Si­mon Reeve’s on con­ser­va­tion

Dubbo Photo News - - Front Page - BY SI­MON REEVE

IN May of 1999, I boarded a Qan­tas flight to Jo­han­nes­burg with my dear part­ner Linda and our 20-month-old daugh­ter Stella. I had wanted to live in Africa since I first stepped onto the con­ti­nent nearly a decade be­fore. Now it was hap­pen­ing. Our lives packed into suit­cases. Our fate hang­ing on dis­cus­sions via a cou­ple of vis­its to my new em­ploy­ers in Botswana and what were the early days of email.

This was heady stuff. But I was also, well ... um ... anx­ious?

I think I took it for granted at the time how in­cred­i­bly brave Linda was to ac­cept this un­der­tak­ing. With a tod­dler in tow and a nice "nor­mal" life in Bondi in Syd­ney fad­ing into the dis­tance, this would test any­one.

But Linda is made of very strong stuff and Stella just wanted to see some "an­i­mals".

As I have said to many since then ... for ev­ery blood red sun­set in the bush watch­ing ele­phants cross­ing a river, while sip­ping an icy G and T, there were lots of tears, sweat and no small amount of stress.

This grand ad­ven­ture over two and a bit years tested us, prob­ing the weak spots, of which I have many. But it also taught us, it in­spired us and gave us mem­o­ries and friend­ships that re­main strong and vi­brant to this day.

Africans, black and white, have a spe­cial re­silience. Africa spits on hubris, but re­wards hu­mil­ity. It took us time, but we found a rhythm, a way of accepting that life and pri­or­i­ties were very dif­fer­ent in Botswana.

We lived in a small-ish town called Maun, at the bot­tom of the Oka­vango Delta. Tourism is its lifeblood. Maun is home to dozens of com­pa­nies that ser­vice the camps through the Delta and be­yond. There is a great mix of cul­tures, colours and char­ac­ters in what was un­til re­cent times, a real fron­tier town. It still re­tains that spirit.

I was up and back from the Kwando Sa­faris camps, film­ing in the bush, Stella was popped into a fab­u­lous lit­tle preschool where she made many friends and Linda, bless her, packed her pasta maker from Syd­ney and cre­ated an amaz­ing home away from home for all of us. We had a huge grove of lemon trees on the prop­erty where we lived, so each week there were lemon tarts for half the peo­ple of Maun com­ing out of our very rudi­men­tary oven!

We had ba­boons, rock pythons, spit­ting co­bras, huge wa­ter mon­i­tors, gi­ant ea­gle owls, civets and many more crit­ters as part of daily life at home. At 5 ev­ery evening the mos­quito coils would be lit and the nets would go down over our beds.

This was our new life and for me this was truly "liv­ing" ... not just go­ing through the mo­tions. Be­ing a part of it gave Linda and I a much more in­formed view of the is­sues peo­ple face ev­ery day. From the out­side we of­ten have this very nar­row take on how we need to "save the rhino" or "save the ele­phant". That is all well and good and don't get me wrong, it's what I want as well. But we have to see peo­ple as part of that pic­ture, we have to ex­pand our un­der­stand­ing of the com­plex­i­ties of these is­sues.

So here we are years on, sur­rounded by the com­forts of life in Aus­tralia. Drink­ing wa­ter from the tap, power for our lights, our ovens, our "de­vices". Woe is us when the in­ter­net goes down! We are ren­dered help­less. It's hard when your emails don't get through or you can't post some inane thing to Face­book. That's when I try and think of the old peo­ple we would pick up on the dirt road­side to take them to the well in the 40 de­gree heat. Or the woman who brought her three year old son to our door one day be­cause he had just drunk paraf­fin by ac­ci­dent.

I will for­ever love the African bush and its ex­tra­or­di­nary crea­tures. But Africa, is so much more ... and I say to ev­ery­one who will lis­ten, if you re­ally want to save the an­i­mals, go there on sa­fari. Noth­ing comes close to help­ing con­serve these great wilder­ness ar­eas than see­ing it for your­self.

Dubbo Weekender jour­nal­ist Natalie Holmes with Si­mon Reeve.

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