Never go back?

They say you should never go back or try to recapture the wonder of places and experiences of your youth. But, while not replicating the original, sometimes the passage of time can make the outcome rewarding and interesting.

On a recent visit to South Africa I decided to take a side trip to the capital of Mocambique, ( a short one hour flight north from Durban) where in 1954 and 1955 I had worked in the radio station as an announcer and producer.

Maputo used to be known as Lourenco Marques, after an early Portuguese explorer, and the entire country was a Portuguese colony.

It was not my intention initially to go to Lourenco Marques as I’d been offered a position with the South African Broadcasting Corporation in Johannesburg. But one day in Jo’burg I passed a large window advertising itself as the office of Lourenco Marques Radio and the Radio Clube de Mocambique. I went in to find out more about this station and place of which I’d never heard, to learn there had just been a resignation.

After a short audition I was offered a position the same day, with the proviso that I started learning Afrikaans and Portuguese. It wasn’t a difficult decision. On the one hand to work for a bureaucratic corporation which was run on similar lines to the old NZBC – or a free-wheeling commercial company in a Portuguese country with a city exotically named of Lourenco Marques. I was on the train next day .

I was introduced to a beautiful colonial city, with a lifestyle that has long disappeared, and was overwhelmed. Some years later in an article for a London magazine, I described it as ‘ The African Riviera … leaving a memorable impression of ancient and contemporary architecture, streets lined with flowering acacias, ornamental buildings and gracious parks – a thriving and colourful port that could sit comfortably in the south of France.

Splendid hotels, and street cafes where Portuguese indulge their partiality for wine and coffee at all hours’…. remember NZ still had six o’clock closing at that time – so no wonder a Kiwi lad was impressed.

The work at the radio station was interesting and rewarding too – well it was there I met my wife – we broadcast on Short and Medium Wave to Africa and the rest of the world in English, Afrikaans and Portuguese and in the days before television the audience was large and responsive in a variety of ways.

So I thought a brief return to see the place with all those happy memories – where I first learned to fly with the Portuguese Air Force – where I got married – and where I left for wider opportunities, could not be too amiss.

I had expected change, but not the virtual disappearance of the old colourful city I had known. Gone the languid way of life enjoyed by the colonials and the few business executives based there. No time for that now, all is bustle and drive, and the thrust of an African country with money and resources rushing to claim a place in the modern world.

Long gone are the statues of Portuguese heroes on horseback in cloaks and costumes and grandiose postures ; replaced now with native leaders in uniforms, from their long struggle for independence.

No longer white houses in the long tree-shaded avenues with Portuguese names, now high rise blocks of apartments and offices in streets identified in the native tongue.

But the old radio station was still there; in the same building performing much the same functions in the same studios and offices. In the studio where I had worked for two years I spoke with the announcer on duty; no turntables , no round clock on the wall -digital now of course, with music downloaded from a Cloud somewhere.

Well, overall, it wasn’t quite what I expected, but worthwhile and a reminder that time changes people and places, but memories remain for another day.

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Allan Martin

Allan Martin OBE, PhD, was the Director-General of the fledgling TV2 and later TVNZ. He was an executive Director of Sky TV and a member of the Zealand Broadcasting Authority. Allan was also a producer/director of Associated Rediffusion (London), Chief Producer for the NZ Broadcasting Corporation and Federal Director Current Affairs, for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation