At the Harrismith se Hoerskool, we were taught “sang” by Eben, well-known HNP lid of the Harrismith Tak who we thought fancied himself as a singer and ladies man.
He tried his best, but we were not an easy task. The RIGHT way was very clear in ou Eben’s mind: Die Volk, Afrikaans, Die Voortrekkers, Die FAK Sangbundel, no “anglisismes” and no Engels. And modern music was the work of the devil. This much was not in doubt. This meant, of course, that the RIGHT way in our minds was – well, something other than that.
He announced one day in the asbestos pre-fab sangklas that we would now sing “Heb je al gehoord van den silveren vloot”, which wasn’t actually Afrikaans, being Hoog Hollands, but that was kosher in his world; followed by the pure Afrikaans “Wie is die dapper generaal? DE WET!” which made us all think we were singing a song of praise for our flyhalf, De Wet Ras.
At this, Skottie Meyer sighed audibly: “O, jis, sing ons al weer vir Fokken Faderland?”
Well! Despite Skottie’s protestations that he had said “Volk en Vaderland”, he was despatched by a puce-faced Eben to the headmaster’s office, forthwith! Inderdaad! But he must have forgotten to go all the way because he appeared at the window behind Eben a minute later and proceeded to have us stifling grins the rest of the session.
I will confess we did sometimes sing words other than those strictly written down in the sangbundel.
Skottie has since shuffled off this mortal coil. Actually, they both have.
I canoed the Vrystaat Vlaktes thanks to Charles Ryder, who arrived with Jenny in Harrismith – about 1968 or ’69 I’d guess – to start his electrical business, a rooinek from Natal. He roared into town in a light green Volvo 122S with a long white fibreglass thing on top of it like this:
What’s that? It’s a canoe
What’s a canoe? You do the Dusi in it
What’s the Dusi?
Well, Charles now knew he was deep behind the boerewors curtain! He patiently made me wiser and got me going and I got really excited the more I learned. I decided I just HAD TO do the Dusi. What could be more exciting than paddling your own canoe 120km over three days from Pietermaritzburg to the sparkling blue Indian Ocean at the Blue Lagoon in Durban? Charles made it sound like the best, most adventurous thing you could possibly think of. He showed me how to paddle and was so generous with his time. Both in paddling and with Harrismith’s first Boy Scouts troop, which he helped establish.
I started running in the mornings with a gang of friends. Tuffy Joubert, Louis Wessels, who else? We called ourselves the mossies as we got up at sparrow’s fart. Then I would cycle about two miles to the park in the afternoons and paddle on the flat water of the mighty Vulgar River in Charles’ Limfjorden, or Limfy, canoe, which he had kindly lent me/given to me. It was the fittest I’ve ever been, before or since.
Overnight I would leave it on the bank tethered to a weeping willow down there. One day around Christmas time with only a couple of weeks to go before Dusi I got there and it was missing. I searched high and low, to no avail. So I missed doing the Dusi. Not that I had done anything but train for it – I hadn’t entered, didn’t know where to, didn’t belong to a club, didn’t have a lift to the race, no seconds, nothing!
1972 Duzi – Still enthused, though, I persuaded my mate Jean Roux to join me in hitch-hiking to the race. We got to Pietermaritzburg and the next morning to the start in Alexander Park in PMB, 1972 Dusi. Milling around among the competitors and their helpers, we watched the start and as the last boats paddled off downstream Alxendra Park started emptying, everyone seemd in a big hurry to leave. We asked wassup and someone said, We’re Following Our Paddler! so we bummed a lift with some paddler’s seconds to the overnight stop at Dusi Bridge. We slept under the stars and cadged supper from all those friendly people. They let us continue with them the next day to the second overnight stop at Dip Tank and on the third and last day to the sea, the estuary at Blue Lagoon, following the race along the way.
I continued the search for my missing Limfy after we got back from watching the Dusi and eventually found a bottle floating in the Kakspruit, a little tributary that flows down from Platberg and enters the river downstream of the weir. It had a string attached to it. I pulled that up and slowly raised the boat – now painted black and blue, but clearly identifiable as I had completely rebuilt it after breaking it in half in a rapid in the valley between Swinburne and Harrismith. Come to remember, that’s why Charles gave it to me! I knew every inch of that boat: the kink in the repaired hull, the repaired cockpit, the wooden gunwales, brass screws, shaped wooden cross members, long wooden stringer, shaped wooden uprights from the cross members vertically up to the stringer, the white nylon deck, genkem glue to stick the deck onto the hull before screwing on the gunwales, the brass carrying handles, aluminium rudder and mechanism, steel cables, the lot. In great detail.
