Hong Kong photographer Peter Wood on his wild Rhodesian days
He went on a leopard hunt at 3, grew up gay and confused until, at 15, an Australian sailor taught him 'about the birds and bees' on a Seychelles holiday, and saw the family farm seized in what by then was Zimbabwe - recollections Wood has shared in a memoir about his roots in Africa, as he tells Kylie Knott
I'm a white, gay Afro-Chinese - so yes, it's confusing! Anyway, let's rewind … my wicked past in Zimbabwe/Rhodesia. Between 1975 and 1979 I kept a diary and the entries form the basis of my memoir, . When a friend returned the diaries to me in 2005, after safekeeping them for years, I was fascinated by how interesting life on the farm was: a mix of politics and sex. As a teenager the most important things are getting laid and getting drunk, but the skin that wrapped around these stories was quite dramatic.
I was born in Harare in 1962, in a hospital called the Lady Chancellor. It was terribly posh and only for white women. My father, John - he never let us kids (brother Duncan and sister Mandy) call him "dad" - had an amazing wit and was a great farmer, hunter and entertainer but he was not so great a husband, or father. He turned up to my birth late and drunk. During the birth, my mum, Libby, my hero, had an out-of-body, near-death experience called a silver cord. She was looking down over us and could see everything and hear the doctors discussing whether to save the mother or the child. Needless to say, a strong bond was formed.
We had a 13,000-acre tobacco and cattle farm, M'sitwe, about 125 miles north of Harare. My father built the house from scratch; he even made the bricks. We lived among leopards, antelope, kudu and a stunning landscape. My father took me on my first leopard hunt when I was three. A female leopard had gone rogue and was killing our cattle. She had to go. We found her lair and could hear her grunting. She knew we were there. Anyway, I peed my pants. I mean, who takes a three-year-old on a leopard hunt?
We'd go on hunting holidays to the Zambezi River. While school friends went to Cape Town and Durban (in South Africa) to shop and sit on a beach eating candy floss, I'd be watching a buffalo get skinned. There were a lot of hyenas - back then we didn't have David Attenborough telling us how dangerous they were. After the hunts we'd skin the animal and use every bit of the beast. We made biltong (dried meat) by putting the meat in a vat with brine and spices and hanging it out to dry. On one trip, the adults stuck the kids' camp dangerously close to the biltong and bone pit. One night we could hear the hyenas giggling and squabbling over the meat and bones. The next morning all that was left was a pile of hooks used to hang up the meat just yards from our tent.
If we wanted to feel sophisticated we'd go to Mozambique. Beira was a swinging flea pit of a city with overflowing sewers but great food. All the grown-ups went to a place called the Moulin Rouge. It was full of whores and thieves and s*** kickers.
On one visit our friend Des Bentley fell neck deep into a sewer full of s***. His wife was in the nightclub with the hotel room key, so he walked into the club, asked Myrtle for the key, walked to the beach, buried his clothes and cleaned off the s*** in the sea. He then walked back along the beach, completely starkers, into the hotel lobby, showered and changed and came back clubbing.
His nickname was Mule Cock and that night many saw why.
The trouble started in 1965; when Rhodesia declared a UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) from Great Britain. The country was dropped like a hot brick by the Commonwealth and sanctions began. The war raged from 1965 until 1980, when Robert Mugabe came to power and, unfortunately, still has it. People ask about race relations but I was a five-year-old with colonial attitudes instilled in me by friends and family and their friends - and the media. But, in particular, by the government. With hindsight I can see how awful the Smith government was (Ian Smith was prime minister of Rhodesia from 1964 to 1979). Smith declared UDI without a referendum. The people didn't have a choice. We adored him at the time and it's easy to criticise in hindsight, but what were we thinking?
Growing up gay in the bush was very confusing. There was no one to turn to - I just bottled it up, became tougher, more rebellious, more rugged; that explains why I was sternly asked by the headmaster to leave Prince Edward High School. When I was 15, my parents took me on holiday to the Seychelles. An Australian submarine, the HMAS Orion, was in port and many of its sailors were staying in our hotel. My hormones were raging and I asked my father if I could join the sailors for a beer. This one guy, with a huge moustache, took me back to the submarine and taught me everything about the birds and the bees - and then some. Two years later, in 1979, when the civil war was at its peak, my father was driving me and my friend James around the farm. Fabergé had just brought out a fragrance called Babe and James and I had a sample from a mag and were smelling it. Next thing John slams on the Merc's brakes, reaches back, grabs the perfume and chucks it out the window yelling, "What the hell's wrong with you? Why don't you smell like a man - like Lifebuoy (an army issue soap)?" And then screams, "And what the f*** did happen that night in the Seychelles?" He'd been brooding on it for two years. It was tough for him.
Mud Between Your Toes: A Rhodesian Farm,