Bud wants out of Africa

Bud Higgins with her beloved Tinmugs. Supplied.

By Phil Jarratt

“Our country is in a total shambles,” former Noosa chef and caterer Bud Higgins wrote to friends here last week.

“South Africa has not seen this (kind of) total mayhem since freedom, and it’s scary indeed,” Bud wrote. “Supermarkets, businesses, even the blood bank has been looted, and the army has been deployed to help police diffuse the volatile situation.”

We’ve all seen the alarming and tragic news footage of the Covid-inspired rioting in South Africa, but nothing brings the horror of it home like hearing from someone you know who is caught in the front lines. But the many people in Noosa who know Bud Higgins will know that the feisty, spirited and immensely capable businesswoman, who sold her Noosa Catering company in 2012 to return to her beloved Africa, is not one to duck a challenge.

She is toughing it out at her Cape Town home for now, from which base almost a decade ago her life was transformed by the poverty she saw all around her.

“Tell everyone I’m doing fine,” she cheerily reports to Noosa Today. “A bit like a 1950s Vauxhall, a few dents and dings along the way but still going strong!”

Long-time Australian resident Bud arrived in South Africa as a young bride in 1969, and her sons Shane and Callan were born in Cape Town during the early 1970s. During the most disturbing days of the apartheid regime she took the boys to be educated in Sydney and utilised her skills as a chef to open a restaurant in Mosman. In 1990 she moved to Noosa and created Noosa Catering, running weddings, parties, anything, with her capable team, for the next 22 years.

Bud maintained her strong feelings for South Africa and there were many safari holidays in her other home while the boys were growing up, but Shane’s tragic death in 2006 made her begin to reassess her life.

She says: “Sadly Shane, a pilot and father of three little girls, was killed in a helicopter crash while conducting a rural survey in NSW. In the wake of the tragedy, a few years on I sold Noosa Catering to head chef Matthew Conquest and moved back to Africa, to dwell in the shadow of the mountain under which my lost pilot had been born.”

Newly-arrived and uncertain as to what the future held for her, Bud allowed her adopted South African family to drag her along to a fundraising event for AIDS victims.

She recalls: “A famous broadcaster named Solly Philander was compere and pleaded with the audience for volunteers to help feed 2000 children on Christmas Day, so I joined a group of kind-hearted souls in an impoverished settlement and got to work. Having spent my entire working life preparing upmarket food, nothing prepared me for standing on the back of a truck stirring massive pots with paddles! Gone were the stuffed artichoke hearts and Vietnamese rice-paper rolls.

“As is sadly typical in Africa, the hungry 2000 swelled to over 3000 and, in the absence of divine intervention, it was on my head to do a loaves and fishes with the food. The generous, but uninitiated food volunteers were busily piling the small bowls high, before I called out in my bossy Australian accent, ‘Half fill the bowls and we will feed them all!’

That day 3000 hungry kids went home to their inadequate shacks with full bellies and smiles.

“I recognised Africa needed me, and that day Tinmugs Africa Trust was born.”

Through Bud’s hard work and generous donations from friends and business associates in Australia, Tinmugs has since gone on to feed thousands of African kids and help them get an education, but early in the process, while feeding children at a shanty settlement known as Overcome Heights, Bud met a family who asked her to help them educate the eldest child, a beautiful eight-year-old girl named Kristy.

Says Bud: “I realised it would only work if I became legal guardian of the child and she moved into a safe suburb with me. I spoke to friends in Brisbane who enthusiastically agreed to contribute to her school expenses and to help move the family out of their shack into a small flat in a safer suburb where Kristy could visit them. Now she is 17 and in her second to last year at a good school. And she has visited Australia four times.”

Success stories like Kristy’s inspire Bud to continue her work with Tinmugs, despite trying and dangerous times. But, at 72 she also has to be realistic about the dangers, which is why for the past several months she has been trying to organise a flight home to Australia. She has built up a strong support team at Tinmugs and can manage the administration from a safe distance where she can enjoy her six grandchildren.

But hopes of a return any time soon were dashed earlier this month when the number of overseas arrivals was slashed. A November booking on Qantas now seems likely to be kicked into the middle of next year, or beyond. Locked away in a residential compound, unable to leave it while gangs prowl the streets, Bud remains optimistic, as is her wont.

Let’s hope that this good and worthy woman is soon back in Noosa.