Carpe Diem seize the day
Now that's a statement that would have impressed my Latin teacher at Cordwalles. You see like many of my teachers he saw my failings and not my potential. In fact my two greatest academic weaknesses at Michaelhouse history and English have turned out to be my two greatest strengths in the real world. I gave up history before my final years at Michaelhouse I hated those boring dates and treaties that I had to remember verbatim and my poor English teacher gave up with me because I always did, and still do, split my infinitives!
And here I am standing before you an author of seven books who's latest encompasses years of historical research!
Let me take that paradox one stage further. If there is one thing that I have learnt as a Michaelhouse old boy living in the real world outside the walls of these school grounds it is that those boys who succeed the most are often those who are written off by the popular boys as failures. Go the nurd, the geek, your time will come! Maybe psychologists would see it as a character building thing if you were like me, teased and scorned, enjoy the ride as you are on the road to success!
This is the paradox where the so-called failures can and often do become the champions!
You see life is about a myriad of memories that you carry with you for the rest of your life and not about being popular and it is memories that maketh the man! There is a certain integrity about being picked on by other boys - maybe it's a ying or yang thing.
Let me tell you a little about my life as a boarder in the 1960s. I was born in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in 1955. At the age of seven I was sent to Cordwalles because the schooling system in colonial East Africa was none existent.
Within weeks of joining the cacks or lowest form of life at Cordwalles I had become the most scorned among the school community because I dared try to interact with the first years. This was the only form of social interaction I had known until then. My East African heritage soon became a focal point and the derogatory nick name "baboon" evolved. For four years at Cordwalles I was scorned and ridiculed but stuck to my guns because I had no choice. Now many of you out there will quietly relate to what I am talking about.
The verbal abuse I received at Cordwalles in the early 1960s was a warm up for what I would face here at Michaelhouse. Now times might have changed but in the late 1960s the role of the cack in the first year was to serve the Prefect. We slaved for that Prefect cleaning his shoes and Cadet boots until you could see your face like a mirror in the leather, making tea and toast, his bed and acting liking his glorified servant. If we failed in the smallest of duties we got two black marks and if you got ten black marks it was a long lonely trip to the little room up several flights of stairs that was called "Scullies".
The well-worn steps to
Scullies today -
At Scullies, located near the school library, the head of the house would cane the boys who had been found to have failed in some way. It was a busy place every night and no wonder. Within a week of a new term starting I would find eight black marks against my name despite my best endeavours to escape the cane. The prefect I served was the son of a Bishop but despite his religious connections I can tell you the black marks he left on the large board in the Prefect's room where we served tea in the afternoon made my life a living hell.
The classroom in which Baines
The dreaded prefect's
Baines prefects under the "black mark"
Every night while doing prep in a class room a prefect would be assigned the task of calling out the cacks who had to go to Scullies to face the cane and every night after that first week I would await the call because of my failure to fag for my prefect.
The prep room was monitored by a Prefect who had special powers. The most amusing for those who faced hours of boredom was his ability to determine what colour chalk a boy would have to eat for audibly farting during this lengthy period of enforced classroom silence. Now one has to understand that dinner provided by the school cook "Numbers" often left one with little option and the variety and length of the sound of the offending fart was often only matched by its potency.
Black chalk was the worst, yes we had black chalk specially supplied for the purpose of dealing with the worst offenders. It was amazing how this useless colour would be the first to disappear from a new box of coloured chalks. Often prep would break down into a complete farce with a sequence of farts, some quite tuneful, being accompanied by muted giggles the handing out of multi coloured chalk and the grimaces as one had to deal with the stink that was sure to follow. When I was the recipient of the dreaded chalk I used to munch on it until it was ground into powder the foul taste making me want to gag. My BIC pen would then become a useful repository for the mush that I could not swallow. Many of my pens died an early fate thanks to an ill timed fart and chalk stuffing. I know that this subject sound very base but it is one of the sharpest memories I hold of my time here.
I touched on food and with that I cannot move on without mentioning Michael Cartwright a truly colourful character who hated butter. You all know how high the ceilings in the dining rooms are, well Cartwright would place his portion of butter on the end of his knife and when the prefects at the top table were not looking his way flick it onto the ceiling. His accuracy was quite astounding and within months a growing mass of putrid green mushy mouldy butter had accumulated on the ceiling above our table.
Image right: the ceiling where the butterball sat... waiting.