1976 Duzi – In 1976 I entered the race and convinced a friend at College Louis van Reenen to join me. He had asked ‘What’s that?’ when he saw my Limfy on my grey and grey 1965 Opel Concorde in Doornfontein, and ‘What’s that?’ when I said ‘The Dusi,’ so he was ripe for convincing. Later in the holidays he bought a red Hai white-water boat with a closed cockpit from Neville Truran and paddled it once or twice on Emmerentia Dam. In those days that sort-of qualified you for Dusi! Then he loaded it up on his light blue VW Beetle and drove down from Jo’burg to meet me in Harrismith. Only one of us could paddle, the other had to drive as the ‘second’ taking food and kit to the overnight stops. So we tossed a coin. I lost, and so we headed for Alexandra Park in PMB with the red Hai on the roofrack. A great pity for me, as I had done a lot of canoeing, also in flood-level rivers, and had broken two boats in half and repaired one, getting it going again in time for the 1972 Dusi as related above. But – a coin toss is a coin toss. For Louis, the coin toss won him first-ever trip down a river. And what a river!
In that 1976 flood-level high water Louis swam his first Dusi!
He swam and he swam and he drank half the water, lowering the level somewhat, but not enough, as it continued raining and filled up faster than he could drink it down. Evenings he had to hang his bum out the tent door, wracked with ‘Dusi Guts’, but he rinsed and repeated the performance three days in a row and finished the marathon. He was a tough character, Louis!
I drove that pale blue VW in the thick mud of the Valley of a Thousand Hills. Us seconds took turns getting stuck and helping each other out. In places there was a queue of dozens of cars, but one-by-one we’d give each car a shove and we all got through.
Here’s Louis at Blue Lagoon finishing that epic Duzi!
Here’s my orange pup tent and Louis’ red Hai and blue VW at Blue Lagoon after the race, wind howling:
1983 Duzi – It was only in 1982 that I eventually got round to paddling again – and then in 1983 I finally did my first Dusi. On a low river:
and the Lowveld Croc:
All in quick succession, and all at my not-furious pace, staring at the scenery, which was good practice for kayaking the Colorado through the Grand Canyon in 1984.
When I got back from America I thought I must get hold of Charles and tell him what his enthusiasm had led to.
But I didn’t do it then – procrastination – and then I was too late. His heart had attacked him, he was no more. Thank you Charlie Ryder. You changed my life. Enhanced it. Wish I had told you.
Some freezing nights I recall. Funny thing is, most hold such good memories!
– At home some nights at 95 Stuart Street, getting in between cold sheets in a cold room; Harrismith Free State in winter! In the ’60’s
– On the Wilge riverbank with Claudio – sharing a wet sleeping bag after one swim too many on an overnight canoe voyage from Swinburne to Harrismith; ca.1970
– Above Oliviershoek Pass, under some wattle trees on a stream bank – sleeping bags on the ground, no tent – on Jack Shannon’s farm Kindrochart with Pierre and his cousin Kevin, fresh from Durban. In mid-winter in the July holidays. We rode there on our bicycles – about 19 miles. Kevin thought he was gonna freeze-die; To be fair, Durban is sub-tropical and Kevin’s thighs were not made for long bike rides! We woke up to find the top of our sleeping bags frozen – the dew had turned to ice. ca.1968
– With Tuffy and Fluffy in Bloem in an empty school hostel (Jim Fouche se Hoer Skool?); No bedding, huddled under our school blazers. ca.1970. Apparently Daan Smuts had forgotten to arrange accommodation. But who cared! He had NOT forgotten to arrange a coupla beers for us first – which made us late for whatever accommodation may have been arranged by other, more boring, teachers. That’s how I remember it anyway!
