Monday, July 10, 2006

The Bohemian


If ever a human being qualified to be called an original it was Vickeredhira Gunawardne Wijeytilleke AUTUKORALA, better known as ATU, and to his friends as Vicky.

Born on the 4th of September 1915 it could be said that whoever created him destroyed the mould.

From his early days he showed a propensity for all things close to nature. In fact he claimed that he must have had a Veddha as an ancestor,

Sacked from Royal College for playing truant he proceeded to haunt the precincts of the public library of The National Museum and educated himself on all aspects of Natural History so much so that he was acknowledged as one of the foremost naturalists in the country. Bufo Atukorala – a toad, Horadandi Atukorala a fish, and several verities of orchids were named in his honour either by the Royal Society ,Smithsonian Institute or other organisations of a similar nature.

At an early age he encountered a group of Samoans who were in Ceylon as a part of a musical group popularly known as Thelma Kai and the Royal Samoans.. The Samoans were expert swimmers, divers and spear fishermen. For spears they used Bamboos and face masks hand fashioned out of bamboo, rubber, and cut glass. Their favourite haunt was the sea off Kinross Avenue.

Atu followed them closely and they in turn taught Atu all they knew of the sea, diving, and spear fishing. The Samoans never used spear guns or fins and ATU declined the use of these, instead his sole equipment was and a hand spear It could be claimed that ATU was the fist spear fishermen of Ceylon.

From his youth he found kindred spirits in the Jayasekera brothers of whom Bertie was a keen and knowledgeable angler and a lover of nature, Neville (Kadala) Jansz and Eric Conway were also his close friends. This gang would often surreptitiously push Berties father’s car to the road late at night, start it by connecting a few wires and disappear into the jungles for a few days on end returning to face the wrath of their respective parents,

In later years Vicky and Eric Conway set up as the pioneer breeders of ornamental fish in the country.

Atu owned 20 perches of land in Peterson Lane Wellawatte which he converted into a veritable jungle. A few friends were privileged to visit this site which he considered private and contained breeding tanks, rarest of orchid’s cactus and other flora and fauna.

Leading into Atus jungle was a footpath which became a meeting place for others with similar interests. Among them were Sam Elapatha Dissawa, Arthur C Clarke, and Mike Wilson. Rodney Jonklaas. Happy Heptulabhoy a pioneer exporter of ornamental fish, and Dhanapals Weeraseekera other exporters readily acknowledged their debt to AtU.

The now defunct cactus society had its origins in Atus domain.
Atu and Conway never showed any interest in developing the business but spent their earning on booze, However, the others who learnt this businee made fortunes from it.

Apart from several other nature pursuits Atu was employed as a collector of specimens for the Colombo Zoo, which gave him the freedom to roam the jungles of Ceylon and perfect his mastery of Jungle craft, He was also, for a while, in charge of the ZOO hospital during which time he treated a Bengal Tiger belonging to Circus Bosch.

ATU also became an expert on snakes had a large collection of deadly venomous snakes in his bedroom.

In later years Atu lived on the beach which he loved dearly, Towards the end of his life and dying with cancer, he produced some amazing paintings of flora from specimens brought by his loving friend Eric Conway,

Many tales are told about this amazing man, an unique and lovable character of his exploits and love of the sea, the jungles of Ceylon, wild life and fauna, and a kind and loyal friend.

Vicky Autokorale was honoured with life membership of the Club ,

From the Diamond Jubilee Magazine-2001 Author Tissa Ariyaratne.


Anonymous Rex I. De Silva said...

Athu was a good friend of mine. I got to know him in the early 1970s when he was long past his prime. We dived together on a few occasions and Athu never failed to impress, despite his age. A popular stunt of his was to spear a fish and eat it raw, preferably in the presence of a fascinated crowd. Athu was the first person to examine a Longfin Mako Shark in Sri Lanka (Refer to my "History of the Sharks of Sri Lanka" for details). Athu was undoubtedly the first Sri Lankan spearfisherman.

9:42 PM  

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