Memoirs of a game ranger

2009-10-21 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

West of the Moon: Early Zululand and a Game Ranger at War in Rhodesia

Ron Selley

30 degree South Publishers

AUTHOR Ron Selley’s family have had a long and fruitful association with Zululand. His grandfather, Nick, helped construct the first railway line into the area, many of the bridges he built back in the ­twenties are still standing while their successors have washed away, and together with his wife, Milly, he played a pioneering role in ­developing its tourist industry, ­opening up the ­Estuary Hotel at Lake St Lucia. Their son, Geoff, was also a ­prominent ­figure in the ­community.

Brought up in such beautiful ­surroundings it is perhaps hardly surprising that Selley himself should share their love of the outdoors, his thirst for adventure leading him in 1975 to war-torn Rhodesia where he served as a game ranger, first in North Mashonaland and then later in ­Gona re Zhou National Park.

Returning to South ­Africa he worked, among other jobs, as a member of the anti-poaching unit in the then Transvaal and for a security firm operating out of Swaziland ­before moving to Lambert’s Bay on the West Coast where he now runs his own boat charter service.

Writing in a straightforward, ­anecdotal style and drawing, in part, on his grandmother Milly’s journals (Milly seems to have been something of a character in her own right. On one occasion she shot and killed two lions as they tried to attack her), ­Selley attempts to piece together his family’s history in the context of ­early colonial Natal, as well as ­describing his own childhood growing up among the fever trees, ­waterways and abundant wildlife.

The second part of the book is ­devoted to his time in Rhodesia. Seemingly not too bothered about the country’s politics, Selley makes no ­attempt to analyse the causes of the war he found himself a part of but is, instead, content to describe his numerous close scrapes as well as his normal day-to-day duties.

Selley is not a natural writer and at times his prose style has a slightly wooden feel; the book also has a slightly cobbled-together feel and would have benefited from some ­judicious editing. What it lacks in ­literary polish, though, it makes up for in incident and “the author’s ­obvious concern for the future of ­Africa’s wildlife”.

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