Monday, April 14, 2014

A nice review from Cape Town

A good review is always a shot in the arm, and for me it's even nicer when it comes from a South African newspaper.

Here's a review of The Prey from Cape Town's Atlantic Sun newspaper, and I gather it appeared in other community newspapers throughout the Cape. (Click on the pic to enlarge).

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Great review of 'The Prey'

(Sydney) Daily Telegraph
Best Weekend
March 1, 2014

The Prey

When Australian author Tony Park penned his 10th African novel about illegal gold mining in South Africa, not even he could have imagined just how prescient his story would be.  Park's new book, The Prey, plots the activities of South Africa's zama zamas (chancers) - and their ruthless leader Wellington Shumba who illegally hunt for gold deep underground in the Eureka mine.  The pirate miners ruled by torture, fear and death threaten the legitimate operations and investments of Eureka's Australian owners on the border of the famed Kruger National Park.  Park, who spends six months of every year living in Africa writing his novels, visited gold mines while researching The Prey and found evidence of illegal mining.  Now news reports from Johannesburg revealing 200 illegal gold miners were trapped, freed and then refused to come to the surface could be straight from the pages of The Prey.  The criminal miners, often illegal immigrants from poor neighbouring countries such as Mozambique and Zimbabwe, live underground in disused tunnels for months.  They are often armed, protecting their operations with military assault rifles and hand grenades.  Park says the mining companies resort to hiring ex-military security people to fight fire with fire and it's not unusual to hear of pitched gun battles - and casualties - underground.  His latest thriller is another ripping yarn based on realistic scenarios in the classic African adventure genre.

Bruce MacDougall.

Friday, February 07, 2014

A quick note on bureaucracy

African friends, I know you all have tales of woe of your dealings of bureaucracy in your home countries, but allow me to quickly share with you my struggles to be paid for my forthcoming US publishing deal.

The US internal revenue service (IRS) requires me to get a tax number as an individual, so that I might then register my little company for tax purposes.  I had no idea what a hassle this was going to be.

To apply for my tax number, using application form W7, I have to do so by mail (and this from the people who invented the internet and online shopping).  In order to do so I need to prove my identity.  So, I need a copy of my passport and, not unreasonably, this needs to be certified.

But will the American government be satisfied with me going to a justice of the peace (as we do in Australia), or the local police station (as we do in South Arica) to have my copy certified?  No.

No, no, no, no, no.  I need to post my passport, a photocopy of it, my completed form W7, a reply express post envelope, AND a cheque for AUD $55 (that's about R550, South Africans) to the US consulate in Sydney so that they can certify my passport photocopy.  In fact, it costs even more than that as they only accept bank cheques - and that cost me another $10.  So it's more like R650 to have a photocopy certified.

Do these people have no money?

Errr.... hang on.  I think that's it.  To be fair, the American government probably has about as much money as Zimbabwe at the moment, but not even Mr Mugabe would have the hide to charge such fees.

Once I get my certified copy of my passport, my passport and my form W7 back (the consulate actually does nothing with the W7, they just want to have a look at it, because they're bored, or curious, or whatever), in five days I can then attempt step 2.

Step two requires me to send the W7 and the photocopy (certified by y'all) to Austin, Texas, where at some point some person will look at it, decide I am who I am, stamp it, and give me a number.  Said number will then be posted (not emailed or processed online) back to me in Australia.  Or perhaps Austria.

And then, I will be able to start the process of registering my company to pay tax, by mailing more forms to the US & A.

Oh, Africa, how I miss you.  At least there all I have to do is go to the counter and ask 'how much'?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Vote early, vote often!

Thanks everyone who propelled me into the finals of Booktopia's Australia's Favourite Novelist, 2014.

Now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of the Parky - yes, I need your vote one more time, dear friends.

Please mobilise all your friends and relations to vote here, for me.

Come on, let's win this sucker, African-style!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Vote 1, me!

In a poll that would put Robert Mugabe to shame, I'm garnering votes to propel me towards being Australia's favourite novelist.  If you'd like to help me, vote here!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Goodbye, Bull

My mum paid me what I think is the ultimate non-fiction writer's compliment the other day.  She said my latest book 'Bush Vet', by Dr Clay Wilson and me, read like a novel.

