Starlings Laughing is a vivid memoir of life during the waning phase of colonial Africa. June Vendall Clark came to love passionately the wildlife, people and land of Southern Africa during the forty-three years she spent there. Living with her philandering husband, Robert Kay, on Far Lamorna, a farm in the Rhodesian bush, June surrounded herself with animals, befriended the local Africans and steeped herself in tribal legends. Despite the hardships of farm life and a stormy marriage, the magical quality of the land itself, reflected in the beauty of the changing seasons and in the wild animals, gave her a sense of purpose and belonging.
On a whim, Robert decreed the move to the remote Okavango delta on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Shaku Zulu, a converted army surplus amphibious transporter, made an eccentric but practical home and for eight years they organised safaris, hunted crocodiles for a living and learned the practical lessons of survival in the wild. June became foster mother to lion cubs and other orphan animals, including a serval kitten, a jackal and a buffalo calf – ‘all of which either died or bit people’.
It was an enthralling but difficult existence. On top of endless financial problems, there were tropical diseases, terrifying encounters with killer lions and crocodiles and the final disintegration of the marriage to contend with. But then Robert and June found common cause in a battle to curb the random slaughter of wild animals, mostly by visiting ‘sportsmen’. Decades in advance of today’s concern for conservation, they embarked on a campaign to persuade local hunting tribes to create the Moremi Wildlife Reserve.
This, however, is not just another animal book. Beautifully written, in the tradition of Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa and Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame Trees of Thika, Starlings Laughing is the richly rewarding chronicle of a courageous woman’s extraordinary times, told with honesty and humour.
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