I was born in Edinburgh, where I grew up, met Chris, and married her. I became an accountant with an engineering firm, and we had our son, Alastair. Scotland holds a lot of wonderful memories for us, but we didn’t stay there for too long.
We decided to make a move — a big move. I was a great reader, you see, and I had read all about Africa. It appealed to us, so we decided to move there. Chris stayed with my parents while I travelled over there alone to get a job. I was very lucky; I got a job with the British Colonial Office and went to Nyasaland, which is called Malawi now. I worked there as an accountant administrator, and we taught the local Africans to grow tobacco.
Chris and Alastair followed me there after a year or so. It was a very basic place. No roads, no electricity, no telephone. But we didn’t regret it at all. In fact, we loved every minute of it. Alastair was around four years old, and he had only African children to play with. Chris, of course, being straight out of Edinburgh, it was a dramatic cultural shock, but she was very popular there. She ended up teaching the African girls how to sew.
Here’s something you wouldn’t have expected an accountant to do: I had to go out and shoot the beasts once a week, for rations for the labour force. We were very self-sufficient. We had a kiln and burned our own bricks for putting up the tobacco barns. We were a community; everyone depended on everyone else.
I have many amazing memories from all across Africa.
We met very kind people, took many photographs, and saw amazing places. I was even chased by an elephant once! It was my fault. I was on foot with some visited and we split the herd.
I did, however, have a bad accident in Nyasaland. It was a typical African accident, I suppose. In the colonial development, we had a clinic and a store, and we used to bring in corn, maybe 5000 sacks of it. It was stored in the Dutch barn, an open barn with a concrete floor. What you’ve got to do with these big bags is stack some this way, then stack some the other way, so they’re crossed into a sturdy pile. I had to pay for them, being the accountant, and the account was nowhere near right — some had been stolen. I went down there to do my own count. I counted across, then I counted up, then I got on top of the stack and walked along. But they hadn’t crossed the sacks correctly. It gave way and I fell to the concrete floor. I injured a nerve in my brain, and was paralysed from the waist down. I had to be evacuated to the nearest hospital, about 60 miles away.
Out of everything, there’s one thing I clearly remember from all of that. Chris came to stay in a nearby hotel. She’d been visiting me, and she left around lunchtime to return in the evening. While she was gone, I was put into the bath… and they forgot about me. I couldn’t reach the call button, so Chris came back, found my empty bed and said, “Where’s my husband?”. I was like a prune! It wouldn’t happen in a hospital these days, I don’t suppose. Though come to think of it, they did lose my teeth here…
Anyway, it took me about one year to recover from the paralysis. They looked after me in Rhodesia ( now Zimbabwe), and afterwards I got a job in Salisbury with BP. Life keeps moving on.
By the time we got to 1982, I decided to retire. So after 45 years in Africa, we prepared to leave. But we weren’t allowed to take our cars. We weren’t allowed to take our furniture. And we weren’t allowed to take any money. We had savings in the bank; we had just sold our beautiful townhouse. But all of our assets were locked up. They went into the bank, and they just disappeared. So when we originally came to Australia, about 16 years ago, we had to start again.
Chris and I, we’ve had our share of health problems. She has trouble with her leg, and I’m blind now. I lost sight in one eye about five years ago, and the other more recently. One night I said to Chris, “I think I’ve got something in my eye, can you have a look?” There was nothing there. But then I got up in the morning, and I couldn’t see. I’d had a massive haemorrhage in my eye. I was totally blind.
I don’t let it get me down, and I keep doing what I want to do. I know the house. It’s got all of our African mementos; it’s got everything we need. I know it well enough in my mind to still get around. And I’ve got a very good girl from Guide Dogs Australia, Jenny Croacker. She taught me everything I needed to know. She takes me to the library and out for walks. I’m very well-supported.
If you want my advice for life, that’s it — find people you can depend on. I’ve got my son and his wife, his three children and six great grandkids. And I’ve had brilliant neighbours; one of them, Terry still takes me out twice a week. It’s the support that matters.
Actually, I’ve got some even better advice for you: marry a Scottish girl! They’ll stick by you. Or maybe I just got lucky with Chris, who knows? But she keeps me under control. Brings me back to earth occasionally.
All that time ago, when we moved to Africa, it was a decision we made together. It was very badly received by Chris’ father — and by my father, too. I had a good job; they thought it was ridiculous to move to Africa when you don’t have to. But out there in the bush, you’re thrown together. You’re supporting each other all the time. We learnt how to be there for each other. Through everything, we’ve been together. We’re resilient. I rely on her, and she relies on me.
And now we’ve been married for 62 years. We just keep going.
What do you do in that sort of situation? I think, when life gets you down, it’s important to keep a sense of humour. Chris and I have had our share of laughs, our share of experiences. I could tell you some stories that you wouldn’t be able to print, believe me!
And I was always told to face challenges head on. I was born with a bad arm, and my father had one rule: I was never to be treated differently from anybody else. That made me self-sufficient. I was never unemployed; I always drove a car.