The Tamsen Chronicles

Yamba’s African Connections

One of the great international personalities I met in Africa when working there as a foreign correspondent and journalist over 50 years ago was a best-selling author and one-time game hunter who interestingly had a long living connection with Yamba.

The strong chested man I am referring to is Robert Ruark who wrote many books, including a definitive best- selling novel on Kenya’s Mau Mau insurgency under the title of “Something of Value.”

Known to me and others colloquially as “Bobby,” Ruark was an American writer who had lived in Sydney. There, he met up with an Australian family and with whom he had immediately struck up a close friendship.

After a time, wanderlust set in and Bobby decided to travel to Africa to write and work as a hunter with a safari firm. After the start of the Mau Mau secret organisation’s terrorist warfare, I met him and offered him copies of some of my news reports which he used as background information for what turned out to be a widely read novel in the 1950s and up to the present day.

Imagine my utter surprise, however, when I came to Australia decades later and lived in Yamba, only to discover by sheer chance that my former writing colleague was a household word in at least one home in our town.

I understand that, while he was in Kenya, Bobby corresponded with his Australian friends and with their young school-going daughter who now, many years later, lives in retirement in Yamba.

When I happened to socially meet this person and her husband in the Lower Clarence a few years ago, I was shown a number of letters which Bobby had sent her while still at school together with signed first editions of one or more of  his books.

What a small world, I thought, finding my old colleague’s written words carefully and lovingly preserved in our town after all these years. But, once again, at about this time I met another couple, John and Glen Lloyd, in Yamba after taking up residence here, only to find that they, too, were related to another of my best East African friends, Mervyn Cowie, the man who overcame stiff government opposition to start national parks throughout Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika.

Once again,  I experienced yet another of life’s coincidences. Not only did Bobby and Mervyn have deep connections with my Yamba half a world away but they were also good friends in Kenya.

And how did I know this ? Both men were part of a threesome for a time. We were often to be seen together in Nairobi’s old Torrs Hotel which served the big game hunting community and hangers-on like me.

As for Bobby Ruark, he hit world headlines when he at one time revealed after considerable research that the 23-year-old son of Nelson Rockefeller, a one-time vice-president of the United States, had been cannabalised in Dutch New Guinea, now South Papua and currently under Indonesian control.

The young American adventurer had apparently sailed there by yacht and had met his end on a local beach at the hands of belligerent tribespeople.

Bobby’s written revelations were quickly denied by the U.S. Government fearing diplomatic problems but it took until 2014 for a forensic expert and writer, Carl Hoffman, to prove as conclusively as possible that  Bobby’s original assertions were correct.

Another very interesting fact about Robert Ruark’s writing abilities appeared to me after he published yet another novel “The Honey Badger.” This was a book about a fantasy journalist, Alec Barr, who travelled the world and died of cancer of the throat.

When I happened to read the novel, it was after Bobby’s sad death and I suddenly realised that he had written it as a factual, but disguised account, of his own rumbustious life — and he had killed off his hero by making him suffer the same medical problem which eventually ended his own life, well after he had completed the book.

Since that day, I have always wondered whether Robert ‘Bobby’ Ruark had in fact foreseen how he would leave this globe of ours —  or was it a matter once again of sheer coincidence ?