– On the Berg River Canoe Marathon in the Cape. July, mid-winter in a winter rainfall area! Rain sweeping in horizontally on the freezing cold gale-force wind. The night before the race we were given a shed to sleep in and reminded to bring mattresses. I managed to burst my new blow-up mattress and so had a freezing night on cold concrete. That second day, the shortest of four, was the longest day of my life; and the coldest I have ever been. EVER! The first fatality ever in a canoe race in SA happened that day. Novice Berg paddler Gerrie Rossouw died. The third and fourth days warmed up, thank goodness; ca.1983
With Aitch in the kombi in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. Like sleeping in a refrigerator. The lions knew to wait till the sun was up before getting it on; ca.1996
With Aitch on Sheila’s expedition up Mt aux Sources. Sheila insisted we camp right in the open, exposed to a freezing gale with our tents leaning at 45º and rolling away if they weren’t weighted down. Pegs didn’t help. The reason Sheila wanted us just there became clear at sunrise; ca.1996
Another cold night on Mt aux Sources with Larry Pierre and Tuffy ca.1970, where we were joined in the hut after dark by two guys who had got a bit ratty with each other on the walk in the dark. They argued about the beef stroganoff and whether the wine was being ‘frozen instead of chilled’ where it was outside in a bank of snow; that set us off into gales of laughter and mocking. When they eventually shut up and settled down for the night Larry started off with 100 bottles of beer on the wall and we sang that very annoyingly for way too long. Hopefully they were more cross with us than with each other in the end?
With Aitch on Nyika Plateau in Malawi 10 000ft asl – but then we dragged our mattress to the lounge and got a roaring log fire going using felled timber from the pine plantation that was being cleared! So that night only counts before the fire got going; ca.1993
The Church of England, Vrystaat Outpost of the British Empire Division, in its small sandstone building in Harrismith – off the beaten track, not even in the shadow of the tall, imposing Kerk of the Chosen People in the square which sat smack in the middle of Warden Street, interrupting the flow of traffic, forcing ox-wagons and – later – automobiles to go AROUND it – had a big problem:
Dwindling membership and a severe shortage of people able to serve the Queen and the Home Country – oh, and the Lord – as deacons.
Not a new problem, this shortage had occupied the minds of these good Anglican, Anglophile Colonialists even before the darned Nationalists had taken over Colonial Rule in 1948 and the death of their dear King George in 1952. Long gone were the days when the mayor and a few councilors might occupy these pews (and speak English at town meetings!). Everyone who was anyone now sat in the Kerk pews of a Sunday and listened to thundering donder n bliksem sermons of power and guilt (and what one could quite legitimately do to the sons of Ham) up the road.
Part of the problem was those families who might cough up good English deacons sent their sons away. Hilton, Michaelhouse, St Andrews, Treverton. You know, good Church schools (yes, some of them might be Methodist, but one has to make do out here in the Colonies). Trouble was, these good schools’ chapels cured them of any desire to spend more Sundays on cold, hard wooden benches. So what to do?
A thought: What about young Clive Oswald? An approving murmur started up among the little group of Church elders, a quiet buzz . . . He had recently returned to the district to join his father and mother on the farm. Young, good-looking, polite, capable; why, it was like manna sent from . . .
“Has his shadow ever darkened the door of this church!?” boomed a voice.
Belonging to Joan Simpson. Dairy farmer; Long-serving deacon; Anglophile; Known for sleeping on her bed on the open porch of the farmhouse she shared with her sister Vera. Year-round, even in Harrismith’s freezing winter. And for delivering milk in big metal cans on the back of her grey Morris Minor pickup – made in England, what. And for wearing khaki trousers at all times. Occasionally a dress to a MOTH do or high church. She’d served in the war, and was still now serving in defence of what was right.
Well, that settled that question. Tabs Fyvie was safe. England expects every Church of England in the Provinces to do its duty and die quietly, fizzling away with dignity.
Joan is probably in this picture somewhere:
Luckily Joan probably hadn’t spotted Tabbo patronising the Anglican Bazaar, or she might have mollified her stance and he might have been sentenced to carry the collection plate for decades.
Down the Mighty Vulgar River (Wilge really) in a borrowed canoe ca 1970. An Accord double kayak borrowed from the ‘Voortrekkers’ – Afrikaner Propaganda Volks Brainwashing Outfit – thanks to Ou Lip’s kindness. He had a good heart, Ou Lip Snyman, and I’m sure he thought he looked dashing in his Voortrekkerleier uniform.
I’m with my mate Claudio Bellato. He’s not a Voortrekker, even though his Afrikaans is bedonderd good. For an Italian. We embark in Swinburne.
The water’s high, it flows up in the willow branches making some sections very tricky. A branch whips off Claudio’s specs – down into the swirling muddy waters go his 5D cylinders (optometrists will know that’s no mean amount of astigmatism). His view of the world has changed from clear to er, interesting. He wants to go after them, knowing that Dad Luigi will take a dim view of the loss. I say “Are you mad!? You’ll drown!”
