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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

Every Picture Tells a Story (Don't it?) - 07 - Updated

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

Trying to decide earlier on which photo to post today, I saw this and it made me think of The Small Faces and their 1968 hit "Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon"

In fact, I'm fairly sure this shot was taken on a Saturday morning, 45 years ago this week (my Google calendar says that in 1975 that would have been December 6) and despite appearances, the railwaymen behind the scenes would have been working diligently to get the two trains crossing at this well-kept station ready to depart on time.

But where could it be? It is, after all, rather devoid of human form. I don't expect anyone to know the exact location - in part because, like last week's EPTASDI pic, I don't know myself! I've lost my notes long ago. I know the route it is on, but just the country will do.

Rail buffs will be able to have a good guess based on the types of locomotives sizzling in the mid-ground (they were probably built in Gorton, Manchester, England, if that helps).

Botanists will, perhaps, be able to identify the trees. I'm not sure what clues I should give so as not to make it too easy.

OK, because last week was REALLY difficult, and I'm too soft hearted for my own good, I'll tell you that this country has had several names over the years. I can think of four in total and in fact, even since taking this photo, it's had two different names - although I'm not sure the first of these last two was recognised internationally.

I think that's now really a doddle and everyone of the astonishingly knowledgeable people in here will know the answer, so I await a deluge of responses.

I'll post the answer here tomorrow, and add a bit of the back story to boot.


This piccie elicited a wide variety of answers. In truth, I can't really remember even taking it (but it's in my negatives, so I must have done).

The time was towards the end of a 90-day bash to southern Africa. It was in the days when we were limited to taking a maximum of £300 out of the UK (at a rough guess, I suppose that might be the equivalent of £1,500 – say $1,800 today).

There was no internet, no easy way to calculate the prices of things, no real way to book in advance. My pal Jake and I just landed at Jan Smuts Airport, Joburg, took a bus into the city, found a hotel near the station (it was the Elizabeth – you wouldn't walk around this area today, I'm told) and tried to work out what to do.

We knew, roughly, where we wanted to go, which was all over the country; the question was, how to get to these places within our budget. Should be go by train, hire a car, or....?

The next day, waiting in a bank to change money, a friendly fellow next in line got chatting

“You're going round the country for three months photographing steam trains?” he asked, rhetorically. “You'd better get a gun.”

I got the same message twice more in as many days; it was to protect us against 'the kaffirs', you understand. Meanwhile, the next day, on the stairs of a cheapo hotel in the mining town of Springs, one very big white guy threatened that I'd be meeting my maker very soon. He was going to see to that.

But I got away. He was inebriated.

It seemed Jake and I had come to a violent hell hole and had to last three months on £3 each a day. This was going to be a tough one.

I can't go into the full story here (it will take many Every Pictures...), suffice to say we walked into an Avis office, hired a South African-built VW Beetle, and drove off into the veld.

If we were to go down, we'd go down fighting: we'd sleep in the car and eat biltong from stores. We might run out of money, or even be murdered, but we'd get the pictures we wanted of steam in southern Africa.

Fast forward to … ten weeks later. We'd not only survived, nobody had threatened us, bar one white farmer (yes, if you're reading, that's you, near Marlborough, Cape Province), everyone - Boer, Black, Colored, White - had been unbelievably friendly. We'd picked up one black girl near Port Elizabeth with a hole in her head and taken her to hospital – apart from that, violence had been non-existent.

Now, here we were, on the last chapter of the trip. The day before, we'd crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, then the Limpopo River to enter what was then called Rhodesia, a country that was in some kind of legal no-man's land internationally at the time.

Not that this semi-legality seemed in any way personally threatening: not at all. Indeed, the racial tension one could feel lurking below the surface in South Africa was absent in Rhodesia – unless, of course, I was just insensitive.

We had a contact in Bulawayo who'd promised to put us up for a night or two. Let's call him Malan (sorry, I forget his real name). Malan was a steam nut too. We arrived on a Friday evening, washed, slept and eaten, and the next morning, guided by Malan, headed south, along the same road we'd just come up, to photograph the Saturday workings on the 'branch' to West Nicholson.

Not that we went that far. I'd say this piccie was taken somewhere about 15 - 25 miles south of Bulawayo, possibly at Mbalabala – at least that's what it's called today on Google Maps.

The next day we took off for Victoria Falls … and my first taste of mango off a tree. But that's another story.

Now for the hard bit – the long list of hard-core detectives who identified this shot as Rhodesia.

Well, first there are the train buffs, who recognised the Beyer-Garratt locomotives in the pic. (For the non-train buff, Beyer-Garratts were a brilliant British invention designed to fool the Germans into thinking we didn't have enough locomotives to win a war, when in fact we had twice what they thought we had. OK, that's a joke. They were actually two locomotives in one, designed to get more out of the footplate crew. They were especially popular in mountainous countries. See )

John and Albyn got in first, I think and of course, Hubert Poirot Warsmann more or less nailed it soon after. Bill, always in a hurry, said South Africa, but then he admitted not reading to the end, so missed the name-changing bit.

Alex, who knows nothing about trains bar whether they've got a good restaurant car or not, worked it out by knowing the history and using the “built in Gorton, Manchester” bit.

Viktor has a lot of students from “Zim” said wife Benedicte, who thought she identified cacti in the pic (Really? Have you been drinking cacti tea, Benedicte?)

Nick reckoned it might be Rhodesia, based on the fact that it changed its name to Zambia. (Nick, that was the other Rhodesia – the legal bit, to the North.) And Tom, after a lot of prodding, managed to think it might be Botswana or Angola, which wasn't far out – relatively speaking, that is.

Sam did a good job: he recognised the Jacaranda trees (well, that's what he says they are) with the white anti-ant stuff, and even suggested it was in the south of the country, so that's a pretty good go at it, Sam – but then you lived there as a kid, so you should kind of know.

Alan in Dnipro (Dniepropetrovsk as was, Ukraine) came in at the last minute with the right answer too – which I have to say impresses me – except he couldn't think of four name changes, unless you count what he called “that strange thing known only to stamp collectors as Rhodesia-and-Nyasaland”.

Yes, Alan, there was some kind of attempt to unify what was then known as Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland into a federation the 50s, I think. Did they ever have stamps? Maybe, but it didn't really work out and I don't think they ever considered themselves a unitary state.

I hope I've not missed anyone off. For the record, the names I was thinking of were: Southern Rhodesia, then plain vanilla Rhodesia (when Northern Rhodesia became Zambia), then, for a year or two around 1979, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, and finally, after 'legal' independence in 1981 – Zimbabwe.

It seems the 'branch' line to West Nicholson was extended 50 or so miles to the S African border in the late 1990s – no doubt with much World Bank money. Alas, things in Zimbabwe have got so bad that what with theft and general mismanagement, the line is no longer operational at all.

Very sad.

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I think John has it correctly. Southern Rhodesia, Rhodesia and Nyasaland Federation, Rhodesia and now Zimbabwe. Could the location be Bulawayo I wonder?



Pcture 07 - Beyer-Garratts in Southern Rhodesia?

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