Serving King and Queen in Africa

Me in my back garden
Mum and me in our back garden in Lesotho.

I’m so surprised at how emotional I feel that the queen is dead.

My husband woke me up to tell me the news. He’s Norwegian and a staunch Republican. But we wouldn’t be married, and I wouldn’t have lived the life I have had it not been for the British Royal Family. The Monarchy.

I’m the product of generations of adventurers who served a British queen, or king – from Queen Victoria, though to Queen Elizabeth – in various African countries. Three of my grandparents were born during Queen Victoria’s reign, pioneers in their own way, living in Lesotho, Botswana and Tanzania.

We inherit our past and while, today, colonialism, is not something to be proud of, colonialism was very different in every country.

I was born in the 1960s when my dad was a district commissioner, living with my mother in Mokotlong, Lesotho, a mountainous kingdom landlocked by South Africa. Lesotho had become a British Protectorate (not a colony) in 1868 after King Moshoeshoe appealed successfully to Queen Victoria to provide protection from the advancing, warlike Zulu, and the Boers – the other White Tribe of Africa.

Non-indigenous people were not allowed to own land or mine the diamond mines of Letseng le Terai, remote and inaccessible at 11,000 ft. (This is a major setting/subject of my work-in-progress, Diamond Mountain, a romantic suspense set in pre-Independence 1960s Lesotho which is due out on November 30.)

My father, Spencer Nettelton, organised Lesotho’s Independence Celebrations in 1966, and believed it a great honour to serve as secretary to Lesotho’s first democratically elected PM Leabua Jonathan.

Three years later, after a 19-year career in Lesotho, dad felt it was time to resettle his young family. It was not an option to move to Apartheid South Africa just across the border, so mum and dad weighed up whether to emigrate to Canada, the UK or Australia.

They chose Australia.

We returned to Africa frequently as I grew up – our visits incorporating family and friends in Lesotho, South Africa, Bophuthatswana, Transkei, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

At the age of 27, I discovered my grandfather’s pictorial diary, in which he described his lonely treks throughout wild, uncharted Botswana, between 1916 and 1922, mapping the tsetse fly belt (an important job as the tsetse fly causes sleeping sickness in cattle which leads to death).

The diary fascinated me, and I took two months’ leave from my job as a journalist in South Australia to live where grandpa had lived seventy years before.

But instead of trekking through endless sand plains on the back of a donkey, like grandpa, I would manage a luxury safari camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

The day before flying home to Australia to marry my boyfriend of seven years, I met Eivind, the pilot who flew me from my Okavango safari camp – Jedibe, an Okavango Wilderness Safaris camp landlocked by water – to Maun, the dusty frontier village, where I was to pick up my flight home.

So, I married my handsome Norwegian bush pilot and, after years of working throughout Africa and elsewhere in the world, we returned to live in Australia which is where I am, now.

My three grandparents lived through the reigns of five British Monarchs but I have known only one. My father met the current queen on several occasions, first in 1948 when my grandfather hosted the royals during their visit to Botswana when Elizabeth and Margaret were princesses.

And again in 1968 when Queen Elizabeth awarded dad a CBE at Buckingham Palace.

We are a product of so much more than our parents. In our genes we carry the motivations of generations before us, and a love of adventure is built into the DNA of my family.

For all the bad and good of the past, Africa provided plenty of scope. My ancestors were explorers, pioneers, missionaries, and administrators, bringing up families in the caves of Lesotho, reed huts in Botswana, and gracious homes in South Africa.

One thing they all had in common was allegiance to their monarch, a constant in their lives.

I think our late Queen Elizabeth II was a good, dutiful monarch who was a comforting constant in many people’s lives, and so today I mourn the passing of an era.