Features

How Africa Can Change You

Writer Tony Park left his comfy life in Sydney and made the move to Africa.

It’s everyone’s travel fantasy – packing up your bags, your livelihood and your job for a new life in a new location. For TONY PARK, a humble safari holiday turned into a whole new lifestyle that currently includes a flourishing writing career and a home right next to South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

While he’s not spotting leopards on his drive from the local post office, Tony writes enthralling thriller novels set in Africa. We asked him to pen a piece on what made him decide to move to one of the most vast and inspiring locations on Earth – Africa.

It was about this time 20 years ago that my life changed forever – I fell prey to an addiction. It wasn’t drugs or gambling, but like any addiction it hooked me and I found the more I got of it the more I needed. My substance of choice was Africa.

That first visit to the continent, to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe was supposed to be a once in a lifetime trip for my wife and me. It wasn’t. From our first day in South Africa’s Kruger National Park we realised that we would have to be back. We saw some amazing wildlife – leopard, lions, rhino and elephants. Even seeing a zebra was enough to make us swoon.

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And then there were the people. It seemed that everyone we met had a story that made Crocodile Dundee sound like an insurance salesman. As an aspiring writer I found ideas for a hundred novels. In Australia I was a city boy, but in Africa I was spending more and more time in the bush, learning about animals, birds, and trees.

I became a greenie. I’d never really given the environment much thought but in the two decades I’ve been visiting Africa there are a few thousand less rhinos than there were in 1995 and that’s something I’ve become passionate about.

My addiction reached the stage where it couldn’t just be fed by a two or three week trip. I left a full time job as a PR consultant to pursue my dream of writing and this coincided with a six-month safari in Africa. The two came together and I wrote a novel, Far Horizon, set in Africa and was lucky enough to have it published.

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For the past 12 years my wife and I have lived dual lives, six months of each year in Sydney and the remainder in the African bush. We’ve owned our own vehicle, a Land Rover, and a tent in Africa since 1998, but in 2012 we swam against the tide of trans Indian Ocean migration and bought a house in South Africa to use as a base for our travels.

Our African home is set in a small game reserve on the edge of the Kruger National Park. We live out of sight of our nearest human neighbours, but we have zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and the occasional predator wandering around us.

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Part of the attraction, for me, of living in Africa is that there is an edge to life here that’s missing in Australia. I like the fact that in Sydney I can walk home safely through the city after a night on the town, but I also kind of like the fact that I can’t walk around my house in the middle of the night because I might get eaten by the resident leopard.

I’m not a fan of risk for risk’s sake and I’m under no illusion that living in a continent riven with crime, corruption, political mismanagement and terrible health problems isn’t desirable to everyone. However, people get on with life here – they find a way to carry on in the face of what most of us in Australia would consider crippling adversity. In my time in Africa I’ve seen countries that were peaceful and prosperous, such as Zimbabwe, become basket cases, but in those same 20 years I’ve seen others, such as Rwanda, Namibia and Mozambique, recover from the depths of despair.

My latest novel, An Empty Coast, is set in Namibia. This beautiful country not only has bounteous wildlife, but also a rich mix of vibrant cultures and a fascinating history. It’s also shaping up as a beacon for the rest of the continent.

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There is a growing intolerance there of corruption and there’s comparatively little crime. During my research visits I felt a positive, unified vibe from people of different colours and tribal backgrounds. I spent time on Namibia’s wild Skeleton Coast, where the baking Namib Desert meets the cold Atlantic Ocean. It’s a place of shipwrecks and bones, but here in this desolate corner of Africa conservationists have saved the endangered desert lions.

The number of desert lions has increased from an all time low of 20 in 1997 to more than 200 today. Imagine if we in safe, well-run Australia could have saved the Tasmanian Tiger? Some of my friends think I’m crazy living in Africa. I just saw and photographed a leopard on my drive back from the local post office and last night there was a hyena hanging around the pool where I was having a braai (barbeque).

I don’t know if I’m lucky or crazy, but my name’s Tony Park, and I’m an Africa addict.

Tony Park is the author of 13 thriller novels set in Africa. His latest, An Empty Coast, is out now. 

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