Mary Bland Grew Up On A Farm

This was taken on my grandparents’ Frank and Annie Bland’s farm, Nuwejaarsvlei in the Harrismith district, 18 miles out on the road to Witsieshoek. The farm is now under Sterkfontein Dam. The solid sandstone stables (“five loose boxes”) were more stable (!) than the house, which was a long thin prefabricated structure bought from the British army on Kings Hill when they left town in 1913.

Her father Frank cut off a portion of the long house so they only lived in four rooms: A lounge, a kitchen and two bedrooms. They bathed in a zinc bath in the kitchen while Frank showered with cold water in a reed enclosure outside. Bath water was heated in paraffin tins on the coal stove. Lighting was by lamplight. The toilet was a long-drop outside under trees along a path of white-washed stones leading from the kitchen door.

Here’s older sis Pat pushing Mother Mary in the pram in the farmyard. See the stables in the background.

pat-mary-nuwejaarsvlei

Frank started to build a big stone house from sandstone quarried on the farm. Built on a slope it was level with the ground at the back, but ended in a high drop in front, which never did get the steps that were to lead up to the big veranda. The walls went up and the kids would roam around the big house, four bedrooms, big rooms, big kitchen but Mom says “no bathroom.” The roof never went on. The builder wanted many sheep (Mom thinks 200!) to do the roof and Frank balked at that / couldn’t afford it.

Other buildings on the farm were a workshop, Frank’s office and a garage for his yellow ‘Erskine’ tourer. It had open sides; when it rained you put up side flaps.

Erskine_Touring_1927

Later Frank bought a 1936 Chev Standard – perhaps like this one, but ‘light brown’:

 

 

Mom Mary remembers cousin Janet leaving the door open after she and older sister Pat had jumped out just before Frank drove into the garage. The door, she says, was “damaged forever.”

The Nuwejaarspruit runs from Nuwejaarsvlei down to the Wilge river downstream of Harrismith and then into the Vaal Dam. Sterkfontein dam was built on the spruit and drowned the farm under Tugela river water pumped up from KwaZulu Natal. You would now have to scuba dive in the clear water to see the farmhouse. The pictures are taken from roughly above the farm looking back towards Harrismith’s long Platberg mountain with Baker’s Kop on the left:

sterkfontein-dam

They called the hills on the farm ‘Sugar Loaf’ and ‘Horseshoe’. Mom loved the walks they would undertake with Dad Frank.

Annie also always drove. Frank said she always drove too fast. Years later the younger crowd john Taylor and Mike ___y said she should speed up – “to the speed limit”!!

Annie in old car
Annie & dog in a _____

Then the Blands moved into town – the metropolis of Harrismith – ca1939 to start a petrol station and garage, having lost the farms. In September 1943 had a colosistectomy for gallstones’ performed by GP Dr Frank Reitz. Mom went to visit him in hospital on her fifteenth birthday, 18 September. He died two months later, aged fifty. The next year when Annie needed an op she sent Mary off with Granny Bland to stay with Mrs Jim Caskie – ‘a huge fat lady’ – in the Echoes Hotel in Durban.

Durban Echoes Hotel Mom Granny Bland

While in Durban they saw a movie “This Is The Army.”

Luckily Annie came through the ordeal intact.

 

 

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Nearby farm neighbours on Kindrochart were the Shannons, George and Belle, with son Jack, a few years older than Pat and Mary.

When he had outgrown his Shetland Pony it was suggested to Jack that he give it to the Bland girls on Nuwejaarsvlei. He looked dubious but his parents encouraged him.

“Will you do that?” they prodded him.

“Yes, but not with pleasure” said Jack.

Recently Sheila found a pic of Jack – probably on that very pony!

1920 Jack Shannon & Peter Bell
Jack and Peter Bell

Peter Bell (or Hastings-Bell) became a pilot in the Rhodesian airforce and tragically went missing in action in WW2.

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1930 Bland group at NJV
Jessie & Annie sitting with Janet & Mary between them – (then two guests) – Frank lying with Pat

 

 

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Decades later, here’s Mary in 1990 cruising above her old farm in a boat the ole man built, with her old home somewhere underwater below her:

1990 April Sterkfontein 50003

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The Erskine was an American Automobile built by The Studebaker Corp. in South Bend, Indiana from 1926 to 1930.

Author: bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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