Tony Park - International Author

Bwana, There's a Body in the Bath

Tony Park
Books of Africa

Behind the Scenes

"Bwana, There’s a Body in the Bath!" by Peter Whitehead with Tony Park

I often get emails from people asking me to write, or help write their biography or the memoir of a relative or loved one. Inevitably, these people have had interesting lives, but it’s fair to say that when I received an email from Peter Whitehead outlining his life, I was amazed.

Peter Whitehead

Peter Whitehead, aged 97 and still full of vigour.

It was the time of the first Covid lockdowns and I was worried the publishing industry would collapse, so I thought it would be worth contacting Peter to talk to him about his proposal (as it happened, the publishing industry in Australia boomed during the pandemic and I had the busiest two years of my writing career so far!).

Peter Whitehead

Peter on Swindle, in Kenya. Peter's book is full of stories about his deep love of horses, and their unique characters.

Peter and I spoke on the phone – he lived in New Zealand. I agreed to work with Peter on his autobiography not only because the breadth of his experience in Africa interested in me, but also because, like me, he is an Australian military veteran. I found his wartime service fascinating, encompassing as it did both the army and air force during the Second World War.

Peter Whitehead

Peter with other RAAF trainees during WWII

Peter and I spoke on the phone – he lived in New Zealand. I agreed to work with Peter on his autobiography not only because the breadth of his experience in Africa interested in me, but also because, like me, he is an Australian military veteran. I found his wartime service fascinating, encompassing as it did both the army and air force during the Second World War.

Peter Whitehead

Peter (right) with friend Major Ian Grimwood. Ian's ribs are bandaged after he was injured while trying to capture a rare desert oryx in Aden. The heroic effort to save this endangered species is covered in the book..

My wife, Nicola, and I took advantage of a temporary travel 'bubble' between Australia and New Zealand and flew from Australia to a very chilly Christchurch. From there we drove down the east coast of the South Island to the town of Oamaru, where we stayed, and over the course of a week I visited Peter each day in the converted hay shed where he was living.

Unlike most of the other biographies I have written with (equally) interesting people, Peter had written a good deal of his story already. We went through what he had already put on paper and I conducted a series of interviews to cover those periods of his life he had not yet written about.

Interestingly, for me, he had not written much about his time in the Second World War, particularly his service as a trainee pilot and, later, as a gunner on a Liberator bomber. I found this part of his life fascinating.

Peter Whitehead

Bombs leaving a B24 Liberator Bomber. Peter served as an air gunner during the war, as well as in the army.

Aged 97, when we met, Peter was almost as tall as me (I am nearly two metres tall) and had a handshake like a vice. He was witty and sprightly and we hit it off immediately. While he lived in a stunning part of the world, in New Zealand, he made no secret of the fact that he missed Africa, where he had clearly left a piece of his heart.

Peter Whitehead

At the start of WWII, GS (General Service) wagons from the First World War were pressed into service again because of a shortage of motor vehicles. In the book, Peter recounts a thrilling tale of a 'runaway' wagon.

Peter's daughter, Anne, who lived nearby, provided hours of painstaking support to both Peter and me, helping her father navigate the world of Microsoft Word and keeping a tight control on the versions of the manuscript as Peter and I emailed them back and forth.

Peter Whitehead

This specially designed 'catching car' was developed to help capture the rare desert oryx in Aden. it turned out to be a lemon!

Peter's life in Africa was, of course, a major drawcard for me. I was fascinated to learn how he had been in on the start of tourism in two of Zambia's flagship national parks – Kafue and South Luangwa – and how he had worked on the sets of two of the best-known African movies, Born Free and Hatari!

Peter Whitehead

Peter's late wife and love of his life, Lorna, with her pet donkey, Rominella, in Kenya.

Peter's story is, as he told me himself, a book of his times as much as it is his own tale. Today's readers should bear in mind that approaches and attitudes to things such as conservation, wildlife management and hunting have changed dramatically since the 1950s and 60s, when Peter was a game ranger and a hunter, and the two occupations were virtually indivisible.

Peter's story is, as he told me himself, a book of his times as much as it is his own tale. Today's readers should bear in mind that approaches and attitudes to things such as conservation, wildlife management and hunting have changed dramatically since the 1950s and 60s, when Peter was a game ranger and a hunter, and the two occupations were virtually indivisible.

Peter's love of animals, especially horses, shines through in his many touching stories about the four-legged friends who have loomed large in his long life.

Peter Whitehead

Peter's war service began with the 2nd Remount unit, where he and other rough riders broke-in horses for the Australian Army.

I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this wonderful gentleman and I hope you enjoy his many riveting, dramatic and funny adventures from nearly 100 years of a richly-lived life.

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