Later I lose my specs after an unscheduled swim and I go out on a precarious willow limb sticking out over the current looking ‘just in case’. “Oh!” says Claudio, “I’m mad to think of looking for mine, but its OK for you to look for yours?!” Well, mine are only 4D spheres I didn’t mumble, illogically. I must have muttered something, though. Optometrists will know that even with all my foresight, my view of the world was now also not pin-sharp. Rocks in the river would now be navigated by sound.
We paddle on in the blur, the myopic leading the astigmatic. I’m wearing my PlusFours. We decide we should camp while there’s still daylight. That night we share one damp sleeping bag, as mine’s sopping wet. Little did I know that for decades ever after Claudio would introduce me: “Meet my mate Peter. I’ve slept with him.”
The next day we sally forth, peering ahead and paddling tentatively, which we later learn is not the way to negotiate a swift current. The river forks to go round an island, there’s a treeblock, and we wrap the boat around the semi-submerged treetrunk. Our downriver expedition has ended and we’re marooned on the island.
This is new to Claudio, but it’s the second time I’ve now wrapped a borrowed boat on a flooded Wilge River. Fording the rushing current, I only just make the right bank and I signal above the roaring water for Claudio to SIT! STAY! on the island. DON’T try and cross this stream, its DANGEROUS! I semaphore in my best sign language. Then I turn and run off to the beautiful old sandstone house under the splendid oaks of Mrs Girlie and the Misses Marie and Bettie Jacobsz’ farm Walton to phone Charlie Ryder.
Not long after, says me, ‘A hundred years later,’ says Claudio – he comes roaring out in his pale green Volvo 122S in a plume of dust with a long rope. We pull Claudio off the island, but the boat is pinned to the semi-submerged tree. We only rescue the Voortrekkers’ green and white boat two weeks later when the water has subsided.
The Voortrekkers take a dim view of my treatment of their flatwater fibreglass Accord craft and rush me R50 – keep the wreckage.
I’m hooked on kayaking! I can do this! I think . . .
Fluffy Crawley and I were dropped off in Swinburne on the banks of the Mighty Vulgar in the grounds of the Montrose Motel with our open red and blue fibreglass canoe by my Old Man. We were aiming to head off downstream, camp overnight and finish in Harrismith the next day. This was circa 1970.
But we bumped into the inimitable Ian Grant who persuaded us to spend the night at Montrose. His folks Jock & Brenda owned Montrose. They agreed to let us sleep in one of the rondawels.
As evening fell Ian was up to mischief as always, and soon after dark one of the petrol attendants snuck up and slipped us a litre bottle of brandy. Ian organised a litre bottle of cream soda and we were set for nonsense. After a couple of quick shots I suggested we hang around and let the alcohol take effect and let the laughing begin, but as I was in the bathroom taking a leak I overheard Ian mutter “Fuck him, I’m drinking the lot!” so I came out and said “Pour!”
Well Ian was first and I stuck a bucket under his chin as his technicolor yawn started. Just then I heard HURGH! from Fluffy so I grabbed the little wastepaper bin from the bathroom and stuck it under his chin. It was a lumpy laughter duet.
Early the next morning I woke Fluffy and said “Come!” and we carried the red-decked boat to the river and launched it onto the muddy waters. Well, actually “launched” it because it touched bottom.
The river was so low we didn’t even get our shoelaces wet! A long spell of carrying the boat on our shoulders, stopping for a hurl, carrying a while till another stop for a chunder ensued till we found deeper water and a settled stomach and could paddle home.
Fluffy remembers: “The river was terribly low and we did a lot of foot work crossing or by-passing the rapids. We made it in one day, no overnight stop. Your Dad picked us up in town under the old ‘ysterbrug’.“
Dave Walker tells of a Tugela trip or race with Clive Curson when they broke and had to carry their boat for miles. They christened their trip Walkin’ an Cursin’.
Mine with Fluffy Crawley would then be Walkin’ an Crawlin’.
Just been given a picture of the very fibreglass craft we paddled. Sister Sheila, keeper of the archives, had it. Red deck, powder blue hull, wooden slats on the floor.
Way back in high school we spent a night in an old sparsely furnished Drakensberg farmhouse with no ceilings and a tin roof.
