Herefordshire People: Tony Botsman: Antipodean Entrepreneur Settles in Herefordshire
PUBLISHED: 16:10 09 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:18 20 February 2013
Living among cannibals and shooting crocodiles is part of the extraordinary past of an Antipodean entrepreneur now settled in the heart of Herefordshire.
Tony Botsman's life in the quintessentially English market town of Ledbury, where as the managing director of Mundivini, he hunts the world's best wines instead of crocs, is a far cry from the days of the late 1960s, which saw him bring Western agricultural practice and crops to Papua New Guinea, then one of the wildest places on the planet. In his 20s he was sent to the island off the north east tip of Australia where he worked in forestry and brought new crops to people who many in the western world regarded as savages. Having graduated from agricultural college and risen through the ranks working for a large Australian company exporting timber Tony was posted to the
island when it was still part of Australia, before it gained independence in 1975. "It was a wonderful time, full of adventure and the flora and fauna of the island was breathtaking," said Tony. "It was an idyllic existence." It is easy to frown on his part in the ravaging of one of the most unspoilt havens on the planet in these ecologically aware times, but Tony, now aged 62, is at pains to explain how different the world
was then. "We were welcomed by the people. We were introducing new crops which they could grow and buy medicine and what we brought improved their quality of life. "We were made to feel very welcome
and we took pains to manage an ecological balance in all things." However, despite the genial welcome
from the natives the white man had to learn about the culture and that included the most unpalatable
practice of cannibalism in some tribes. "I was too big for their pot," jokes the burly six-footer. "I never feared for my own safety but when they had battles with other tribes the victors would often eat the losers. It was their culture and no one could convince them at that time it wasn't a good idea until they started getting CJD from eating the brains." Then married to a fellow Aussie Tony's first home on the island was not exactly what his young wife would have hoped for. "She cried for a week when we moved into the hut that was our home," he smiled. "It was made of plaited bamboo and we had to get water from a tank, but
the drinking water was fantastic. We were up in the mountains and you would see white water cascading down a gorge past the house." In time they moved to another part of the island, New Britain, where the young Mrs Botsman saw an improvement to her homelife. "It was a timber hut then," he says. "She only cried for a day or so." This is where Tony found himself on land previously untouched by mankind.
"It was in the middle of a tropical jungle. We were right in the middle between two tribes, 20 miles in either
direction. The rivers were crystal clear and full of fish, but it was spooky and the wildlife was not scared of you. There were cassowaries, crocs and tree kangaroos, and none of them had seen mankind before. "We used to go hunting the crocodiles at night. It was quite an adventure. "I shot one crocodile straight between
the eyes from a few hundred yards," he says proudly. "It was daytime and a total fluke but I kept cool about it. The guys with me thought a lot of me for that. "The skin was worth $100 and the meat was eaten by the locals so economically it was a good thing to do." The over abundant crocs had also started taking local villagers as they washed in the river so an ecological balance had to be restored. However, Tony's idyllic existence ended in dramatic fashion at the end of the 1970s. "I had hepatitis and it was tidier from a medical point of point for me to go back to the Australian mainland. I had caught it looking after friends' kids, and I
thought my days were numbered dying in a hospital in Brisbane." "I watched the man in the bed next to
me die from the same disease and he was a fabulously wealthy man. A millionaire many times over, but he died in that bed without a single visitor. It certainly taught me there is more to life than money."
Weak, discoloured and with orange bile seeping out of his skin as death drew closer Tony forced down a tabouli vegetarian dish his sister-in-law made. It was a decision that saved him. "It was an ancient cure that was meant to help the liver and surely enough I began to get stronger. I love the dish still today." Back to full health Tony then opted for the more mundane ways of corporate security as children Christopher and Nicole grew up enjoying the outdoor life. In his various roles he worked for telecommunications giant Telstra and started the first in the world airline business lounge within TAA, which was later absorbed by Qantas. After his marriage broke down Tony set up a company called Winecrest, which became a success until taken over by a banking group. Tony continued corporate globetrotting, planning expansion for a wide range of clients from banking to bio science. And it was on a business trip that he met current wife Linda, the reason for bringing this larger than life character to rural Herefordshire. "We met in Jordan, Linda is an
English girl, from Solihull, and wanted to move back here. I've been here five years now." And in Old Blighty this Antipodean connoisseur of the grape has used his knowledge to found Mundivini whose slogan is: "brilliant wines we have never heard of ". Using Tony's expert knowledge the business focuses on a handful of the best of the world's smaller wine makers, bringing to Britain exquisite wines that are otherwise unknown. "We have tasting panels with 50 per cent experts and 50 per cent enthusiasts. They make the final
choices; my job is to put a good selection in front of them." But how does life in rural Herefordshire compare to crocs and cannibals? "Does it mean the adventures are over? I don't know. The countryside is lovely; the people are great but the weather here! We'll have to see."