I kid you not when I say his disgusting hanging creation would have weighed a couple of pounds yet somehow went unnoticed by the cleaners as it hung there ominously.
Now we have all heard about Newton and gravity. Well this growing butter ball had to come down sometime and it did. The junior dining room was also used for watching films. That night James Bond aka Sean Connery was on the screen and his beautiful cohort Jill St John was bounding across an off shore oil rig in a bikini.. Bond and beauty called for a full house and it was. The boys were obviously riveted with the spell of the beautiful bikini clad red head. At the critical moment as Jill St John cavorted in her bikini across the oil rig there was a horrendous thump followed by a screech of pure terror from the front row. It was Cartwright's massive butter ball falling from the ceiling and somewhat opportunely in the lap of a Prefect who had claimed this prime seat near the screen but directly below the unseen impending danger.
This obscene moment was probably the highlight of my time at Michaelhouse.
In later years, no matter how hard your time here might now appear, you will have moments like this that you will forever hold dear to your heart. Moments that will make you laugh long and loud until your dying day.
Like any good story there has to be a story of sex and there was in this isolated male-only island. The station master at Balgowan had a daughter in her late teens and it became known that she was open to late night visits from boys. She was the cause of the headboy of one of the houses losing his hallowed position after being caught returning from the station in the early hours of the morning. Then there was young James who was caught on his way to the station three times in the same week by a master, Johnny Lowe, despite punishment and threats!
Life for me was not so exciting. Much of my time here was spent on the run escaping the barbs and ridicule of the in crowd. Life at boarding school is hard for many and I was no exception. The only area I excelled was in athletics and more particularly long distance running earning me the nickname of "Bushman".
endearing images of what was my
Today despite the seemingly oppressive time I had at boarding school I survived and the mental toughness I gained, the discipline of the bell, the inherent value of standing up for what is right and my ability to empathise with the underdog has since proved invaluable.
You see from hardship grows opportunity, memories maketh the man - probably the most important life lesson I have ever had the privilege to suffer. That's why Japan is today a world power and why so many millionaires have started with nothing and why so many sons of millionaires have squandered their inheritance and live out their lives on the street. Life, like a box of chocolates, is full of parodys. So for all those out there who feel like the whole world is on your shoulders enjoy the journey because you are going through unique character building for life outside boarding school. You are privileged because you cannot gain this sort of life lesson at an ordinary day school. You have to tough this out alone and enjoy the rewards later.
Simply put life outside these four walls is very different if it wasn't I wouldn't be talking to you today.
Remember what I said earlier Carpe Diem .
My life journey since boarding school has been a rocky road and far from perfect apart from a broken marriage so common today I have made my mistakes but most importantly I have found a passion for life.
Passion is what drives the world, passion creates desire and desire creates determination and determination allows you to follow and achieve your dreams however far fetched they might appear. But without focus passion can have no direction - in fact it is my ability to focus and my love of research which has underwritten my success in life.
When I left Michaelhouse I joined Barclays Bank now known as ABSA. I had ten years at the bank as a bank teller sometimes acting as branch accountant and for a while taking on a branch Marketing role. My work at the bank stimulated my interest in old coins an interest which had been first sparked by a large old silver Egyptian coin that my father had given me while I was at Cordwalles. Now that silver coin, the size of the old South African crown, you can see on the screen is without doubt the most influential factor in my life. In many ways it has defined my life
While at the bank I started collecting old tickeys, sixpences and pre-decimalisation coins building quite a collection over many years as I became a passionate numismatist. At Barclays Bank in Ixopo I was sent to the agency at Umzimkulu in 1976. It was a place which really has to be on the short list of one of the dead end places on earth!
As fate would have it I had retained my British citizenship and South Africa had just split the country up into a dozen small homelands which included East Griqualand being named the Transkei. Of course Britain who had been responsible for some of the most outrageous human rights abuses in the past now took the moral high ground and refused to recognise "Apartheid" or the homelands. What short memories they had when one considers what they did to the Griquas..
Regardless of the political ramifications as a bank agency teller I had to drive the bank van through the new customs post on the Umzimkulu River run by the Transkei homeland and each day I had the same problem. Because I had a British passport I had to present this each time I passed through with a completed immigration form. Half an hour would be wasted while I waited for my book to be stamped, a ridiculous and time wasting formality! The officious man who headed up the Customs Post despite my complaints refused to see reason and enforced this daily ritual.
