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Win-Louise (Winifred) Wilson, Mercy Place Templestowe

Win-Louise's first language was Zulu, having been born in South Africa during the Apartheid years with Zulu servants. After marrying, working and travelling, Win-Louise moved to Australia in 1983 to be with family

Image of Nelson Mandela, and a tree. Text: Zulu, South Africa, Apartheid years, Social sciences, Child Welfare Society, Camping in Europe, Brush with Nelson Mandela

Zulu was Win-Louise Wilson'sfirst and only language for the first few years of her life in South Africa. Born to busy parents, who’d met late in life and had three daughters in quick succession, Win-Louise and her two sisters were brought up by three Zulu maids. ‘My sisters and I] used to sit out on the sidewalk and talk to each other in Zulu and people used to stop to listen to us. It was quite unusual, three little white girls talking in Zulu,’ Win-Louise says.

‘We didn't really get to see the Zulu children because we had Apartheid. We didn't mix unless it was in a servant-master capacity.’

For almost half a century Apartheid had separated non-white South Africans, fueling protests and widespread condemnation. Apartheid attempted to stop interactions and social integration between racial groups, and friendships between different races bought suspicion or punishment.

Studying social sciences

Win-Louise was a good student and earned a scholarship to the University of Natal, where she studied social sciences. ‘It was strange when I was at university because we had some African students that we weren't allowed to mix with and they were really very knowledgeable, very competent, so I didn't like that.’

Building a family

Win-Louise began working for the Durban child welfare society before moving to Pretoria to be with her husband, Claude, who she’d met when he was an engineering student. The couple soon had their own three girls.

‘After he had been in that job for quite a while, he got leave for six months and we went on a tour through Europe with our children. They were three, six, and nine, and we had a combi van and a tent, and we camped through Europe and it was wonderful.’

Working on a mission

When Claude retired, the couple went to work on a mission station in Natal. ‘I was providing meals for Africans and all different nationalities and I had six maids helping me. We had two great big Esse cookers. The maids had to come early in the morning to put the coals into the stoves to get them going and get the potatoes on, and I would come in later on and do the supervising and the serving of the people who came to the mission. We would serve anywhere from say 10 people to 200 people at a time.’

Nelson Mandel, who had been imprisoned for 27 years for his staunch activism and went on to be the country’s first black president was one of the mission’s visitors and he gave a couple of speeches there, Win-Louise says.

Moving to Australia

When Win-Louise’s oldest daughter was offered work in Australia, the rest of the family visited and fell in love with Melbourne and eventually all of them migrated, with Claude and Win-Louise making the move in 1983. ‘We all just love Australia. ‘I would never go back to South Africa. It's a very beautiful country and I remember the beauty of it with real pleasure, but I would never want to live there again.'

Reviewed 30 January 2024