segunda-feira, 17 de janeiro de 2011

Tribute to "Mtwazi's Daughter" - Joan Stafford (nee Potter)

     In Loving Memory & Tribute to Joan Stafford (nee Potter) born on 7 January 1923 at Naboomspruit in the Transvaal - died in Westville, Durban 27 Nov. 2010.

As the year 2010 ended, the Zululand conservation community who had the honor of knowing Joan and the Potter family of Hilltop-Hluhluwe, paused and reflected in a sad but celebratory note of the life of "Mtwazi's Daughter" - Joan Stafford, the daughter of Capt.Harold Potter and his wife Irene, sister to her late brother Peter Potter and mother of Judy & Bruce. Her father was the legendary Zululand Conservator (1929-1950) who pioneered the creation of Hilltop camp in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve during the dark period of the fight for the survival of Zululand's game reserves. Peter her brother was to succeed their father as Conservator of what had now become a proud Zululand wildlife empire, first under the control of the Natal Parks Board, whose work we all cherish to this day which created this irreplaceable Heritage and Legacy which hopefully will remain so for many decades to follow, it's all of our responsibilities to ensure this is achieved.

Joan as a young girl was schooled by a home-governess, thus growing up in the midst of the tumultous era of the "Game Sanctuaries Under Siege" witnessing the grim scenario inherited by Captain Potter when he took over as the Zululand Conservator in 1929, whilst the next twenty years would become a tough uphill challenge, during which time the reserves became dismal killing fields, all in the frantic effort to halt the nagana cattle disease, infected by the dreaded tsetse fly. Under this cloud of extermination of the wild animals placed under his protection, no one could have had a tougher task.Yet he was to succeed in saving the regions last remnant population of Black Rhino, as well as the much applauded rescue of the White Rhino from extinction.

Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Vaughan Kirby (1911-1928) and Roden Symons (1928-1929), who had hastily left his position after only one year to join a Kalahari Expedition as ornithologist and hunter, Capt Potter soon settled in and made his mark by moving the Conservator’s headquarters from Nongoma to Hluhluwe, at which is today the site of Hilltop camp, and which was to become home to the "Potters", in a house rebuilt today as the "Mtwazi Lodge".

    The only known photograph of Joan with her parents and brother. (Caption R to L) - Irene & Harold Potter, Aunt Helen Kelly (Irene's sister-in-law), Joan (centre), the Kelly cousins, Derek Charter & Peter Potter (circa 1933-1935)

The sad news that Joan had passed away after a long illness, mercifully with no suffering, was a great spirtual loss for me as we had become close kindred spirits & "cyber-pen pals" per the kind assistance of her daughter Judy MacKinnon, which resulted in unearthing a rare insight into that pioneer game ranger era of the 1930's during the establishment of Hilltop camp in Hluhluwe, as well as schooling, life and work in the Zululand game reserves.

About Joan & Judy - Joan Stafford (Judy MacMillan is her daughter) came into my life about four years ago at the suggestion of her nephew Derek Potter, ex NPB deputy OIC before moving on in the new era in 1998 to the Kruger/Mozambique Trans Frontier project. Joan, although aging & ill was quite perky and enjoyed the many wildlife photgraphs I sent her, including those of her father in his fight to create & maintain the Zululand game reserves. For years I've had everybody digging for historical photos for my book - as above a 1935/6 pic of her (centre) with Capt Potter wearing his landmark hat plus family.

     This is a 1942 photograph of Hilltop camp - Capt.Potter is standing on the left with a pet young impala - I was six years old and met him each annual holiday thereafter enroute to St.Lucia - the Capt & my Dad enjoyed sundowners together, however I never met Joan who was away at boarding school.

Some wonderful old photos were unearthed BUT most important is that for nearly eighteen months, she would tell me stories in answer to my questions, via Judy for her new friend Tim in Canada - Judy being a teacher with a knowledge of shorthand would return home and transcribe dozens of invaluable snippets & short tales of those childhood memories about the rare experience of life in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve during an era which to date has been ignored and largely forgotten - her memories enrich that era in my book project - "The History of Zululand's Lions & Game Reserves - I'm truly blessed to have forged that wonderful cyberspace friendship, albeit in her twilight years. I'll miss her !!

As a result of getting more material from her than can be used in my book, the plan, together with Judy & family is to publish hopefully later this year a booklet - "Mtwazi's Daughter" - Memories of the early days in Hluhluwe or the Diary of Joan Stafford or similar !!

Sharing some memorable moments in Joan's life at Hilltop !!

     In 1972 the Natal Parks Board opened the Mtwazi Lodge , Joan seen here with her mother Irene and beloved brother Peter, the then Conservator of Zululand following in his late father's footsteps.

     A Poignant Final Farewell to Mtwazi & Hilltop during her last visit in 2008 with Judy and Bruce. One parting moment with a bushbuck beneath the fig tree under which she played as a young girl, enjoying the company of this special antelope in the Hilltop forest.

    Like all those who were priviledged to have known her, I'm truly blessed to have shared that wonderful cyberspace kindred friendship, albeit in Joan's twilight years. I'll miss her !!

Rest in Peace dear Joan - lala gahle !!

Tim Condon

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