We accompanied Klein Kerneels Retief to his Dad’s winter grazing farm Sungubala below Oliviershoek Pass and were left on our own overnight. Adventure! The skies were overcast and soon there were deep rumblings and flashes of lightning. A heavy rain started falling followed by hailstones. The Drakensberg storm built up until it was a roar and we couldn’t hear each other at all – not even shouting into your ear from an inch away was audible above the tinroof fandango. We jumped a foot high when a massive crack of thunder clapped half an inch above the roof. The loudest bang I’d ever heard.
The next day we explored the soaked veld and ouhout thickets above the house and came across a well-endowed woman lying naked on a huge stone in the woods! Stunning! She sported huge shapely boobs and was a wonder for the eyes of lustful teenagers. She was gorgeous! OK, she was made of stone, but hey, what else did we have?
I have often thought of her over the years and started thinking I may have imagined her but then I read of the stone carvings of the Drakensberg and determined to go and find her.
I took the kids and we stayed at The Cavern, lovely old-style ‘Berg hotel. They loved it.
Beautiful things in the grounds – also flowers
Asking around, one of their guides said he knew where my statue was and he’d take me there. I packed a rucksack, he packed lunch and off we went for the day, leaving the kids behind. They could not WAIT for me to GO! DAD! as they had discovered an amazing secret: If you gave any hotel employee your room number he or she would give you anything you wanted under the sun. They had discovered the key to endless riches.
When my guide and I got to the little valley in the foothills where he said the statue was it didn’t look right. It didn’t feel like the place I remembered from – uh, 40yrs ago. But there she was: A maiden with luscious boobs carved in stone.
But this lady was standing up, not lying down on a rock in a seductive pose. There is another statue, I told him. This is not the statue I saw. Its beautiful, and thank you, but she is not the lady of my dreams. Ah! He knew where the other one was. It was on private property and he couldn’t take me there. Back at the hotel I asked around and they showed me a picture.
And there she was, exactly as I remembered her:
Well, almost exactly. Um, I must confess I did NOT notice that she had wings back then, nor that she had clothing. I was remembering naked bunnytail more than dressed wings. Hey, Testosterone! Vrystaat! 1970! No internet! Very few Playboy magazines! Cut me some slack here!
The Story of the Stone Ladies – a tale was told of a reclusive sculptor who fell in love with a trader’s daughter and sculpted these rocks in homage to her. She was a Coventry. We had Coventry twins Glenda & Glynis in Harrismith who came from a Drakensberg trading family. And I think I see a resemblance . . .
Later I found this in a book by Rowan Philp, Rediscovering South Africa: A Wayward Guide. “There are two boulders hidden deep in a Drakensberg forest which tell a near-Shakespearean tale of obsession, genius, and revenge. Completely unsign-posted, they feature magnificent, life-size sculptures of the same nude, full-breasted woman, painstakingly carved by her lover fifty years ago. The story begins when Willie Chalmers, a wandering artist with a wildly unkempt beard, came to the area from the Kalahari in the 1930’s to learn more about Bushman paintings from a farmer’s daughter, Doreen Coventry. He fell in love with her and spent fourteen months carving her likeness into a flat sandstone rock on her farm, adding a halo and the face of a child alongside. He called it Spirit of the Woods.
But some of his younger in-laws saw him as a con man and a parasite at the family homestead, and at the height of the row, Coventry’s nephew hiked up to the sculpture in a rage and smashed off the nose. So, some say, Chalmers began a second Spirit of the Woods, this time in a secret location almost completely enclosed by other boulders, sometimes working for weeks without a break.”
ouhout – Leucosidea sericea; mountain shrub and tree
Veld & Vlei at Greystones on the banks of Wagendrift Dam in the July holidays of 1972, my matric – or ‘senior’ – year of high school. It was a ‘Leadership School’ – ‘a physical and mental challenge,’ they said. Sheila’s diary tells me I was taken there on Friday 30 June 1972 by family friend Dr Dick Venning.
Memories of a busy first week: The tough obstacle course – carry that 44-gal drum over the wall without letting it touch the wall! Other obstacles, including tight underground tunnels. And HURRY!
Chilly winter nights in these old canvas bell tents – we slept like logs. Cross-country runs; PT by military instructors. What’s with this love for things military? Brief naked immersion swims in the frigid water of the dam every morning after a 2,5km run; The lazy bliss of sailing an ‘Enterprise’ dinghy out of reach of anything strenuous!
