Michael Walker is a man with many stories to tell and an hour spent with him is both stimulating and entertaining.
Born and bred and still living in St James, Michael was schooled at Bishops, where he matriculated in 1957, and then furthered his education at UCT graduating with a B.Comm. To his father’s surprise, he then embarked on a three-year career with the merchant navy in order to see the world. Starting out as a greaser-cleaner with Union Castle, he eventually ended as an assistant purser with Safmarine. In this way he explored the shores of Europe and East Africa and I am sure he has many an anecdote to relate about this period of his life which he so thoroughly enjoyed.
His interest in ships grew and it was the sinking of his ship while on leave that aroused his interest in shipwrecks, the theme of three of his books. The SA Seafarer sank at Moullie Point on 1 July 1966. This signified the end of his seafaring career and seeded ideas for his future foray in writing.
His first book, Shipwrecks of the Far South, is out of print. But Hard Aground: Memorable Shipwrecks of the Western Cape and Forgotten Shipwrecks of the Western Cape are both still available. It is the stories of bravery, drama and intrigue that fascinated Michael.
Shorebound, Michael opened up a fibreglass business with a partner. It became one of the biggest fibreglass companies to supply rainwater products in SA. At the age of 55 he decided to retire, and to keep himself occupied he turned to research and writing history, which was his favourite subject.
Possessed with an enduring interest in trains and railways and a passion for collecting historical postcards, he wrote a book together with the late David Rhind entitled Historical Railway Postcard Journeys in Southern Africa for which he was awarded a Gold medal in 2004 at the International Philatelic Exhibition in Durban. He was also the Gold medallist in 2001 at the International Philatelic Exhibition in Johannesburg for his railway postcard display. All 2000 copies of the book were sold, chiefly to railway enthusiasts and postcard collectors throughout the world. His 2nd book on trains, Steam Train Romance, describing the early development of the railways in Southern Africa, is very successful and still in print.
Continuing with his research via old postcards, the National Library and the Western Cape Archives he turned his attention to writing the history of Simon’s Town and Muizenberg publishing Muizenberg – a forgotten story and Simon’s Town – an historical review with picture postcards of the era (1900-1913) as illustrations.
Architecture is another of his interests and a wish to find out the history of his own home led to his writing the book, A Statement in Stone: The architects and their buildings 1897-1927 at Muizenberg, Kalk Bay and St James which is now in its 2nd edition. He was given permission to research all the architectural drawings at the Western Cape Archives in Roeland Street of buildings erected in Kalk Bay, St James and Muizenberg during the years 1897 – 1927. Muizenberg graphic designer Marianna McCann-Pereira restored the drawings and laid out this most attractive book which is published in colour.
Michael’s latest book, St James, a Place of Dreams 1810-2010, co-authored with Derek Stuart-Findlay will be released at the end of September 2011. It was written to celebrate the bicentenary of this historic suburb. The book will be selling at R300 and can be ordered direct from Michael whose details may be found at the end of the article.
And a novel in the offing? Indeed! Michael is working on a seafaring story, Fools Freedom, which he may or may not publish depending on his personal band of censors! With a grin he adds “If you don’t have a dream, how will your dream ever come true?”
Asked about his childhood in St James, Michael replied that he has very happy memories of fun with friends on St James Beach enjoying activities with the Childrens’ Special Seaside Mission, and the friendly rivalry in rag rugby with the Fish Hoek CSSM group. I wonder how many of our readers also participated in these competitions. Do share your memories with us!
Michael has been a keen golfer for the past 60 years, his father being a founder member of Westlake Golf Club in Lakeside. He captained the club in 1977/8 and was President from 1990 – 95. A comment his father made about golf has stuck with him all these years; “Remember, son, in golf everything counts but nothing matters.”
Could it be that his next book will have something to do with golf?
Should you wish to order one of Michael’s books, you can contact him on 021 788 1927 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of Mike Walker and his wife Di submitted by Mike.