Part 2 - Life in the Bush

I last time gave a very sketchy description of my arrival as a 17yr old in the bush in the far North of NR, at Kalungu , near the Tanganyika border.

I avoided going into any detail of our life there but maybe I can expand a little on what was special about that kind of existence for those who lived on the 'bush stations' so had a certain degree of organisation around them. shops, telephones, electricity supplies , running water etc and yet considered themselves 'in the bush'.

We had none of those things, Food was what we grew ourselves in the way of vegetables, eggs purchased at one teaspoon of salt each, chickens at one shilling each, meat I shot. We had some dehydrated vegetables in tins as a standby, but they were awful. Dried powdered milk and bottles of 'camp coffee' were the drink.

We had no refrigerator but found various ways of preserving food. Our coldbox was a cabinet about 2ft cube covered with mosquito netting and hessian was draped over it with the lower edges in a reservoir of water. The water kept the hessian wet and as it evaporated it cooled and kept the contents cool. A variation on this was a double walled cabinet with charcoal in the wall and when this was kept wet it cooled in the same way.

I tried several ways of preserving meat for the times when no bloody fresh meat was available. We used the biltong dried meat, hanging strips of meat treated with spices, salt and pepper which was fine as biltong but could not be re-constituted as meat for other dishes.

Bush Butchers

I used to take strips of this with me when I went hunting and felt well nourished with it during a whole day walking, sometimes covering as much as forty miles. I always took a canvas 'water bag' which kept the water cool. My African hunters would go a whole day without any food or water at all.

Bringing Home the Meat

I had 45 gallon drums filled with salt water into which I put chunks of game meat which did not go rotten but when soaked in fresh water and used in stews etc refused to be anything other than tough, stringy, slimy bits of meat.

I sometimes resorted to night shooting with a 'bulala lamp'. I got quite good at night hunting with my .22 rifle with the aid of a torch strapped on my forehead, picking out the reflected eyes of mainly duiker. The trick with night shooting was to blacken the backsight with soot and shine up the frontsight. The colour and size of each animals eyes was different and usually could be relied on except that mistakes could be made. I once shot at a leopard with the .22 thinking it was a reedbuck and even more awful was my own dog, Jock (of the bushveldt) that I mistook for a duiker!!

Jock with the leopard skin behind him

I managed to keep a supply of fresh meat for the camp most of the time but my Father kept me pretty busy with him on the bridge.

While at Kalungu a leopard had attacked our family dog one night. The dog escaped into the house but the leopard came back every night. Twice I shot at it from the front step of the house with the .303 and missed.

On the third occasion I used the .22 which I was more familiar with for night shooting. The following day a villager brought in a leopard skin from an animal he found in the bush nearby. It had just one small puncture in the neck so I took it as my kill. Apart from a strip which I put around my bush hat the skin hung around with us for years until dogs, cats, insects etc reduced it to tatters.

I wonder if anyone still has a 'Saucepan Radio'? I think they were always blue and were made using the pressings of saucepans. They contained valves and the usual controls and we could pick up Lusaka radio and ' Radio Club de Mocambique'. I can't remember if we got 'The General Overseas Service of the BBC'.

They were powered by a dry battery and were wonderful. For most Africans they were their first encounters with radios and when broadcasts were begun in some of the main African languages a whole new world opened up for them.

Our music was from wind-up gramophone using fibre needles and when they ran out we substituted acacia thorns with no noticeable difference. Our evenings in the bush playing Opera, symphonies and concertos etc on 78rpm records always attracted listeners to the trees surrounding the camp. Whenever any one of us stood up into view there was always a rustle of movement in the trees around us as the spectators moved back out of sight. I wonder what they thought of Beethoven and Verdi etc.

A gramophone recital audience in the bush!

Communications were interesting. With no telephone or radio contact, if we wanted to send messages anywhere it had to be done from a boma and our nearest was Isoka, 30 miles away. We used to send a runner, with a cleft stick. I don't know why we did not send the truck (perhaps it was away collecting things) but the message always got to the boma from where it was sent on, by telegraph to headquarters. Our mail was brought once a week by the Road Superintendent, Henry Walsh on his weekly tour of the roads.

The construction methods for the bridge were very primitive as I mentioned before. The scaffolding for what was quite a large structure was made from bush poles cut and brought on the heads of a very large number of local villagers, men and women. The poles were tied together using ulushishi, bark rope. The bark was stripped from the trees in long lengths and soaked for a few days in the river to make it soften and pliable enough to tie knots in it.



If more flexible rope was needed the bark was torn into thinner strips and then twisted in the same way as ropes are made today so that each of three or four strands was twisted in the opposite direction to its neighbour. This was done mainly on the thighs of the workers. You might have observed that Africans have very little body hair. I myself could not roll rope or string on my thighs without suffering greatly as I 'plucked' my hairy thighs.

We had one 14/10 diesel concrete mixer to make all the concrete and no other mechanical aids. Concrete was 'punned' by hand, no mechanical vibrators as in normal use everywhere else and the constant stream of women and picannins carried water for keeping the concrete damp and cool.

The only supplies received from 'line of rail' at Broken Hill were the cement and reinforcing steel which Thatcher and Hobson (which later became C.A.R.S.) delivered in 30 ton loads. Everything else had to be found, created, invented, adapted from what was available in the bush around us.

We were very sad when the bridge was finished. It and our life there and the wonderful big bush house had been our whole life for so long. Everything we had done and learned had been totally new to us and the lessons learned influenced nearly everything we did from then on.

We left the charming hardworking pleasant Benamwanga tribe behind us and entered Wabemba country but never forgot those interesting people.


Roy Williams