Richard and Margaret Gush arrived in the Eastern Cape on board the Brilliant in the year of 1820 from their home village of Beer, England, along with 5000 British Settlers hoping to make a new life for themselves in Africa. They settled in what would become the village of Salem in the Albany District. In 1853 Richard's son, Joseph, bought the farm of Klipgat, meaning “Rocky Gorge”, near the village of Sidbury in 1853, renaming it to Woodbury after a neighbouring village in England. Unbeknown to Joseph, this would form part of Amakhala Game Reserve nearly 150 years later. Joseph’s grandsons, Joe, Rex and Gurn, farmed the land with beef cattle, dairy and fruit orchards. Their brother, Ron Gush, was killed in action in WWII while serving in Italy.
John and Henry Gush were the fourth generation to farm on Woodbury, and were joined in time by their sons, Richard and Giles. At that time, land-use on Woodbury was beef cattle, Angora goats, chicory and lucerne. When the decision was taken by the founding families to start Amakhala Game Reserve, the Gush partnership of Giles and Richard, along with their wives Jennifer and Cathy, turned their attention to providing accommodation for the guests that they hoped would visit this ecotourism destination. The initial idea was to build a tented camp along the Bushman’s River. However, the views from the ridgeline to the north-east were too appealing, and the decision was made to build Woodbury Lodge into the thicketed and boulder-strewn slopes above the river basin. Using mostly farm employees and material from the farm itself, the Gushes oversaw the construction of three thatched sleeping lodges and a kitchen-dining room lodge. The signing of the Amakhala constitution took place on the deck at Woodbury Lodge on 29 October 1999. In the ensuing years, four more sleeping lodges, a lounge, pools and an outdoor dining area were added, while still retaining the intimate bush setting.
In 2002, the Gush partnership added a rustic camp on a wooded hilltop to the west of the lodge, using traditional ox wagons as sleeping units. In 2005 this was transformed into a tented camp and hosted the Field Guide Training Academy, Ulovane, for four years. The camp was also used as a base for vet courses run by William Fowlds for a few years before becoming a camp exclusively for safari visitors. In 2018, Woodbury Tented Camp was expanded to its current capacity of 10 tents. The layout of the camp was specifically designed to recreate the memory of previous bush camps hosted by the farmers in the area, with paths woven in amongst indigenous bush between the tents and a central campfire built in a small clearing. As part of this historical atmosphere, sneezewood poles that had originally been harvested from the Alexandria forest and used as fence posts by Giles’ grandfather were planted along the paths – a symbolic return to nature after 100 years in an agricultural setting.
The development of Woodbury Lodge and Woodbury Tented Camp has always had a generational aspect, with John, Jennie, Henry and Cam Gush – Richard and Giles’ parents, respectively – supporting the transformation from agriculture to tourism. In the early days of hosting guests, Richard & Cathy and Giles & Jennifer worked at the coal face of the business, cooking meals, hosting guests and guiding the game drives, while the grandparents helped with much needed child-minding and home-keeping duties. As the business grew, employment opportunities could be offered to more people, particularly local families who previously had only one or two members working on the Gush farms of Beacon Hill and Brentwood. This was a key aspect to the development of Woodbury Lodge and Tented Camp and today the two ecotourism products provide meaningful employment to 50 people. Additionally, Jennifer and Cathy have managed to incorporate their independent skills into the Amakhala sphere by heading up community engagement and environmental education based at the Amakhala Conservation Centre.
This commitment to community and conservation has defined the Gush family’s philosophy.