This all changed when it came to pay day for the Customs man who had made my life hell. You see he had to come to my bank agency to cash his government cheque. Pay back was so sweet. Several hours later he left after joining every queue several times at my personal direction. When I eventually cashed his cheque I raised the sensitive issue of my British citizenship and the charade at his Customs Post. A deal was quickly struck. I just had to say the magical word "Bank" and I would be allowed to pass through Customs with no delays, in fact Customs staff had a look of fear in their eyes when I uttered the magic word even if it was at 10pm at night.
It was at Ixopo that I first heard of trade token coins, coins that were created and used by businesses and Griquas in the 1800s when regular coinage was in short supply.
While based at Ixopo I had the unique opportunity to go and dig up an old dunny or field toilet that had not been used for nearly thirty years. My treasure was aluminium trade tokens issued by Frances Charlotte Larkan. I used a mud map to track down the hollow in the ground and started digging. Many hours later I had dug to a depth of six feet and was getting desperate to find these illusive coins when it started to rain.
Perhaps I should explain. The years of use by the farmer and his wife in the dunny had over time become dry and, like powdered Pro Nutro, had no taste as long as it remained that way. The reason I dug with a handkerchief across my face.
As the first drops started to fall I desperately put my hand into the powdered excrement below my feet and found the first of nearly one thousand coins that I dug up over the next twenty minutes. I had literally hit pay dirt. By the time I had stopped looking I was covered in you know what but had a wide smile while my lips stayed sealed.
Today these coins are worth over ZAR 1000 each.
Life is full of challenges and crossroads and what each and every one of you boys will find is that when things seem at their worst there is an opportunity presenting itself to you. My literally shoveling excrement to find this buried treasure might seem highly unusual but it simply highlights the often distasteful things you will have to do to be presented with an opportunity. And when that opportunity presents itself Carpe Diem seize the day!
The company in East Griqualand that issued this country's most famous trade tokens was Strachan and Company as they were the first indigenous coins used in South Africa.
Not long after digging up the Larkan pieces I was presented with the opportunity to research the Strachan and Co trade tokens and since then my research has resulted in the rewriting of South African numismatic history with these simple brass pieces now being accepted as the first widely circulating indigenous coinage in South Africa.
It was at this time, in the late 1970s that my interest in the Griqua people started to grow. I had met a few of the Griquas at Barclays Bank at Ixopo and was always disturbed by the appalling manner in which they lived and were treated. Over the next thirty years I would build up the finest collection of Griqua coins, books, memorabilia and documents in the world today.
During this period of my life a lot has happened.
I left Barclays Bank in the early 1980s after nearly ten years service and in 1986 immigrated to Australia where I set up the country's first computer based marketing company. My clients included most of the top ten companies in Australia and as a result I employed fifteen staff. In 1994 my company won a prestigious award after a software product we had created for QANTAS, the country's major airline, was recognised as the most innovative Windows based programme developed in the country.
That year I established the first web building company in Australia and two years later the first on-line daily newspaper which resulted in an enormous following from all over the world. The newspaper really opened my eyes about the fifth estate and the manner in which media proprietors use their empires to manipulate people and bring down governments who do not bow to their selfish dreams.
Today I own a publishing company, web building, web hosting and on-line marketing business, a travel company which is going global and a CCTV security company - link.
In the last ten years I have written seven books which largely challenge the ethics of government and the global media which have, thanks to the Internet, been exposed as so transparently self-serving. My first book "Murder by Media, death of democracy in Australia" published in 1999 was banned in Australia's largest chain of book stores just two weeks after publication at the direct command of Australia's richest man the late Kerry Packer because it accurately disclosed his tax avoidance strategies. The banning was the best thing that could have happened as the Internet community, a segment of society the mainstream media had no understanding of at that time, immediately embraced the book and it became an overnight best seller. In fact it was the first Internet best seller as anarchists and thinking people from all over the world ordered the book that had so raised the ire of Australia's most powerful media baron.
Within six months of the launch of Murder by Media the Australian mainstream media, through Rupert Murdoch's newspaper The Courier-Mail, embarked on a malicious campaign against me. In 1999 I was arrested for exposing a pedophile teacher who was acting as the deputy Speaker in the Queensland Parliament. For those who want to find out more on this sordid demonstration of abuse of power in one of the world's greatest democracies I refer you to my book "Enemy of the State" which is currently being put into a film documentary by an independent Melbourne based film company. Sometimes ethics and beliefs come at a price - but never lose track of YOUR vision.
Over these years my focus of interest in the plight of the Griqua people in South Africa continued to be my passion and main area of research.