Mothers are not known for dishing the dirt on their writer children, and it would be a rare parent or other loved one that said 'this book is crap'.  It's not that they don't offer frank assessments - if your nearest and dearest reader says something such as 'Hmm, I'm not so sure about that bit', then you know that's code for 'crap'.

To say a biography (co-written autobiography, in fact) reads like fiction might sound a like a bit of a back-hander, but it's not.  It's what I aim for, to try and make my non-fiction entertaining as well as informative, perhaps interspersed with a bit of drama and tragedy.

Dr Clay Wilson, a South African-born American citizen, worked for a few years as a volunteer wildlife veterinarian in Chobe National Park on Botswana's northern border.  When I first met Clay and his then girlfriend, Laura, Clay was a man literally living his dream.

He'd sold up his profitable veterinary practice in Florida and returned to his native Africa to do what he'd always wanted to do, work with African wildlife.  He was passionate about animals, especially elephants, and he had plenty of work.

Chobe's home to about half of Africa's remaining elephants and it sits right next to the town of Kasane, which itself is close to the borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia.  It's a busy tourist area and a hub for traffic moving through four countries (Namibia's close by, as well).  There are too many elephants and too many people in too small an area and the end result is human-animal conflict.

The Chobe riverfront and surrounding arable areas have seen a massive increase in agriculture in recent years and the population of Kasane has grown.  However, this area is not only a transit route for border traffic - elephants and other game also migrate to and from the river.  Animals are skittled by cars and shot by angry farmers who resent elephants eating their crops and lions eating their cattle.

Botswana may have a reputation for being one of Africa's most stable democracies, with a high GDP and good employment, but that doesn't stop people still setting snares and shooting wildlife for bushmeat.  Poorer people from neighbouring Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia are also on the hunt for ivory and food.

Much - too much - of Clay's work was dealing with the fallout of this never-ending conflict.  He had to euthanise elephants that had been wounded by poachers or those that had ingested plastic bags through feeding from the local rubbish dump.  He saw lions, endangered wild dogs, and hyenas knocked down and killed by speeding cars, and he had to finish off a magnificent male lion that had been left paralysed by a farmer's shotgun blast.

Amidst the day to day sorrow of Clay's job were the success stories, which kept him going.  He saved a waterbuck that had been nearly electrocuted by an electric fence; he freed a baby elephant that had been stuck in the mud at a waterhole (he and the baby were nearly squished when he had to dart the calf's cranky mother and she toppled beside them); he nursed several magnificent birds of prey back to health after they were hit by cars or flew into power lines; and he treated scores, if not hundreds, of other animals injured by snares.

Clay's heart was in the right place but if he had fault (in fact he had quite a few - he was human) it was that his heart ruled him, not his head.  He was quick to criticise the authorities and he was incapable of holding his tongue or acting diplomatically when he saw a problem.  You don't hear much about problems in Botswana - poaching, crime, human-animal conflict - because that's the way the country likes it.  Clay was chastised for having the temerity to talk about these issues on Facebook.

He put his life on the line more than once to protect wildlife - he joined an army patrol chasing poachers down the river in a boat, and got himself into a gunfight with ivory hunters who he surprised while they were still chopping out a dead elephant's tusks.  One of the men who had killed the animal opened fire on Clay with an AK 47; Clay stood his ground and fired back with his own rifle.

Clay was, as my mum pointed out, just like an imaginary larger than life character in one of my books.

The main difference between Bush Vet, Clay's life story, and one of my novels, however, is that my books have (generally) happy endings.  Clay's book did not.

I still don't know exactly why (and neither did he), but Clay's residency permit was cancelled and he was deported from Botswana.  It was probably because he spoke out one too many times, and, true to his nature, called things as they were and not as the authorities wanted them to sound.

Clay was locked in gaol and eventually flown to the United States.  He made a couple of trips back to Africa, to try and forge a new life and rekindle his dream, (after everything he owned was sold at auction by a distraught but courageous Laura back in Botswana).  He tried Kenya, but nothing came of that, and he and Laura split up after she returned to the US.

Clay suffered from pancreatitis and while he told me, a couple of months ago, that the first bout had 'nearly killed him', I assumed, incorrectly, that he may have been exaggerating a bit.  I was wrong.  His subsequent relapses did result in his passing on December 20, 2013.

