A Trip Down Memory Lane with John Parsons, now residing in Graaf-Reinett: In 1955 I had never before seen the Kruger Park. From others, I had heard in great numbers with slides and shaky and badly focussed and exposed 8mm cines.
No matter, second-hand my appetite for this wild place had been whetted. Then in that year the Commercial bank that I was working for decided in their infinite wisdom that I should spend six weeks at their Tzaneen branch fixing up this and that. I jumped at the chance: Kruger Park, here I come!
But there was more to do than I had thought and only on the 10th October that year, which was part of a public holiday weekend, was I able to make the trip. At that time the tarred road stopped long before Tzaneen; going past Moriah towards and down Magoebaskloof was bad, in wet weather that winding road down was a nightmare. And then the way to the Park, over Leydsdorp and Gravelotte was rough gravel and a burst front tyre was my lot.
Entry was then at Malopene Gate, long since gone; primitive but at least a cooldrink was available to settle the dust. Like the road to Nossob in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park, travel was made dusty, jolting, hot and uncomfortable by the corrugations and loose stones. But that was the last time ever that the condition of the road had any importance. Thereafter it was just a small detail; I loved the Park and entered it at every opportunity.
From Tzaneen to Letaba was an easy way to see something totally unique and fascinating. That first night, sleeping in a musty suffocating tent at Letaba, among the Ilala palms, was a dramatic, perhaps traumatic experience. I woke from a deep sleep, heard noises, could identify the roars of lions, the wailing of hyaenas and the howls and barking of jackals. This, I thought, was a nightly bush concert in the wide, dry bed of the Letaba River just a stone's throw away; to my great regret I turned over and slept again, sure that this happened every night. Unhappily I have never had this privilege again.
But certainly, I had fallen in love with the Park during that first day, and that piece of nocturnal bushveld music captivated me forever. During the night elephants had rubbed against the tent to my wife's terror and although I had scoffed at her fears, I had to respect her worries when in the morning I found a big pile of dung at the entrance to the tent, fresh and almost still steaming. A huge dish-round footprints between the guyropes... Those were the days.
In that first week-end the animals really came out for us, a very large herd of buffalo, sheltering behind a forest of formidable horns, a lioness with one cub, sunning themselves in the early morning sun against a dry log, a large and frightening herd of elephants, powering themselves at speed over and down the river bank get to the water, and, of course, impala everywhere and zebras and wildebeest and giraffes. I could not get enough.
Going home to Tzaneen that afternoon, sadly reluctant to leave, I knew that I would be back again and again. ELEMENTARY CAMERA Lucky that I was, I had a small elementary camera with me so that I could add photographs to the thousand mental pictures of hot, pale and dusty roads, the great trees and the yellow grass where the animals sheltered.
There was a profound impression of the endlessness of the bushveld. The photographs have grown old and yellowed but the images are as strong as ever. They force me back to the Lowveld over and over, willingly. On that first visit to Letaba, the reception was housed in a thatched hut close to where the restaurant is now.
Captivated by the wonder of this faraway place of animals and lonely roads, as a reminder I took a photo of my daughter, then aged four, sitting on an elephant skull at the entrance to the reception. Now she is a middle-aged lady but, as ever, prepared to take off for the Kruger Park at any time, at a moment's notice. The same year, 1955, on our next visit to Letaba, I photographed the hut where we were overnighting, including in it a bit of my trusty old 1946 Morris 10 and the waterbag hung on a convenient nail to cool; no air-conditioning or refrigerators at that time.
A lot of the magic of those great days is still very much alive in me and it was with affection and nostalgia that I sent an enlargement of this photo to the camp for whatever use they could make of it. I must say that it was a pleasant surprise to see it handsomely framed on the wall at the reception.