David Leesley

Ship name / Flight number: QF 002

Arrival date: 19/05/1974

The experience of a Lifetime

To plunge from the old-style elegance of a Commonwealth Government House to the wildest depths of Africa seems too great a contrast for anyone who has got used to living in this manner but to 22 -year-old David Leesley; home on a brief visit, contrast and challenge is exactly what he is always looking for.

In fact David, who emigrated to Australia in 1974, had spent 18 months on a remote sheep station in North­ West Queensland as a jacaroo – a trainee station manager – immediately prior to his next job as, believe it or not, third footman to His Excellency the Governor of Victoria, Sir Henry Winneke.

After six months during which he progressed to first footman, David was given six months leave. Ready for another opportunity to test his powers of endurance, he chose to go on a grueling, exciting and at times terrifying adventure – packed expedition right up through Africa, from which he has returned to visit his mother, Mrs Margery Leesley, and twin brother Barry at their house at The Willows on the Ballamodha Straight, Ballasalla.

David attended Victoria Road and Castle Rushen High Schools and obtained diplomas in horticulture at Darlington Hall College. “I have always wanted to travel and like excitement. At school I was a bit of a loner,” he said. “Ever, since  I was nine I ‘wanted to visit Africa.

So at the first chance after he left college, he joined a three weeks organised expedition across the Sahara. Several times the party was attacked by Bedouins and mercenaries and was enough to whet the appetite of an adventurous young man with a determination to try anything that came his way.

He joined the Manx Police Force but after three months without major incident be left, deciding to emigrate to Australia.

“It’s a hard country and I wanted a challenge,” he ex­ plained. “When I arrived in Melbourne they asked me what I wanted to do. I said I wanted something different, hard and typically Australian.”

On the sheep station of 28,000 acres, 30 miles from a small town called Julia Creek, he and his boos, a hard man who would not allow a “pommie” to get away with anything, were in sole charge of 9,000 sheep.

David was put through the mill in this barren  country. He became skilled of all the tasks demanded of a good jackeroo – sheering, mustering and droving, welding, driving the huge road train trailers of wool bales, bush fire fighting- this was a frequent and (righteningly un­ pleasant experience in which they lost many sheep – ploughing to prevent the spread of fire, controlling pests; wild boars, parrots, snakes, fleas and foxes, blow fly and locusts, and constructing a wind­ mill.

After 18 months David had had enough of this and had proved one point – that he was as tough as any jacaroo. He travelled Australia, looking unsuccessfully for work-no one would employ a pommie, although he had done his best to lose his ac­cent. Back to Sydney to the Immigration Authorities he went in search of a job, and surprisingly was sent for an interview at Government House. He got the job, but the day before he was due to start, he was knocked down in a street by a vehicle and broke his knee badly. He stayed at Government House till he was out of plaster and then began to learn the duties of a footman. These included looking­ after the Governor, of course, and also visiting dignitaries, of which there were many in the six months he was there. Among the famous people to whom he attended were the Kings of Jordan and Spain. Being trained by a butler, who was himself trained at Buckingham Palace, the standard’s required are naturally very high. On his return next week David will get ready for the highlight of the year – a visit from the Queen. He hopes to stay for another year and complete his training and then, who knows, maybe he will apply for a job as footman in Buckingham  Palace!

Not many people would choose a lifestyle of this sort, which in­cluded an extensive and interesting tour of Victoria State, valeting for the Governor and accompanying him everywhere, to return again for a taste, or rather an overdose, of the hard life, but David Leesley, it seems, has itching feet, and has evidently not seen enough of Africa to satisfy his thirst for excitement.

He booked a place on a 20-man (and woman) expedition from Johannesburg with an Australian friend, Richard Clifford, who also works at Government House. From there began a remarkable adventure in which David and his companions, half European and half Commonwealth men and a few women, were to sample many of the hazards of crossing what is still in many parts a primitive and barbaric country. The driver and the leader of the expedition was a tough paratrooper with considerable experience of these conditions, which was just as well as on earlier expeditions members have not infrequently suffered broken limbs whilst some have unfortunately been killed. David’s adventures even began before the expeditions, as he was attacked from behind in a Johannesburg park by a Zulu with a knife. Luckily he escaped with some nasty knife wounds- the knife struck his identity disc- and he was patched up by Richard.

Setting off on Sep­tember 11th and trekking across Africa in an army truck and trailer – painted brightly to avoid any confusion – they started badly when the cab was smashed in an accident and had to be repaired. David’s job on the expedition was as a packer – a daily job with the trailer and contents.

They crossed the Limpopo river in Botswana where it was immensely hot and everyone was ill. Then they headed west across the blazing Kalahari Desert where bush fires raged. The Okavango Swamps, still in Bot­swana, stretched over a large area, the rough road being built across them. Here the party ventured in dug-out canoes into the swamp, infested in parts with crocodile and other unpleasant creatures.

