Booksnap: Don Pinnock’s The Woman who Lived in a Tree

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Title: The Woman who Lived in a Tree
Author: Don Pinnock
Publisher: Jacana Media
ISBN: 9781770096929
Publication date: April 2009
Pages: 304

The Woman who Lived in a Tree is a collection of Don Pinnock’s articles published in Getaway Magazine. The articles are about some of the most interesting characters Pinnock has met over his long career as a feature writer and explorer.

The stories focus on people who have undertaken adventures in the true sense of the word. As Pinnock says in his introduction, the word adventure comes from the Latin adventura, meaning “what must happen”. As he explains, an adventure by its very nature means that the outcome is not under your control. This book, beautifully produced by Jacana, captures the courage of many of Africa’s most adventurous souls.

There is the titular "woman who lived in a tree", Veronica Roodt, who defied the stereotype of being the typically blonde Afrikaner meisie. Having started out her early life as a school teacher, she soon realised she wasn’t cut out for life in the city. So she took a job as a trainee tour guide in the Kruger. She felt the need to start studying again, but this time her chosen courses were zoology and botany.

After finishing her degree at Stellenbosch, and having spent some time helping a film crew in the Kalahari, she was keen to return to work with the San people again. So she joined the South African Defence Force just to take a commission working with San trackers in the Caprivi Strip.

When a series of unfortunate events led her to being bereaved and heart-broken, she hitched up her caravan and headed out alone into Botswana. Tswana scouts took her under her wing and it wasn’t too long before she was being fed by the local San. She decided to draw maps of the Moremi Game Reserve where she was living, to print and sell to tourists. This became a lucrative livelihood and she continued to establish herself as “a legend in the making”, finally living in a great jackalberry tree with a leopard as a companion above her for sixteen years. Roodt even began to train the local San as game guides.

Her extraordinary experiences attracted jealousy from the more established members of the community, of course, but Roodt continued to live her life without compromise. 

Andy Cobb’s story tells of his complete life of dedication to protecting sharks, often at the risk of his own life. Lawrence Anthony is drawn to protect animals in war situations and is always strangely alerted to crises in nature by a herd of elephants. Sibusiso Vilane tells of his brave journey to become the first black man ever to summit Mount Everest. And arguably the greatest adventurer of them all, Kingsley Holgate, tells Pinnock about his on-the-edge life traversing the continent of Africa with his brave wife, Gill, and son Ross.

There is much more in this jam-packed little book, but you’ll have to read it for yourself. One thing you can be assured of though: reading one of these surprising stories is a great way to end an evening. You’ll get a bite-sized view of one of Africa’s many intrepid adventurers. And, as an added bonus, you’ll be able to appreciate Don Pinnock’s illuminating and captivating prose.

This is a Getaway Book, published by Jacana. For more information go to

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