All aboard the African Queen

Full steam ahead in east­ern Uganda for an age­ing star of the sil­ver screen

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - MARK STRAT­TON

KATHARINEHep­burn isn’t at the helm and Bo­gie isn’t kick­ing the boiler, but the pug­na­cious African Queen is once again plough­ing the Nile.

The cen­tury-old fire­box is fed with wood to gen­er­ate a suf­fi­cient head of steam, the fly­wheel twirls into life, the pis­tons pogo, the steam-whis­tle peeps and the en­gine groans into life. It sounds like a pair of wellies in a wash­ing ma­chine. This is its first plea­sure cruise since be­ing pressed back into ser­vice by a New Zealan­der, CamMcLeay, from its moor­ings at Wild­wa­ters Lodge in east­ern Uganda.

The film of The African Queen, di­rected by John Hus­ton and re­leased in 1951, is ce­mented in cin­e­matic his­tory. Based on CS Forester’s 1934 novel, it was set dur­ing World War I in Ger­man-oc­cu­pied East Africa. Humphrey Bog­art won an Os­car for his por­trayal of the gin­soaked, am­bi­tion- free steam­boat cap­tain Char­lie All­nut, who takes on board prud­ish mis­sion­ary Rosie Sayer (Hep­burn).

All­nut wants to see out the war in an al­co­holic haze but Sayer has other ideas. In a pique of pa­tri­otic zeal she bad­gers the re­luc­tant All­nut to take the African Queen down the pre­vi­ously un­nav­i­ga­ble Ulanga River to de­stroy a Ger­man lake cruiser. Steadily, All­nut falls for his ‘‘crazy psalm-singing skinny old maid’’ and an un­likely ro­mance blos­soms on an epic voy­age amid fierce white­wa­ter, Ger­man bul­lets and malar­ial swamps.

Forester was quixotic with his novel’s lo­ca­tions. Ulanga is a Tan­za­nian river but doesn’t flow into Lake Tan­ganyika, where im­pe­rial Ger­many held naval sway. Equally, the film­ing lo­ca­tions were ge­o­graph­i­cally dis­cor­dant. Scenes were shot in Lon­don’s de­funct Isle­worth Stu­dios, the Bel­gian Congo and Uganda. In this last lo­ca­tion, Nile scenery was filmed at Murchi­son Falls Na­tional Park, where McLeay’s ver­sion of the African Queen boat was un­earthed in 1984.

I say ‘‘ver­sion’’ be­cause of un­cer­tainty about how many African Queens were used dur­ing film­ing. The orig­i­nal boat, the Liv­ing­stone, was built in 1912 in Eng­land. This 30ft steam­boat op­er­ated in the Bel­gian Congo and was rented by Hus­ton’s crew for the movie, where it ap­pears in scenes filmed around the Congo. It was sold to an Amer­i­can buyer in 1968 and now takes plea­sure cruises out of Key Largo, Florida.

Its cur­rent owner in­sists none other than his African Queen and scaled-down mod­els were used dur­ing film­ing. McLeay, how­ever, is equally adamant his African Queen was spe­cially con­structed for the Ugan­dan film scenes. An ex­plorer who has tra­versed the Nile’s length by boat, McLeay founded white­wa­ter raft­ing com­pany Adrift and in 2010 opened Wild­wa­ters Lodge. He wanted an old river­boat for his lodge.

‘‘When I first heard a Kenyan guy, Yank Evans, was sell­ing the African Queen, I thought, You’re jok­ing . . . Humphrey’s boat?’’ McLeay ex­plains. ‘‘I phoned Yank and he told me he’d dis­cov­ered it when build­ing a road around Murchi­son Falls in the 1980s. His lo­cal work­ers in­sisted to a man it was the African Queen.

‘‘Yank uncovered its steel car­cass rusted be­low the wa­ter­line, with a mock boiler and top­pled flue.’’

The fake boiler and flue are sig­nif­i­cant clues. In the movie the boat (or boats) used were diesel-driven but were mocked up to re­sem­ble a steam-pow­ered ves­sel.

‘‘Yank re­built its hull and his friend in Eng­land sourced a cen­tury-old steam en­gine [made in Black­burn], which he freighted to Uganda,’’ con­tin­ues McLeay. ‘‘By the 1990s it was run­ning again but now truly steam-pow­ered. When I bought it three years back, it’d suc­cumbed to rust again. We’ve spent a few years over­haul­ing it.’’

He re­jects the idea of the Florida African Queen as the only full-siz we have one [ trans­fer the Af back to Ugan months back i for three mont The Mak­ing of ver­sion on the to the Florida b

My sil­ver-s En­tebbe airpo Wild­wa­ters Lo from Lake Vict

Be­yond Kan waters on eart chaot­i­cally be Reach­ing Wil

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.