Clay's dream ended in a nightmare and to his dying day he was still telling friends in the US that all he wanted to do was to get back to Africa and save 'his' elephants.   As his biographer I didn't like him referring to animals as 'his', but I think I may have been wrong to discourage this in his book.

The fact is that there are elephants, waterbuck, impala, buffalo, eagles, hyena, lions, leopards and even a tortoise (whose shell he super-glued back together after it had been run over) that are probably still alive today solely because of Dr Clay Wilson.

One of Clay's friends, TJ Thompson, described Clay on Facebook recently as a 'bull elephant in a China shop'.  I cannot think of a better description for this man, and I am sure he would have appreciated it.

Clay's memorial service is this weekend, in Florida.  I can't get there, but I will be thinking of him.  In my mind, I'll ask my departed friend one final question: given everything that happened would you have still sold everything and gone to Africa to work as a vet if you knew what was to come?

I think I know what his answer would be.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mandela's legacy: a day out in the national park

So, I'm sitting in my Land Rover, driving in the Kruger National Park on my way to Lower Sabie and in the car in front is a family - mum, dad and two kids.

On the back of the car is Blue Bulls sticker - that's the Joburg/Pretoria rugby team.  We've all stopped to look at some elephants and the kids in front are clearly having a ball.  Just another day in the park, right?


This is the day Nelson Mandela is being buried, and what strikes me as really significant, on this day of all days, is that the people in the car in front of me are black.

I've been visiting Kruger since 1995, the year after Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first truly democratically elected president.  One of the things that struck me on that first visit was that I saw no black African tourists in the country's national parks.

For much of the apartheid period black visitors were banned from the parks.  As things started to change they were given limited access to parks such as Kruger and although there was clearly no segregation under law in 1995, when I arrived, culturally this was simply not something African people did.

As the years went on and I continued to visit South Africa I noticed African people were coming to the parks, mostly as day visitors.  These tended to be bus loads of school kids, or sometimes a church or community group coming en masse, for an outing.  Kruger's camp grounds and chalets continued to be the preserve of white South African family visitors and growing numbers of foreign tourists.

I clearly remember the day I saw my first black African family - again, mum, dad and two kids - setting up a campsite.  It was in 2009, just after I bought my new (second hand) Land Rover Defender.  I went over the dad and said Howzit, as you do, and we chatted a while and compared vehicles (he had a lovely new Land Rover discovery).

This may not sound like a turning point in history, but for me it kind of was.  It was a little like the time in early 2010 when my white English-speaking South African friends in Durban proudly took me on a tour of the city's brand new soccer stadium that had been built for the impending football world cup.

Sport, like tourism, was very much aligned to the colour bar in South Africa in the bad old days.  Black people played soccer (football), and white people played rugby.

Yet here were my white friends telling me which world cup soccer games they had bought tickets for.  Last Sunday, there I was behind a car proudly displaying a supporters' sticker for what had, in my lifetime, once been an all-white team in a white man's game.

There was much reflection here in South Africa on Mandela and his legacy in the time between his death and burial (and way too many journalists and public speakers saying 'his long walk has come to an end').

Two things from that time, however, will stay with me: the first is an Afrikaner DJ on Pretoria's FM station breaking down in tears while reading the poem, Invictus, and the second is my wife crying as we listened to an interview with former Springboks Rugby Captain Francois Pienaar talking about the day  his team won the 1995 Rugby World Cup.  Pienaar's one regret of the moment when Nelson Mandela walked out on the field and shook hands with him was that he didn't hug Madiba - he didn't think it would be 'right'.

I am not South African, though I do love this country.  I did not witness the momentous days of Mandela's release and the rocky road to democracy, save for a some half recalled images on a television in Australia.  But I have watched the new South Africa closely over the last 18-odd years.

Things are far from perfect in this country and I could write volumes about the state of contemporary politics how the government has fared post-Mandela, but I will not.

I can, however, tell you now that it is not usual in this country that black families go game viewing in the Kruger park and camp there, nor that my Afrikaner friends' young son is a whizz at soccer, nor that the car in front of me was sporting a Blue Bulls sticker.

People, regardless of colour or creed, enjoying sport - any sport - and revelling in the majesty of their country's natural beautify should be part of a normal, everyday, ordinary country.  And now it is in South Africa.

That, to me, is a good part Mr Nelson Mandela's legacy.

How about you?  What, if anything, did he mean to you?  Do you think Francois should have hugged Madiba (I do)?