Has everybody here heard of the Griquas? They were an extremely part of our history and this country's first voortrekkers.
When one studies the history of the Griqua people one can see why I sympathized with this multiracial community who's culture was systematically destroyed by the Dutch in the 1700s, who's lands were taken from them by the Boers in the 1800s and who's final homeland was annexed and taken away from them by the British in 1878.
It is a fact that the Griquas were the world's first multi racial community.
I was horrified by what I found; the manner in which white man's laws had been used as a more powerful and debilitating weapon than any other to strip the coloureds of their land. This was their democracy in action!
My current collection of about 150 old books and documents related to the Griquas, some unique and many extremely rare, tell a sorry tale of how white man's colonization of this country and Australia had nothing to do with humanitarian roots and everything to do with the philosophy that greed is good.
I decided to write a book about the Griqua people presenting their history from an easy to read perspective rather than the often bigoted or highly technical and historically incorrect works that have already been published during the Apartheid era. It is an amazing story which has never been fully told. The Griquas, the original Voortrekkers of Southern Africa were wiped off the historical map when I was studying South African history at school.
As a result my book is written in the form of a novel where a white grandmother and her grand daughter play the central characters at a farmhouse at Matatiele. While the central charcters are fictional the body of this work is the most factual history of South Africa's original pioneers ever put to print.
The 400 page book "Children of the Mist, the lost tribe of South Africa" will be released to the public next year (2007) but I have printed twenty limited edition pre-launch hard copy books which are individually numbered and signed. These presentation copies are being given to museums and historians in South Africa who have assisted me in putting this work together and a copy has already been given to a production company in Johannesburg who are interested in making a film based on the book.
What makes Griqua history so difficult is the fact that it was never recorded by the illiterate people themselves. It was the early explorers, missionaries, government records and Voortrekkers who reported, often in unflattering terms, about their unique lifestyle and traditions. As you can appreciate there are times their history becomes terribly complicated and shrouded in deceit in its translation. Never more so than the period following the Great Trek when the Griquas were literally thrown off their own lands by the Boers who established the Orange Free State after the British threw them out of Natal. And what an extraordinary people they were. For example we have the proud Bergenaars who rode horseback through much of central South Africa in the early 1800s hunting and plundering. If their stories had been documented they would have been treasured today but mostly they weren't. The Bergenaars unique process of producing biltong remains one that few would have the stomach to use today. The raw meat would be placed in strips between the skin they used as a saddle and the horses back. As they rode the horses sweat would add flavour and slowly cure the meat not the sort of lunch I would want to go home to but the innovation of the process is somewhat predictable in the harsh lives of the Griqua. Among their number were Hottentots, Bushmen, coloureds, Dutch settlers, Malay, slaves, Korana, Xhosa and so many more peoples - all living together in small communities dotted across the region from Griqua Town to Philippolis and Kuruman to Colesburg.
Into their midst came famous missionaries like Dr Livingstone, famous businessmen like Cecil Rhodes and famous politicians like Paul Kruger yet their important role in our history has somehow been largely overlooked by white historians. In fact some of you might never have heard of them.
This book, for the first time re-writes much of South Africa's early history and records the trials of the Griquas, South Africa's first Voortrekkers and their devastating great trek over the Drakensberg that led to their final stand in East Griqualand in 1878 when they were soundly defeated by the British who had earlier illegally annexed their land.
What I have learnt through my years of research is the incomprehensible and inexcusable manner in which superior and stronger cultures like those of the Dutch, Boers and the British used western logic and rules to suppress those who stood in the way. The book is a tragic tale of deceit and oppression justified by all sorts of western legislation and logic; rules that the Hottentots, Griquas, Bushmen and other native tribes in this region had no chance of understanding.
When van Riebeeck landed in 1652 there were an estimated 200,000 Hottentots in the Cape - today not one purebred Hottentot survives. One of the biggest killers was smallpox a disease introduced by the passing sailors. This disease devastated the Hottentot tribes. Today it is the Griqua people who represent the last link with the original inhabitants of the Cape, the original Griquas being the coloured off spring of the Hottentots and the first Dutch settlers. At their peak in the early 1800s they ruled a piece of South Africa the size of the Transvaal but today they live in small scattered communities around the country as far removed as Ratelgat in Namaqualand to the west Kokstad to the east Plettenburg Bay to the south and Griqua Town in the Karoo.
