After an exciting day with black rhinos in the desert of Damaraland, we headed back to our base camp for dinner.
As we drove back into camp, Jakob, the juvenile hand-raised oryx, trotted up to our vehicle to greet us. He was in a playful mood, and as Austin, Emsie, Chris and I walked to the main tent for dinner that night, Jakob tentatively stretched out his warm nose to catch the scent of my hand. After identifying me as a potential playmate, Jakob immediately dropped his head and arched his long horns towards me as though I were another oryx ready to engage in a game of head-butting. I had observed oryx fighting with horns interlocked in the past, and despite Emsie’s assurances that this play was simply Jakob’s way of preparing to fight other males when he reached adulthood, I wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about me. I quickly sidestepped Jakob and there was a resounding clash as his horns connected with the torch I held in my hand. As I turned to ask Emsie’s advice, Jakob again lowered his horns and shoved me from behind. I looked down and saw each of Jakob’s long horns protruding from under my arms on either side of my waist and I felt his head against the back of my legs. I twisted around to face Jakob, grabbed both his horns with my hands and began to wrestle him backwards as best I could, pushing as I had seen Emsie do when she played with him. Then Emsie came to my aid and continued the game, forcing Jakob away from me. With a light slap on his rump, Emsie sent Jakob trotting off and we went to sit around the open dining area usually reserved for the guests, which overlooked the camp fire.
As soon as Emsie left to check on dinner, Jakob was back. His hooves clattered over the wooden floor as he entered the dining area and unceremoniously stuffed his nose into the fruit bowl. Austin and I laughed, which brought Jakob trotting to the table, and he sniffed at my hand as I sat wondering what he would do next. At that moment, Emsie returned and Jakob was chased out of the dining area. Our conversation over dinner focused on Chris’s next attempt to return Jakob to the wild, which was set for the very next evening after Austin and I were due to depart. Chris intended to take Jakob out onto the desert plains in a safari vehicle with the help of the staff, camp there overnight with him, and return to Rhino Camp the following day without him. We all smiled knowingly, realising that in all likelihood, Jakob would simply trek through the desert back to Rhino Camp once again, rather than joining a herd of wild oryx. Emsie thought that by the time Jakob matured at two years old, he would most likely leave of his own accord when he smelled a receptive female oryx, but he was becoming a large and powerful animal in the meantime and Emsie and Chris worried about what he would get up to when they occasionally left Rhino Camp for Swakopmund, necessitating his swift return to a more natural lifestyle among his own kind.
Austin and I left the next morning, saying goodbye to Emsie, Chris, Tier and Jakob before climbing into the Mazda. We would have no way of knowing how Chris fared in his latest attempt to convince Jakob that he was supposed to be a wild animal, as it was not easy for us to contact Rhino Camp and we knew that Emsie and Chris were considering leaving it for another camp in the far north of Namibia. Perhaps one day, years into the future, Austin and I would encounter Jakob as a magnificent adult oryx, running with a herd of his own in the wilds of Namibia. Chris thought if that happened, Jakob would probably come to us, so there would be no mistaking him!
On our way out of Rhino Camp, we passed the veterinary game fence erected by the government to keep wildlife away from cattle, which the farmers and officials believe can spread foot and mouth disease to their cattle. To the best of my knowledge this has never been proven and the disease continues to spread despite the fence. The game fence stretches across the entire country and prevents some wild African animals from migrating. As we drove alongside this fence to reach Palmwag, we found crows and jackals feeding on the carcass of a springbuck that had died when its leg became twisted and caught in the fence. It must have been a horrible death.
When we finally made it home to Swakop, we were delighted to find that more 12 months after my relocation to Namibia, my Namibian temporary residence permit had finally been granted for a period of a further 12 months. Shortly after that while Austin filmed elephants in Sri Lanka, I was informed that his Australian temporary residence visa had been approved as well. Slowly it began to sink in that after a year of struggling with paperwork and government departments, we no longer needed to fear being separated as we could both finally remain in each other’s countries for the immediate future. In the long term, we hoped we would have the best of both worlds as often as we wished, finances permitting, and assuming that my Namibian permit would be renewed again in a year’s time.