Then the second week: Being chosen as patrol leader of Uys Patrol; A preparatory two-day hike in the area. One of our patrol was a chubby, whiny lad, so we spent some effort nursing him home. He was worth it: good sense of humour! Poor bugger’s thighs rubbed red and sore on the walk!
I had no camera, no photos, the only record I still have of the course is my vivid memories – and the blue felt badge they gave us on completion.
But then I found a website – http://www.hofland.co.uk – by someone who had been on the same 1972 winter course as me – Willem Hofland from the Natal South Coast. He had these black & white pics which I am very grateful to be able to use! He also has his course report and certificate. I wonder what they said on them, as our course was cut short. His images are very blurry but you can read the word PASS – so they must have decided we’d done enough to get certificates? I now only have the felt badge.
Then the climax, the big challenge: The course-ending six-day hike! We drove by bus to the magic Giants Castle region in the Drakensberg.
We set off with our laden rucksacks down the valley, up the other side towards the snow-topped peaks, heading for Langalabilele Pass and the High ‘Berg. We had walked about 5km when a faint shout sounded and continued non-stop until we stopped and searched for the source.
It was an instructor chasing after us and telling us to “Turn around, abort the hike, return to Greystones! Walk SLOWLY!” Someone had come down with meningitis and the whole course was ending early! Sheila’s diary records my folks were phoned on 12 July and asked to fetch me. We were given big white pills to swallow and sent home with strict instructions to take it easy: No physical exercise.
But our rucksacks were packed . . . . and our wanderlust aroused, so I’m afraid I headed straight off to Mt aux Sources soon after getting home. Up the chain ladder onto the escarpment and on to the lip of the Tugela Falls, sleeping outside the mountain hut. Greg Seibert may have accompanied me. I forget who else.
That’s what I remembered. Today, however, 48yrs later, Sheila has given me the letters I wrote home, so I also know this: So much for vivid memories!
My first letter was two days into the course and the main concern was ‘PLEEZ send my rucksack! The rucksack I have been issued with is absolutely messed up!’ (see at the end – Mom did send it). I was fit, as shown by my maximums. I had done 63 step-ups with weights. The camp record was 64. ‘The assault course instructor is a sadist.’ Please send the rucksack! They have arranged for parcel deliveries. Mom’s letter back said she had sent the rucksack – and ‘look inside.’ Moms are great!
The next letter was Monday 3rd July 1972 – Early morning run and naked dip in the dam; sailing and canoeing. Our patrol won both canoe races (‘natch!’ I wrote, being very keen on canoeing at the time) and we won Best Patrol of the Day. ‘Today Monday was much tougher: The assault course consists of eleven obstacles and we only completed five! Only one of the six patrols completed the course. They took one hour and seventeen minutes. The course record is twelve minutes and fifty seconds! PT was based on maximums. My first round took 10 mins 42 seconds, then a run. I did the second round in 10 mins dead. Dead’s the word! I met Stephen Middlemost. A good chap.’
The last letter was on day 9: Our first free morning. On day 7 they had given us twenty minutes to get ready and leave on a two day expedition. Find your way by map to various waypoints. There was ‘not much discipline’ in our patrol. ‘Leaders had been chosen who were not leaders’ (according to yours truly!) and not much hard hiking was done. I saw we were way behind schedule so ‘I tried to push them, but they just got mad and rested often and long.’ I did all the map and compass work and ‘they would argue like mad as to our direction without ever looking at the map!’ By nightfall we were about halfway to our intended destination. We camped and ‘the boys just wanted to turn around and go back. I refused and eventually they agreed to try and finish the course.! In the morning we only set off at 9am! I worked out shortcuts for them while one of the guys and I walked to the beacons and took bearings; we would then catch up to them again. We walked along to ‘a chorus of moaning and swearing, mainly at me for ‘rushing them. Anyway, eventually we crossed the Bushmans River in the dark and arrived back at camp at 7.30pm. At least we did finish the course! And luckily there was a good supper waiting.’
On the evening of that ninth day we chose patrol leaders; seventy two boys, six patrols; I was chosen to lead Uys Patrol. ‘My deputy is Reg Wilkins, a very good chap: funny, determined, stubborn, etc. but we’ll go great. Our quartermaster is Neville Slade, also a great guy, very conscientious.’
Our full patrol is Eric Cohen, Arthur Lees-Rolfe, John Peterson, Nev Slade, Clyde Nunn, Reg Wilkins, Rusty du Plessis, Bud Marouchos, and me. We lost Rob Hohls abseiling when a big rock fell on his head.