The last full blooded Hottentot lived in the back yard of an Indian's property in the remains of a water tank in Greytown, dying in the early 1970s. My Mother was the Town Clerk's Private Secretary in Greytown at the time and often spoke of the appalling conditions this man, so historically significant, had to endure at that time. The Bushmen have faired little better.
This is the reality of white colonization on this part of Africa.
Over the years my interest and involvement in the history of the Griqua people has drawn me to the plight of traditional cultures unaffected by white greed.
There aren't many left but in my region of the world there are the Fijian people who still live in the same villages and share the same community based lifestyle that dates back to long before they stopped their cannibalistic ways and turned to Christianity.
Until recently there was nothing of value to plunder from the Fijian islands but in recent years tourism in one of the world's greatest paradises has taken an ugly hold in this age of globalisation as multinationals and big business have moved in and started exploiting the cheap labour in the villages.
Here are some photos that I have taken in Fijian villages.
The traditional culture in some villages has now disappeared but luckily in most it remains with kava and the matagali or elders still being the central forces behind village life. In those villages now falling under the spell of white business the young men have left and the cultural fabric, as a result, has started to unravel.
My involvement with the Fijian tourism industry came about by accident. I was staying at a five star hotel on the Coral Coast of Fiji's biggest island bored out of my mind so I decided to embark on a day tour to a village. I met the Chief during the tour and we got chatting - he even gave me his card!
His village was remotely located on one of the most beautiful spots on earth, the junction of two rivers, and the sort of location that you see in the movies.
When I went to Fiji again in 2003 I stayed at his village and met a few of the Chiefs from neighbouring villages. Over the kava bowl one evening the idea of village homestays was born. Through my web building company I was able to start a tourism enterprise, FijiBure.com, offering village homestays to guests in direct competition to the hotels that were springing up across the islands. While numbers of guests are kept to a minimum at any time to ensure the impact of strangers does not impact on village life the benefits have been enormous. And for the guests this has provided a unique, cultural Fiji holiday.
Today we have eleven villages participating and as a direct result the villagers are now learning how to cater for tourists and build their own tourism industry. Several more are waiting to join. The cash that is coming into their economies is revitalizing the villagers with cottage industries and the poverty being lifted. More importantly the hotels are being forced to improve the salaries and work conditions of the Fijian staff.
Last year over two hundred and fifty thousand rand went into these villages money which has been used to rebuild community halls, establish cement paths between huts, build schools, sponsor children and install generators. Most important of all their traditional community culture remains the bedrock of the homestay business - lose that and you lose your market. A fact that the participating villages know all to well.
Such has the success of the project been that the Great Council of Chiefs in Fiji, the highest authority in the land, has given it their personal blessing and support a very rare recognition.
There is nothing that gives me greater joy than to see the smiling faces of the children and parents in Fijian villages where the benefit of their endeavours in providing a holiday destination in their village has changed their lives. Villages that once struggled to provide clothing for the children now provide electricity in the evening, proper medicine and micro financing projects funded by guests and administered by the village elders.
Through the project the education of a large number of Fijian children are now being directly sponsored by guests without the need for a third party or their often top heavy administration costs.
One necessity of life, food, has never been in short supply in the Fijian villages - the fish abound in the sea and coconut trees and plantations of cassava, bananas, pineapple and other healthy foods grow in abundance. It is this same food that has become a big draw card for guests who are happy to live with cold showers and limited facilities in exchange for the experience of becoming a villager for a few days.
I am now taking the concept of village homestays global. If you go to our portal at villagehomestays.com you will see our mission which is to preserve traditional culture, provide sustainable tourism and inject badly needed cash into impoverished communities.
One of my objectives during this South African visit is to establish a branch of this project in this country and I am hoping to start with at least on Zulu and one Griqua village as homestay destinations. The Griquas have just set up a cultural tourist site at Ratelgat north of Cape Town and I will be meeting with their elders, the le Fleurs, in the next week to discuss how we can help them make this work.
Carpe Diem seize the day, I do this every day and never regret the simple philosophy. How do you seize the day?
In closing I would like to present a copy of my book "Children of the Mist" to the school library but would offer this word of caution. The book comes with a genuine Strachan and Company trade token coin over 130 years old attached to a leather bookmark which, apart from its unique history and scarcity values this book at thousands of rand. So I would suggest the library keeps it in a safe place!
Unfortunately I do not have any copies of this book for sale today but if the school is interested I will make them available when it is released to the general public next year.
"Children of the Mist" will be launched in October 2007.