A Slice of Vrystaat

I was born in Harrismith in 1955 as was Mom Mary in 1928 and Gran Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” was also the queen of South Africa. Elizabeth, not Pieter-Dirk.

To balance that, there’s this side of the family.

I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a  Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane, in between Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980. Stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.

‘Strue!! These random – un-chronological – personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. If I haven’t offended anyone – yet – it’s not for lack of trying . .

Add your memories in the comments if you were there!

Many Marys

Sheila gave us the breakdown:

Mary Craig married Alex Caskie; they had a daughter

Mary Caskie, who married John Francis Adam Bland; their eldest son was

Frank, who married Annie Watson Bain; their second daughter was

Mary Frances, who married PG Swanepoel; their eldest daughter was

Barbara Mary, who married Jeff Tarr; their eldest daughter was

Linda Mary, who married Dawie Pieterse; their eldest daughter was

Mary-Kate, boss of the house, turning six this year!

Sheila has an old glass photo of Great-Great Gran Mary Craig and Great Gran Mary Caskie

A Rolling Selfie

I saw the above pic on the internets and it reminded me of an incident after a river outing. It’s apparently of an old fella who rolled and his wife is still inside, but they’re getting a picture already. I can believe that these days, everyone has a camera in their pocket, but my story was back in the eighties BCE, Before the Cellphone Era.

We’d paddled to Josephine’s bridge and me and Bernie (I think it was) were on our way out of the valley when we rounded Dead Man’s Corner and saw a car on its roof with the wheels still spinning. We skidded to a halt, hopped out and ran over, ready to rescue and get the car back on its wheels before all the oil ran out (or that’s what I was thinking – dunno if that actually happens?) or before another car zoomed into it.

We shouted “You OK?” and a young guy said “Fine!” and started crawling out on his tummy out of the drivers seat window. As we grabbed the car and started to heave he said “WAIT!” grabbed his camera and took a picture of the upside down car. “One for the album!” he said, grinning.

I’d never seen that before.

We righted him and off he went. Driving off we decided it must definitely have been a case of Daddy having bought the car for sonnyboy.

Canadian Hell Drivers

Who remembers the Canadian Hell Drivers performing in Harrismith? It did happen, right? I’m not imagining it? I think I remember white Chevs roaring around and jumping ramps, with a clown playing dangerous games among them. I think it was at the groot pawiljoen down in the park.

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groot pawiljoen – the big stadium

Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek Pass

I asked Leanne Hilkovitz Williamson about Poccolan / Robinson’s Bush and this brought a flood of memories:

She takes up the story:

I was born on the farm De Nook which belonged to my grandfather Elias Hilkovitz and was inherited by my father Leo Hilkovitz after the 2nd World War probably round about 1945, two years before I was born.

Dad built Little Switzerland Hotel on the farm and we made pathways through the forest called Robinson’s Bush for guests to hike to various spots: The Wishing Well, Protea Plateau, etc. I named most of the spots, and one that meandered in and out of the forest edge I named Hilky’s Way after my grandfather who was affectionately known as Hilky.

We sold the hotel when I was in my early twenties but the various owners over the years have kept the use of the forest and the guests continue to enjoy its wonderful beauty – it is wonderfully exhilarating to either clamber down Breakneck Pass from the Wishing Well or climb up to it from the road below. The path twists and turns in amongst indigenous trees, true and mock yellowwoods, and lianas and ferns along the side of a stream full of huge beautiful boulders in all shades of grey & lichen & dappled shade. So one experiences the mountain air, the refreshing sound of the steam  and always the melodious bird song. I particularly loved calling up the Mocking Chats and Natal Robins that mimic other birds and have a whole repartee of calls, copying them and they’d call back. A wonderful game that Dad taught me.

According to my father, Robinson’s Bush is the biggest natural forest in the Drakensberg. I wouldn’t take that as gospel. I’ve come to be a bit circumspect about those sorts of claims that locals all over the world tend to lay claim to!

Robinson’s Bush abuts on De Nook and we treated it as part of our farm. Dad looked after it although it is part of government nature conservation; at one stage in my late teenage years there were  two nature conservation officers who lived in a hut on the edge of the forest and tended it but that did not last.

I was there for my 70th birthday in 2017 with my two sons and their families and we climbed up Breakneck Pass through the forest and I showed it to my granddaughters and taught them the things my Dad had taught me.

Some of my earliest memories are of picnics in the forest on the side of the stream with our neighbours Udo and Margo Zunkle of Cathkin Hotel fame when they lived on Windmill farm. Udo would put small pieces of raw steak on the river rocks and we’d be fascinated by the crabs that came from all sides to feast on it.

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Leanne again later:

Hi Again

I put together a Power Point family history together for the family and we had an evening when I showed it to them. It started with the great grandparents on both sides and their cars and the farm in the very early days and the beginnings of the hotel and its growth as I grew up & went to HS Volkschool & then boarding school, varsity, etc. and then our children growing up and then finally the grandchildren from babies to present. I can never leave the farm & the berg for long & return there often – even if it is just up and down in a day – and I climb a mountain, drink in the soul food and return home refreshed, invigorated and together. The families also love it and visit but we have never all been there together at the same time & so  took advantage of my 70th to ask this favour. So we stayed in the timeshare from 24-28 Dec & had a wonderful Christmas & my birthday on 27th. We had a wonderful time and I was able to share some of my favourite places & stories with them just this once as you know how short attention spans are when kids are having fun. Didn’t want to bore them!

