Jun 082014
 

Our experience at Jock Lodge in the Kruger Park seems to be all about dogs. Jock was the legendary companion and hunting dog of the young Percy (later Sir) Fitzpatrick during his years as a wagon driver.

It was the 1880s and the Transvaal Republic was all hopping with new gold finds.  At the time the Lydenburg and Pilgrim’s Rest diggings were the most lucrative in the world, the Rand deposits still a future reality. The diggers threw up small, primitive towns but the money flowed like a flood. They needed food, clothing, materials for housing, mining equipment, dynamite, liquor and lots of it, among their many needs.

At the waterhole

At a water hole on the Biyamiti River, near the crossing of the old Voortrekker Road wagon route between the Transvaal gold diggings and Delagoa Bay. It is close to where Jock was born and the lodge now stands.

It all had to come up from Delagoa Bay in Portuguese East Africa, today’s Maputo in Mozambique, in ox wagons. The wagons had to cross the tropical coastal plain awash with swamps and malaria, then through the Lowveld (today’s Kruger Park) with its many wild beasts, then up the precipitous Drakensberg Escarpment, before reaching the gold diggings on the crumbled Highveld.

Having fled a junior banking job in the Cape to seek adventure and his fortune, Fitzpatrick spent a few seasons as a young and green wagoner on the Voortrekker Trail. First he saved Jock, the runt of a litter born very close to where Jock Lodge now stands on a bank of the Biyamiti River, and many times Jock returned the favour.

Jim Makokel

Jim Makokel’ was the irrepressable wagon driver who worked for the young and green Percy Fitzpatrick. He lived hard, worked hard, drank hard and fought hard. He and Jock were best buddies and allies in a world of lesser men and animals.

On our first evening game drive we spent more than half an hour with a small pack of six adult wild dogs, as they roused from their afternoon snooze and then set off on an evening hunt. Left behind were three pups safe in a rocky hideout on one of the many granite koppies that dot the southern park. This morning, with a biting snow-on-the-berg wind, wrapped up in every warm thing we could find, we set off an hour before sunrise to be at the den before the dogs moved off for the day’s first hunt.

It was dark when they ran off into the purple veld, but we spent the next hour photographing the magnificent surrounding Lowveld in the growing light. I’m sure one of those images – or a stitch of several of them – will be one of the double-page spreads in our book. It might include some wild dogs in silhouette.

Wild Dog Hunt

Wild Dog Hunt

David Bristow

 

Jun 082014
 

Like most English speaking white South Africans of the age, I was brought up to the be epitome of what Afrikaners called a, “soutpiel” – one foot in South Africa and one in England, it’s true. The earliest stories I can recall were about Noddy, Christopher Robin and the Famous Five.

Then our father, a colonial in sentiment, read Jock of the Bushveld to my two brothers, and me and ruined us forever. Suddenly I, and they, found our true identities: we were children of the veld, hunters, explorers, the red dust in our veins and acacia and devil thorns in our feet as we ran like wild animals across the Highveld that was still wide open.

Jock Safari Lodge Kruger Park

Kruger Park, wide open spaces

We were African children, part feral, part civilized. We were sunburned and barefooted. We were not soft skinned, red-necked English children after all. What a relief, like coming out of a cultural and environmental closet. Never again would I feel the tug of another country or culture; I was exactly where I belonged. Our very urban and urbane father took us to the Kruger Park when I was maybe eight or nine. I expected Jock to run out from just about every tree.

While preparing to visit Jock Lodge in the Kruger Park I bought an old copy of ‘Jock of the Bushveld’ and started reading it on the plane from Cape Town to Skukuza. Memories came flooding back. So much of my own life’s mythology, I realised, was tied up in that book. Arriving at Jock Lodge was a big case of déjà vu.

Jock Safari Lodge

Kruger Park

Of course I have visited the Kruger Park many times since my childhood. And each time I have felt an intangible magic about the place. Now I realise it is the story of Jock, seared into my imagination that weaves the spell. Our five days here are going to be a dream.

Already we have seen wild dogs out hunting and at their den among the many wild creatures. But for me it is the landscapes that are the essence of the place. The smell of potato bush around sundown, and the sight of massive jackalberry, leadwood and marula trees, baboons getting hysterical in their roosts as the sun sets. Therein lies the magic.

Kruger National Park Photograph

Jock Safari Lodge

Jock lodge was originally built by the family of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick who wrote “Jock” and the camp preserves the memory in every turn: old wagons, reproductions, maps, art works among the mementos of a time and place I cherish, one that made me what I am.

David Bristow