In a journalistic career spanning more than 40 years, regular COUNTRY LIFE contributor Chris Marais has covered everything from crime to politics, courtroom drama to bikers in the bushveld. Now, in his riotous, rollicking memoir, The Journey Man, he finally turns the spotlight on himself.
Words: Gus Silber
Savouring his lifestyle in the heart of the Karoo, where he lives with the love of his life, fellow journalist Julienne du Toit, and trusty hound TwoPack, Chris takes time off from his travels to share some thoughts on his journey.
I miss the people I worked with in the newsrooms, especially the night-shift crew on the Rand Daily Mail. Here in the Karoo and mainly relying on each other for inspiration, Jules and I sometimes feel we are in need of our first familiars. I certainly don’t miss the manual typewriters and telex machines I cut my working teeth on, back in 1976.
What, for you, is most exciting about the modern era of journalism?
The ease of connectivity, the power of indie journalism, and the multimedia possibilities of it all.
What’s the biggest, single life lesson you have learned from living in the Karoo?
I’ve been searching for a mission all my life, like a Border collie looking for a real farm job, instead of being a lapdog. Coming to the Karoo, working in the Karoo, promoting and defending and raising the profile of the Karoo, is the ongoing highlight of my career.
What role does music play in your life?
My time as a singer with the Silver Creek Mountain Band back in 1988 was a riotous privilege. I still see some of the guys when they drift through Cradock on their way to or from gigs. Sometimes they stay with us and our lounge becomes a bit of a bluegrass nightclub.
You’re a great and insightful photographer, as well as a great and insightful writer. How does your photography guide your writing, and vice versa?
I know too many real photographers to see myself as one. I’d rather describe myself as a journo who takes photographs.
What is your greatest unfulfilled ambition as a journalist?
That’s a difficult one, because I think I have landed in Ambition Extra-Time with this Karoo gig. Going forward, I would say my main ambition is to keep growing this business that tells the story of the Karoo.
Do you ever wake up in the Karoo and wish you were back in the Big City?
It’s summertime. We wake up, drink good coffee and take our long-haired German shepherd, for an hour’s walk along the Great Fish River, through the Cradock Golf Course. We will never have a better beginning to our day.
What does COUNTRY LIFE mean to you as a medium for your storytelling?
It’s more than a magazine, it’s a massive support system for the growing network of people semigrating from the cities into the platteland. And they need a narrative to relate to.
What advice would you give anyone considering a career in journalism, or writing in general?
Get a good set of mentors. Pick up all the skills you can. Find something to specialise in. Be brave, be kind and remember that this profession is all about prophets and warriors. And having fun, lots of fun.
What is the worst habit or vice you’ve picked up from your career in journalism, one most difficult to get rid of?
My first response would be two words: the whisky. But then I would probably say that caring too much about the opinions of other people is probably my worst vice. And, at times, my biggest virtue.
What is the secret of your very successful working relationship with Julienne?
As Aristotle said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There’s stuff she’s really good at and there’s stuff I’m good at. We had that discussion more than 20 years ago and we respect each other’s areas of interest. It’s only when she occasionally gets a fantastic image that I reckon she should have been the photographer all along.
What do you enjoy most about being 60-something?
At 61, I am healthy, living with Jules and TwoPack, surrounded by some good friends and faced with a massive set of windmills to tilt at every day. What more could a man want, except for a reconditioned diesel pump for his old Isuzu bakkie?