In a letter home: I lost or mislaid my boots; I should find them. Cuthberts made a lousy job of fixing them. R3!! On the first hike I lost half of both heels; on the two-day expedition the other halves came off and the whole sole is coming off, starting at the toe.’
I was so looking forward to the high ‘Berg hike. That was MY territory! None of these city slickers and beach bums knew the high ‘Berg and I did. But it was not to be . .
More odds and sods I found, scanned and tossed. Warning: Boring!! – only for those who were there:
July 2020 – Found a diary I kept on the course.
Later that year I got a hilarious raunchy letter from my cool-dude side-kick Nev Slade:
Excerpts: He moans about swotting for matric; He says ‘now listen you Free State Fuckup’ (‘that’s the best I have thought up for a long time’) and invites me to a post-matric party – a good thrash! He reports getting as ‘canned as a coot’ at a disco; he says he’ll set me up with a sexy partner; threatens, if I don’t pitch at his thrash, to come to the Free State and castrate me! Signs himself off: ‘Great Poet and man who survived Veld & Vlei’ – Nev Slade, Bridgewood, Dargle Rail
Ah, a mystery solved: We did NOT get completion certificates.
So Hofland could not have been on the July 1972 course, I guess. Still, thanks for the photos!
I gave a talk to Harrismith Rotary club afterwards, telling them all about it, expressing my disappointment on not doing the high Berg hike; and thanking them for sponsoring me on lovely adventure.
Another postscript: I now know, from another hilarious and rude letter from Nev Slade, something about our hike up Mt aux Sources. Nev had been to a polocrosse tournament in Greytown where he almost broke his arm due to rough treatment from Transvalers who were “the dirtiest, wildest pigs you’ve ever come across,” – in fact they were “just like Freestaters in the wild Swanepoel tradition.” He couldn’t think of a worse insult! What a lekker oke! Anyway, obviously replying to my letter he says “Wow, you’re lucky to have seen a lammergeier so close up! Lend me some of your luck sometime won’t you?”
A letter! Sheila found a letter written to me by Mom while I was on camp. She filled me in on happenings in the metropolis of Harrismith in my absence: 1. Two heart attacks – Jonathan McCloy’s Dad and Ds Ras. Lulu was at home with her Dad, but De Wet was away playing Craven Week rugby. He hastened home; Ds in hospital under heavy sedation. 2. When Eastern Free State won a game at Craven Week, Rudolph Gabba Coetzee had to speak on the radio! Big news for one who did not do much public speaking! 3. I had an interview straight after my course in Estcourt to apply for a Rotary Exchange Student posting. It was right near Veld in Vlei in Estcourt, so Mom said I should stay with my cousin Marlene – ‘and try and get a haircut in Estcourt before the interview’ – Yeah, like that was going to happen!! 4. They had stayed at a caravan park with Sheila. It was lousy, no lights, no hot water and a long list of other things wrong. And lastly, when she was about to send me the rucksack I had requested, Harriet vdMerwe saw her and said, No Mary! You can’t send it empty! Put some goodies in it! So she had included sweets and dried fruit.
It was 1981 and we were new in Durban. We decided to watch the Comrades Marathon, an 89km exercise in insanity being run “up” from the coast at Durban to the heights of Sleepy Hollow that year. Those days it was easy to follow the race: You just got in the way, parked wherever and got out whenever you felt like shouting encouragement to the possessed. Early in the morning we stood near 45th cutting and soon the runners arrived. Near to us was a short old bald whispy-haired fella shouting enthusiastic encouragement and giving two-thumbs-up to virtually every runner, some of whom – quite a number – seemed to recognise him.
Once the last stragglers had passed we started to head off to Dave’s green VW Beetle, but noticed the old bullet seemed lost. Can we help you? we asked. Do you know the way to the finish? he asked. Sure, and we’re going there, we said, wanna come along? I’d love that, he said gratefully, and that’s how two complete Comrades ignoramuses ended up driving Wally Hayward in the back of a Beetle to the finish of the 1981 Comrades – a race he had run five times AND WON FIVE TIMES!
