Our family emigrated from Ireland to South Africa in 1816 and settled in Port Alfred on the East Coast. My great grandfather, who was the leader of the Kelly clan, persuaded his family to move north, and they eventually settled in Swaziland. This was where my father, Cullen Kelly, was born and where he met my mother, Diana. My parents married in 1940 and lived in Swaziland during the early days of married life.
My parents loved the outdoors and the adventure of being outdoors, so to pursue that lifestyle they developed Panata Ranch, a 60,000-acre, first-of-its-kind cattle and game ranch. They continued to develop their business into the early 1940s.
I was born on 5 February 1952 in Johannesburg, and I spent the first three years of my life growing up in Swaziland. My parents then moved to Greytown in Natal to start a new farming operation. This is where I grew up with my two brothers, Brian and John. We spent all our holidays hunting, fishing, riding, and enjoying the outdoors.
After doing my military training in 1970, I returned from South-West Africa (Namibia), where I had been based, with the intention that I would join the British South African Police in Rhodesia at the end of six months. My father insisted I get a job in the interim, so I approached Norman Dean, a family friend of ours, who had started one of the first hunting companies (Zululand Safaris) in South Africa. He agreed to give me a temporary job. I worked for free and had to pay room and board (R25.00 a month). This was the start of a life I had dreamt about.
Norman was a highly respected warden from the famous Natal Parks Board. He taught me the ins and outs of game ranching, game management, and the importance of game rangers/wardens spending time in the field. He always expressed the view that you could not learn about game conservation. I was offered a full-time job to be one of Zululand Safaris’s main professional hunters. Fortunately, this coincided with the international demand for big-game hunting in South Africa; it was also the real start of my career in international hunting in South Africa.
I worked for Norman for three years and with his blessing went to form my own company, Garry Kelly Safaris. GKS has grown from strength to strength and I believe today we are recognized as one of the premier hunting companies in South Africa.
I have three grown sons: Richard is the eldest and lives in Australia with his wife Tammy and their two sons, Josh and Kai; Sean is a partner in GKS, and he and his wife, Marita, and their two children, Sofia and Luka, live in Hillcrest in Durban; and Cullen, the youngest, is also a partner in GKS, and he and his wife, Georgie, and their two girls, Hope and Holly, live five minutes from Sean. Sean and Cullen have become outstanding professional hunters in their own right and have developed their own impressive client base.
My wife, Kate, and I have twin daughters, Jade and Jasmyn, who are eleven years old. They, too, love the outdoor life, which I am thrilled about. We live two hours from Durban up in the Drakensburg Mountains.
I was taught as a young boy that one of the most important aspects of hunting was to have proper respect for the animals being hunted and to enjoy the build up to the hunt and all that goes with it. I always remember that being involved in the outdoors means that one is always learning. The day you think you know everything is the day you need to retire. I am delighted to see that Sean and Cullen also have great respect for the outdoors and the game they hunt. I feel these priorities will bring them great reward as they take the company forward. I cherish everyday and every moment spent in the outdoors, and I never take for granted what life has given us.