A couple of days before Austin left Sri Lanka, his new South African passport was sent back to me from the Australian consulate with his Australian visa inside, and when Austin returned to Swakopmund, we celebrated with a bottle of champagne and talked through all our plans for the future.
We emerged slightly fuzzy-headed from the bedroom the next morning after our night of celebration and picked up Austin’s passport, wanting to reassure ourselves that the Australian visa was in fact really there. We glanced at the sticker pasted onto the page and broad smiles lit both our faces. Then my eyes swept the visa and settled on a short sentence in small print that stated ‘INITIAL ENTRY BY 03NOV08.’
‘What?’ I exclaimed. ‘It looks like you have to go to Australia by 3rd November!’
‘That can’t be right,’ Austin stated reasonably. ‘It’s already the end of September. Someone would have told us long before now. No one ever said anything about an initial entry date.’ But the longer we stared at the fine print, the more our confidence in our situation deteriorated. We immediately contacted the relevant authorities and it was soon confirmed that Austin must indeed enter Australia for the first time on his new visa absolutely no later than 3rd November, or he would forfeit the visa that we had worked so hard for.
‘This is unbelievable!’ I moaned. ‘As you said, it’s the last week of September and you have to film again in less than three weeks! How are we going to get to Australia before then?’
‘We’ll just have to drop everything and run,’ Austin decided. And that’s exactly what we did.
A few days later, having booked a place to stay near my family in Sydney, and having organised for Tigress Productions to fly Austin from Australia to his next film location in Ecuador and then back to Australia again before the next proposed shoot in Borneo, we packed for an indefinite stay and flew from Walvis Bay to Johannesburg where we spent the night before boarding our plane to Sydney.
We were in a state of high excitement as we waited for the plane to take off. It was the first time we had flown to Australia together, and I was looking forward to introducing Austin to the rest of my family and for us to see my parents again for the first time in seven months. As we buckled ourselves into our seats and prepared for take-off, the captain’s voice announced over the PA system that one of the passengers had lost his passport somewhere on board the plane, and that we would not be able to depart until the passport was located. Everyone joined in the search and half an hour later, the passport was discovered underneath a chair with someone’s discarded jacket partially covering it. A cheer went up from the crowded passengers as they were all asked to return to their seats and fasten their seat belts. I squeezed Austin’s hand as the plane’s engines roared to life, and then suddenly the clouds over Johannesburg dumped a torrent of steady rain on us. I slouched back in disappointment as the plane went still and the captain’s voice once again crackled over the PA system and informed us that due to the storm raging above, it would be unsafe to take off. For the next two hours, we waited for the storm to pass. Just as the thought of the long flight ahead was becoming unbearable, the plane began to taxi down the runway and another loud cheer reverberated around the aircraft.
‘Yeah! Take us home!’ an Australian girl in front of us yelled happily. We chuckled and settled back in our seats for the journey to our second home.
As the plane approached Sydney some fourteen hours later, the sparkling white sand beaches and lush green bush of Australia’s east coast were visible through the windows of the aircraft. Our tiredness did little to quell our enthusiasm as we landed and the captain announced our arrival.
‘For all the visitors traveling with us today, welcome to Australia,’ the captain said, ‘and to all the Australians on board, welcome home.’ I took Austin’s hand and we made our way to the front of the plane and entered the airport. Austin’s new Australian visa allowed him to clear immigration quickly with the rest of the residents and it was not long before we were making our way through customs.
‘Anything to declare?’ asked the customs officer.
‘Just some medicines that we bought overseas,’ I replied. The customs officer glanced up to see Austin standing behind me and a glimmer of recognition infused his face.
‘You don’t have any snakes in there, do you mate?’ he asked with a smile.
‘No, there’s plenty to photograph in Australia already,’ Austin replied.
‘Welcome to Australia,’ the customs officer said. Smiling, he ushered us through to the arrivals section of the airport. As we rounded the corner, I saw my mother, Carolyn, waiting for us despite the fact that our plane was more than two hours late after the delays we had experienced in Johannesburg. She ran towards us and threw her arms around us both before escorting us out of the airport. We talked animatedly about our journey and marvelled at the beautiful, sunny weather as Carolyn drove us to her home.
To be continued in Chapter 40, when I show Austin around Sydney, and he begins to notice some worrying symptoms…