Entering Zambia the expedition was thoroughly searched and the police, on the pretext of testing the truck’s handbrake, impounded the vehicle for two days. Impatient to get on the party made a nuisance of them­ selves and were finally given back their truck.

They reached Vic­toria Falls – an in­ credible sight, David recalled, after the earlier scrubby and flattened land of the desert. Lush vegetation and fantastic plants interested him, though he confesses that his botanical knowledge did not extend to that of the tropics.

Into Tanzania and to the coast where they camped on the beach at Dar Es Salaam. Here the expedition had to mount a 24-hour armed guard round their camp. As it was a man managed to creep into their camp and  stole £400 from someone’s luggage.

The heights of Mount Kilmanjaro nearly 19,500 feet was their next target, and David is proud of having raised the Manx flag on the summit

After this gruelling experience all were glad of the next part of the journey into Serringetti National Park where they saw a wonderful variety of game with his camera. David has captured lions with their kill, herds of elephant, all types of deer, hyena and some very rare creatures protected in the park.

Next a trip by Landrover  down into the Ngoroniwro crater – an experience vividly surpassed later in the expedition.

More game parks in Kenya offered wonderful sights, most animals being relatively unafraid at a fairly close range. In Nairobi they went wild, with a change of diet and “ate like pigs”, David remembers. They obtained entry stamps their and carried our repairs to the truck. Heading across to Central Africa to the Equator it became progressively colder.

They saw a Brooke Bond tea plantation and headed south in a torrential hailstorm around Lak Victoria. They could not bathe or even wash in the lake because of disease though, the mosquitos were very troublesome. Also the trailer began to break  had  to be repaired. Crossing into Rwanda David and his friends noticed Chinese building the roads and repairing them. They got lost and found they had entered Uganda, so hastily backtracked!

Next came the most unusual and remarkable part of the whole adventure.  “It was experience of a lifetime,”      David, reliving the fantastic  time to Neringongo  volcano. Here they stayed in the foothills and were taken to the mouth of the huge crater by a guide. It was a very stiff  climb up larva rock and reaching the top it was growing dark.  Below “like a giant was the hole, belching sulphur fumes”.  Quite illegally and at great expense several of them were taken by rope down inside the great crater. The bed of it was flat and dark except for the brigh glow from the centre. Setting their cameras, with scarves round their mouths each took turns to run forward to the edge and capture on film the sight of the inside of the volcano. About 100 feet below the sea of boiling larva churned, sending up sprays at intervals.

David has many slides of this incredible venture inside the volcano, a fascinating and awesome sight which he will never forget.

Other dangers followed; Zaire bridges are at best rickety, and at worst collapsible. One did just this as the trailer, fortunately was reaching the far side.

Another time David was helping to haul the trailer wheel out of a gap in a bridge and was flung into the rapids below. He was rescued but had fallen on his· bad leg, which caused him some pain.

Roads in Zaire too, were terrible and often they got stuck. More problems hit the truck and repairs caused delays at Bangui. They camped beneath President Bocassa’s palace on a cliff and again needed an armed guard.

After a dust storm in Nigeria they became marooned for three weeks at Kano, where they were held up by Germans for in­ terrogation. Malaria hit the party, one girl being very ill.

Crossing desert in Niger they saw trains of piebald camels peculiar to the area and continued across the Sahara until Taman­ rasset where more breakdowns occurred.

We lived like bar­ experience but one night saw campfires two kilometers away and walked over. It was   camel train of smugglers, 2 000 smugglers. We drank mint tea and talked to them. That was quite an event.

North Africa was very cold and over the Atlas Mountains into Marocco into the last part of the exhibition. Before catching a ferry to Spain they visited the old Maroccon city of Fez.

The biggest break­ down of all occurred Spain. A mechanic from London with spare parts was flown down, but the  spares were lost by the airline. Eventually they returned via France and the Channel and at Dover abandoned the  now decrepit truck.  Only 10 of the original 20 had completed the journey!

Has David had enough excitement and travel now? By no means. He already has plans for his next leave and hopes to go to Antarctic, and perhaps will return to England via South America, where  he wants to go up the Amazon!

Now a confessed ex- staunch Royalist, after his “inside’ knowledge of royal life, he is looking forward to returning to his duties as footman in Government House. David, apart from the beard, does not look as if he has just completed, this tough exploration, but says he is very tired and has lost a lot of weight.

Not surprisingly he is now planning to write a book based on his recent experiences. He is the only one of the family to enjoy this type of life. Brother Barry is content with rallying and flying for his challenge, which is at least as much as most people would tackle.

Above was sent to BBM in form of a newspaper article. The newspaper published above, is unknown.

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