South African-born Sylvia Boyes and Australian-born Lindsay Motherwell met in Capetown in 1968. Both performing artists, they fell in love but were forced to leave apartheid South Africa for Australia in order to marry and live freely.
Lindsay Stuart Motherwell was born in Melbourne on 1 January 1927. As was common then, he left school in his early teens and chose to complete a Junior Technical Qualification at a finishing school. Starting on the trombone, he played drums from the age of about 15 and played in various groups. He travelled to Africa with two other musicians under contract to Coca Cola for promotional shows, arriving in Rhodesia in 1951. Once there, he toured with different bands, playing in Durban and Margate, which was a popular circuit for mostly white musicians. In 1964 he returned briefly to Australia before returning to Africa, and applying for permanent residency in South Africa in 1967. He and his brother Eric worked at the Musicians Club in Queens Road St.Kilda as chef and maitre'd, in this period back in Australia. While living in South Africa, he worked as both a musician and in a menswear store.
Martha Mavis Sylvia Boyes was born in Kensington, Cape Town, South Africa on 3 July 1937 (or 1939), and was classed as 'mixed race' by South African authorities. She was baptised in the Parish of St Matthews in Cape Town on 14 January 1940. Sylvia would later marry in St Matthews in Bayswater, London which she was always happy about. When Sylvia was 3 years old, her mother took her to an orphanage called Leliebloem House, which was managed by the Anglican Church. She believed Sylvia would have a better life there and get an education and opportunities which her parents could not provide. However, her father was unhappy with this decision and on one occasion abducted her for several days.
In Leliebloem, Sylvia was given an education, and learnt dance and theatre. She also underwent domestic training in preparation for employment outside of the orphanage. She lived there until she was 18, which was unusual but she was very helpful with the younger children and become like a member of the staff, teaching the children how to sew and cook. When she left the orphanage, she worked as a housekeeper in the Archbishop of Capetown's residence for several years, then worked in the kitchens of the Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town. This was where famous heart transplant surgeon Christiaan Barnard worked, and performed the first heart transplant on a surviving patient. Later, she was employed as a domestic by Mrs Zuidema, a prominent white South African businesswoman. Sylvia managed the house, the other staff and Mrs Z's children. However, she also maintained her love of theatre. At age 21, she auditioned for the EOAN group, a music and theatre group for the so-called 'coloured' community in District Six, Cape Town. In 1966 Sylvia first participated in the EOAN group's opera season, in the chorus.
Sylvia and Lindsay: Love in Apartheid:
Sylvia and Lindsay met in 1968, when they were both involved in a production of the musical; 'South Pacific', which was presented by the EOAN group in Cape Town in 1968. Lindsay was a musician in the orchestra, and Sylvia a member of the chorus. They were introduced through mutual friends, and initially Sylvia didn't like Lindsay much but he won her over and they fell in love. Interracial relationships were strictly forbidden in South Africa, and they risked imprisonment whenever they saw each other. To avoid detection, Lindsay would drive his VW car to the fire exit of the Eoan Group building, Sylvia would go down the fire stairs and then lie on the back floor of the car, covered in a blanket. When they arrived at Lindsay's flat she would put on her maid's uniform in case police ever came to the door. However, they had many friends of all races and they would host parties and lots of music at Lindsay's flat.
Sylvia's employer, Mrs Z (as she was called) did not originally approve of Lindsay, as there was a large age gap and their lifestyles were completely different. Sylvia was quite religious and lived a quiet life, while Lindsay was a musician, not in regular employment or stable living conditions.
Once it was obvious that Sylvia was in love, Mrs Z gave her approval for Lindsay to come calling at her house. However, she was broken-hearted when Lindsay asked her for Sylvia's hand in marriage as she had to accept that the couple would have to leave South Africa. She viewed Sylvia as a daughter, not a domestic (she had a son, no girls). However, she paid for Sylvia's wedding outfit and was on the dock to meet them on their way to Australia in 1970. She and Sylvia stayed in touch until Mrs Z passed away in 1992.
Sailing to a New Future:
Sylvia and Lindsay realised their future together could not be in South Africa. In May 1969, Lindsay sailed to England and Scotland. Sylvia travelled to London in September, by bus, train and plane trips up the East Coast of Africa through Namibia, Angola, Gabon and finally a plane from Lagos to London. This was a very stressful trip for Sylvia, and she encountered hostility from black people who were resentful of her freedom to travel. In one airport departure lounge, a black cleaner asked her why she thought she was so special that she could afford to catch a plane to London, and he spat on her. She never forgot the horror that someone like her could treat her so badly, just because she was escaping oppression and trying to have a better life.
Sylvia and Lindsay were married on the 29 September 1969 at St Matthews Church in Bayswater, London. Then Sylvia had to apply for a visa to come to Australia as Lindsay's wife, and the couple booked tickets on the Sitmar Line ship "Fairsky", departing Southampton on 20 April 1970. The ship docked in Cape Town in the middle of the night, but the South African authorities boarded the ship and the couple was not permitted to go ashore now that they were married. Their friends Trevor, an opera singer, and his partner David came down to the docks with flowers for the couple and were disappointed not to see them. Sylvia apparently sang greetings to them from the ship, using her lovely opera voice. There is a photograph of friends on board the ship sharing a drink with them.
Life in Australia:
After a 6 week cruise, they arrived in Fremantle on 18 May 1970 and then settled in Melbourne. Lindsay's family came down to the docks to meet them when they arrived. The newly-weds lived in Elwood before buying a house in Vale Street, St Kilda. Sylvia got a job at Myer, working in 'Toyland', the toy department. Lindsay set up a cane importing business, frequently travelling through Asia during the 70s, 80s and 90s. Sylvia occasionally went with him, for combined work/holiday trips over the Christmas/New Year period. Lindsay was also a member of a resident band at the Windsor hotel and taught drums from home.
They also lived in Sydney briefly in the early 70s, near Kings Cross. They helped to open the first Billy Hyde Music Shop in New South Wales. Lindsay also worked for Billy and his son Gary in Melbourne and both Sylvia and Lindsay were friends with Billy Hyde for some years. Lindsay also occasionally filled in for the drummer in Graham Bell's band in Sydney. Lindsay's sister Jean vividly remembers a "pub crawl" with him around the thriving jazz venues at the Rocks in Sydney during one visit.
They did not have children, though they had wanted to. They had many treasured dogs, cats and a canary and kept in touch with friends all around the world, including Mrs Z and Sylvia's 'brother', Trevor Pretorius, whom she had grown up with in Leliebloem and who was also a member of the Eoan Theatre Group. Sylvia travelled back to South Africa in 1979, 10 years after she had left, and the couple returned together after apartheid finally ended in 1992.
Lindsay died in 2006, and Sylvia in 2012.