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Barbara Tyrrell: A Heroic Life!
By Niki Collins-Queen   

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My grandmother was stunned when she discovered another woman camping alone in the mid 40s in South Africa. Her name was Barbara Harcourt Tyrrell. She had transformed a delivery van with yellow wheels into a “caravan” named “Nixie.” She later wrote, illustrated and published a book called “A Medley of South African Verse” about her travels.

 In my early years I lived with Alida Seymour, my maternal grandmother, near Durban in South Africa. I called her “Ouma” which mean grandmother in Africans. She must have been part gypsy because she loved to travel. She and my grandfather spent their honeymoon in Europe. They had two daughters Molly and Betty. Betty the younger is my mother. In the mid 40s when Molly and Betty were old enough to get their drivers licenses my grandmother, who was unable to drive, persuaded them to take her around the South African's country side in my grandfather's old van.

They called the van “The Wanderer.” Undeterred by dirt roads and lack of campgrounds they camped in clearings and open fields along the Indian Ocean coastline.

They were stunned when they discovered another woman traveling alone. Her name was Barbara Harcourt Tyrrell. She had transformed a delivery van with yellow wheels into a “caravan” named “Nixie.” She was an artist who used water colors and oils to paint Natives in their traditional costume.

Barbara illustrated and published a book called “A Medley of South African Verse” about her travels in 1945. She gave my grandmother a signed copy. I inherited the book when my grandmother died.

My grandmother's stories and Barbara's book and paintings captivated my imagination as a child. They still do.

My favorite poetic quotes from Barbara Terryll's book include:


Let us go where the birds and bees and animals are

And at night the cool regard of a faraway star.


I fell in love, head over heels – I loved her green her yellow wheels!

I loved her funny, angular look! Her solemn mien! What care I took

To hear her “revvs”! I loved the roar

Still – I questioned and quizzed the worried and poor unfortunate salesmen half demented!

But I'd fallen in love. So I soon relented and signed on he line.


Just look at that! It gives me pain! She's pouring over the map again -

It means she'll go, as go she must, She has this attack of the wanderlust!

It really is an awful load to own a daughter who loves 'the road'!

I think it's such an awful pity she doesn't settle in a city.


If I were a man – I'd set up a 'jack'

With simply a twist of my mighty wrist!

Instead of squandering gallons of sweat and working myself to a horrible 'pet'!

If I were a man – I'd siphon 'juice' and lose not a bit by swallowing it!

I'd clean a plug, with an ease sublime instead of anxiety all the time!


If you need a lesson on the brotherhood of man,

Couple onto Nixie or buy a caravan!

Gossip by the wayside with everyone you see;

Drop your 'caste', open your eyes an meet humanity!

You may not be bilingual – if your politics are “Love”

Surprising what, individually, a decent lot we prove!

Though one is 'this' and one is 'that' to give our selves 'position',

we simmer down to simple souls when there's no competition!

If you're a caravaner you'll surely not complete

You'll know the world is far too large for such a gross conceit!


Oh I am weary of hearing the sea – it's sweet but dull regularity!

Of shadows which travel across the sides with the same regularity as the tides!

Oh I've contracted an aching desire to release my break and shake my tyre;

To roll away to those regions high where the Drakensberg talks to the mighty sky!


A caravan life is a halcyon song and nothing, you say, could ever go wrong!

But think again! Rain!

A caravan, I must confide, is a tiny place to be cooped inside!

A little bit can be fun. Making light of days without sun;

But for the days that follow jokes begin to sound a trifle hollow, particularly at the sea!

Everyone knows and will deplore the dreariness of a rain drenched shore!


I find no fault with smooth asphalt but still I really must confess my love of dust!

It implies a wonderful thing, to me – that I've left some drab, commercial city

In my wake! As it bellows behind my van it tells me I've left the fouler haunts of man!

You who call it 'dirt' do really hurt some inner 'me'!

The only time I mention 'dirt' is in reference to city grime!

The used up air of the city must surely be dirtier than dust.

Barbara and my grandmother's love of the outdoors and their epic independent lives planted a seed that blossomed in me. In many ways I've continued their legacy. I too have been a wanderer. Taking a leap of faith, I gave up a successful career as a Licensed Professional Counselor for a year to hitchhike on sailboats in the Bahamas, backpack alone in the Georgia mountains, canoe the 100-mile Everglades Wilderness Waterway and the Suwannee River. My adventures lead to a memoir called “Earth, the Forgotten Temple: A Spirit Quest in the Wilderness.”

Barbara Tyrrell agreed to share her “A Medley of South African Verse”on the web. Click the website link below to view the book.






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