Pic of me on my birthday in my most favourite place in all the world.

Hilkovitz Leanne Little Switzerland


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Famous shenanigans: South Africa’s most notorious bank robber, Trust Bank robber Derek Whitehead, was arrested at Little Switzerland in 1971 at 3am on Friday morning the 14th of May. They had arrived at 4.30pm the previous day. A team of CID detectives from Johannesburg, the Orange Free State and Natal were involved in the swoop. After the arrest, the Whiteheads were taken to Bloemfontein for questioning

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Drunken shenanigans: Omigoodness; You don’t want to know . .

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Genealogy:

Our Bruno the doberman was a Hilkovitz! A Little Switzerland doberman puppy! Dad Pieter Swanepoel told me Leo came to town one day, called in at the Caltex garage and said ‘Come and look!’  On the back of his bakkie he had a bunch of little black pups in a box. Dobermans.

Dad chose one and we grew up with ‘Bruno’ – I only now know he was a citizen of Little Switzerland! He grew up to be a handsome lad!

1955 Barbs Birdhaven tyre Dad

Mexican Mayoral Meal

Mom and Dad’s big mates Hester and Steve Schreiber became Mr & Mrs Mayor and Burgemeester of the City of Song and Laughter, Harrismith OFS. A celebration was called for and hizzoner your worship Oom Steve decided to go big.

A banquet! Here, in Bain’s Folly!

Not only would they use the huge and impressive stadsaal, they would get the new Holiday Inn to cater! They chose as their theme: Mexican! Edelagbare Mexican.

That may have been a continent too far for the dorp as, although they had a wonderful time thanks to the liquid refreshments, it was generally agreed the food was terrible. Much grumbling was heard, but the irrepressible Jack Shannon brought light relief when he said solemnly to his wife Joan: “Ma, next time we go on our around the world tour we must remember to give Mexico a miss!”

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burgemeester – mayor

stadsaal – city hall; we always called it the town hall, though

edelagbare – like hizzonner, your worship, all the OTT shit politicians add to their names; it should be mercilessly mocked

dorp – town

Harrismith’s Gold Cup

Harrismith had a Gold Cup winner!

First run in 1921, or in 1926 over 3200m for a stake of just 2000 pounds, the Gold Cup is Africa’s premier marathon for long-distance runners. It boasts a proud history and captures the public imagination. The race starts at the 400m mark in the short Greyville straight; there’s much jockeying for position as the runners pass the winning post for the first time before turning sharply right and head towards the Drill Hall; normally many runners are under pressure before they turn into the home straight; the race is known to suffer no fools when it comes to fitness and stamina, and it takes a special type of horse and jockey to win the event.

Usually the final big race meeting of the South African racing season, the Gold Cup is often decisive in determining the Equus Award winners for the season. Initially a Grade 1 race, the Gold Cup was downgraded to Grade 2 in 2016 and to Grade 3 in 2017. Nevertheless, it is still the most important horse-racing marathon in the country.

1985 - Occult
1985 – Occult

The distance and unforgiving conditions that prevail as the field go past the Greyville winning post twice, are great levelers and a look at the list of champions beaten in the Gold Cup is a long one, with less-fancied runners carrying less weight often winning.

Sun Lad won the first running in 1926. He raced in the silks of leading owner-breeder Sir Abe Bailey, and the Gold Cup was one of just two wins for Sun Lad during the season. He is frankly unlikely to be regarded as one of the race’s better winners.

In 1930, the winner was Artist Glow. The first horse to win the Gold Cup on two occasions was Humidor, who was victorious in 1933 and 1935.

Harrismith’s winner was the horse Rinmaher (pronounced – and maybe spelt? Rinmahar) owned by the Jim Shannons of Glen Gariff. What year? Probably around 1927 to 1929? Or 1931, 1932 or 1934?

Mom and Dad both tell the story of raucous parties on the Shannon farm where at a suitably ‘sensible’ stage the Gold Cup would be taken off the mantelpiece, filled with champagne or whatever hooch was going and passed around to the ritual comments from the more sober of “Here we go! We’re drinking moths and mosquitoes again!”

Here’s a nephew of the winning owner on a slower horse:

Jack Shannon on his Shetland pony on Kindrochart

Did You Got A Licence?

When I got back to Harrismith in December 1973, we were moving house. The ole man had sold the old house . .

. . and built a new one in Piet Uys street uptown.

I filled the blue kombi with stuff – small furniture, paintings and odds – and drove it the kilometre or so down Stuart Street to Piet Uys street; then back, again and again. Load after load. I loved it, I had driven very little in the USA.

We had LOTS of stuff to go. Including Jock, the brindle staffie terrier.

Finally when I’d moved all the stuff I went for my drivers licence. Overdue. I had turned eighteen eight months prior. I drove myself there. After a short drive the traffic cop turned to me and said “You’ve driven before”. I said Um, Ja and he told me to turn round, go back and he signed on the dotted line.

As I was leaving he asked “Who drove you here?” Um, Me I said. He just grinned.