wild cat lover by any standard but give me a tiger any day. We also saw our first Tasmanian Devils which are surprisingly larger than I had imagined. Easily the size of a good sized sports bag. I can't tell you how ferocious they are because there was nothing in the enclosure for it to get ferocious with. Judging by it's size and build I certainly wasn't gonna volunteer my services over the fence for any ferocious territorial assertions and was more than happy to keep it that way! Australia Zoo is not quite what I had expected but hats off to the Irwin's for continuing on Steve's work. There's no doubt about the continued committed push for conservation awareness and animal welfare at the zoo. They're doing a fantastic job on that front. The zoo includes a large animal hospital that we're pretty sure recieves little if any outside funding. If the zoo's worth any visit at all, it's just simply the knowledge that 100% of your entry charge goes towards animal health and conservation, which quite frankly is more than good enough for us.
We drove that hour into Brisbane after leaving the zoo at closing time and the weather was starting to look bleak again. It had pretty much been cloudy since we hit the east coast nearly two weeks before, bar a day or two here and there. We swung by Clair Botha's place. Pat Botha from Cooktown put us in touch with her (his daughter) as we were flying by Brisbane and asked us to drop some bits off. We had never met her before and for some reason I had slight trepidations. Those fears were hightened when it turned out we were to be dinner guests with her, her boyfriend Martin and her mom Penny. In the end however it was a great evening! Full of laughter, jokes and stories. I found it really interesting to genuinly get on so well with complete strangers from the word go. Outside the heaven's had well and truly opened and we dreaded another night in the van with heavy droplets pounding our tinny roof. Clair came to our rescue and offered us some respite for the night in the
comfort of her home. I'm not sure if they're reading this blog but we'd love to thank her and Penny again for accommodating us on the turn like that. We really hope to catch up with you guys again too. London or Zim. Make it happen!
Next morning feeling rested and refreshed we had coffee
down the road with yet another Zimbo. Burgundy's old school mate Sandy and her aussie boyf Tony. They hadn't seen each other for 7 years and again it was such a pleasure to chit chat and catch up. True friends just pick it up where you left off and filling in those gap years is entertaining and heart warming.
Our last stop in Harare East's north side was on the Gold Coast where Amanda Nicolls and her boyf live. Bug and I are fast becoming country lovers and dont care too much for city's. Personally I'm starting to realise what a blight they are to nature both physically and visually. The Gold Coast is a highrise crazy, concret jungle by the sea. No doubt you'd get some spectacular views from some of those buildings but give us some picturesque, hilly, green forrested land any day. Still if the cities aint for us the folk we visited in those cities still are. Amanda like all before, was really welcoming. Pressed for time we couldn't do much more than have a good beach walk and a tasty dinner at the surf club. Again we were reeled indoors, away from a night in the Transit and offered a bed and hot shower in a warm comfy flat. We've honestly been blessed by the help we've recieved from friends we've made and renewed on this trip. It's been nothing short of fantastic really and as for this drive, we were still only half way down the East's coast.I
P.S. Mutasa... Rob Lucus is in Rusape.