John Oliver and the Three Josephines


John paddled with Han van Ardenne the year after the big flood (the banks at Josephines were still being repaired – ?1988).

John broke his paddle, looked up at the helicopter hovering overhead. The pilot signaled “OK?” John signalled “Come!”

Han waited with the boat while John wafted off in luxury. It’s called “pulling strings”.

Five hours later John came walking back, new paddle in hand. Too late to continue, they trudged back to Josephines carrying the boat.

There they got the site induna to phone Margie who came and fetched them.

So John had THREE visits to Josephines Bridge and TWO luxury rescues in one day!


I checked with John:

Hi Pete,

Its true! Three X Josephine’s Bridge in one day – Paddle, swim and walk.

I broke my paddle just before St Elmos. Robbie Stewart was flying back to the start with the camera guys and saw it happen. We were sitting dejectedly on a pile of boulders trying to decide on a course of action when the helicopter landed next to us and offered a lift back to Josephine’s bridge. I grabbed the offer, abandoned Han and the boat with promises to “be back soon”. Within 10 minutes of breaking the paddle I was standing on Josephines Bridge with a new – borrowed – paddle.

Sadly no return ticket on a chopper was available so I ran and swam back to Han. As you might imagine this was not a speedy process and by the time I was reunited with my craft and partner it was too late to carry on with any expectation of making the finish – miles away at Mpompomani that year – before dark.

So we decided to walk back to Josephine’s with the boat where Margie fetched us.

Regards – John Oliver


Owen Hemingway’s riverbank tales . .

Riverbank 1.

John & Margie. Finished. Packed up. Waiting for their lift out of the valley.

Out of the blue (OK, brown) along arrives another paddler – a totally unexpected not-on-my-list late finisher! Who knows where he’d have ended up had John’s lift been on time?

Comms between start and finish weren’t what they are today!


Riverbank 2.

Blazing hot. John and Margie Oliver sitting under meagre shade at the timekeepers table. Surrounded by local valley kids creeping ever closer to get some shade. One gazes up at John’s flowing beard and whispers “Jesus”; Another says “I am scared, very scared”.

John gazes down sternly and nods at him, “A healthy attitude to have, my boy”.


Hi Pete,

She (daughter Lorna) was paddling on her own most of the time. I started with her, both in K1’s, and we did day one mostly together. On day two I had a badly upset stomach and withdrew at Riverside. Lorna carried on to the finish by herself.  There were lots of friends around her though.

I don’t know if she was the 1st K1 woman, but certainly the first girl.

Regards – John


Author: bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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