Well, you couldn’t spend a morning with Wally without hearing a whole bunch of tales and we milked him for more and fell under the spell of this warm and unassuming bundle of energy. At the finish we sat on the grass and heard an announcement that some old bullet who won the race decades ago was there and was going to do a lap of honour. The wonderful brave soul – I think Phil Masterson-Smith, the 1931 winner – shuffled slowly around the track to tremendous applause, none louder than that coming from Wally who watched intently, quivering like a bird-dog with a huge grin and a wistful look in his eyes. I winked at Dave and snuck off to the announcer’s tower and told them we had the 1930 winner Wally Hayward with us, and could they make a fuss of him, too?
They could indeed! And so, 51yrs after first winning the race Wally hit the track, totally surprised – but also totally chuffed – and ran that 400m with a smile like a truck radiator and his knees flying past his ears looking for all the world like an escaped ostrich! I bet his 400m time would have been way up there among the quickest ever for a 73yr-old!
Yes, Wally had won in 1930, then again in 1950, ’51, ’53 and 1954! He had run this crazy ultra-marathon only five times in all and won it every time he entered, the last time at the age of 45, a record which still stood in 1981. It was only broken much later – in 2004.
It took us a while to find him after his lap of honour, celebrity that he now was, but yes, he still wanted a lift back to Durban please.
I s’pose he didn’t know the way!
Six years after we enjoyed this magic day, Wally ran Comrades again, thirty three years after his last run and shortly before his 80th birthday. He ran a magnificent race, beating half the field and beating the winner Bruce Fordyce on an age-handicapped calculation. Bruce himself mentioned and emphasised this after the race.
Wally’s memoirs were published in time for the 1999 Comrades by a wonderful friend of mine, fellow Comrades runner and Dusi paddler Bill Jamieson. He titled the book: “JUST CALL ME WALLY”.
89km in 9hrs 44mins just before his 80th birthday.
Dave Simpson wrote to me on seeing this post: Hi Pete, Well this does bring back memories – 33 years ago at that! Actually, we originally only planned to go as far as Fields Hill. When Bruce Fordyce past us outside the Westridge Park Tennis Stadium, with his bunch of early race ‘klingons’ and yelled out ‘Walleeeee’ as he strode past the great man – we knew we were dealing with someone special. The rest you’ve said. Great story. Hood
Me: I’d forgotten that! It was Fordyce’s first win that year. The first of nine. In the back of my mind I thought we did know there was something special about him, but we weren’t sure who he was. When he asked for a lift, did we already know who he was?
Dave again: No, we did not know who he was. When he asked for a lift, he told us that he was there with his mate, who wanted to follow his son who was a plodder at the back of the field. Dear Wally just assumed that we, like him wanted to watch the front runners. As it turned out, Wally was wrong – we just wanted to be with Wally!
Among many other running achievements, Wally had also won the Harrismith Mountain Race. After the race, in typical generous Wally style, he called ‘The toughest race in the world!’ – just what we Harrismithians wanted to hear!
The Wally Hayward medal
Wally Hayward died in May 2006 at the age of 97. In November, the Comrades Marathon Association announced that a new medal, the Wally Hayward medal, would be presented to runners for the first time in 2007. These special medals are awarded to those runners who fail to earn Comrades gold medals – awarded to the first 10 men and women finishers – but still come in under the six-hour barrier first broken by Hayward in 1953.
Wally Hayward was one of the greatest ever Comrades runners, with five wins in five starts over twenty four years, then two more finishes, up to fifty eight years after his first run. Comrades Association chairman Dave Dixon said in announcing the new medal, ‘He had a remarkable Comrades career, and is still the oldest person ever to finish the race.’
thanks to brandsouthafrica for some of the info here – read how Wally was branded a professional and barred from winning more Comrades; thanks also to Bill Jamieson’s book ‘Just Call Me Wally.’ Bill was a great character, Comrades runner and fellow Kingfisher Canoe Club member. In his later years we would meet and he’d regale me with his stories and his worries. A lovely man.
Years later, Dave Simpson met another SA sporting icon:
When modern man decided to pinch water from the Tugela river and pump it uphill to satisfy the Vaalies’ thirst, our area around Harrismith and Bergville saw a flurry of activity and an influx of new people. A bus arrived at school and a flock of new kids tumbled out. They were cruelly christened Die Dam Paddas by us parochials.
New things started appearing in the distrik: Sterkfontein dam; TuVa township (Tu Va – Tugela/Vaalies, geddit?); a vertical tunnel in the Drakensberg for the hydro-electric turbines; canals and smaller dams. All had to be built.
One of the latter was Driel Barrage on the Tugela river on Kai Reitz’s farm The Bend, so once we’d had sufficient beer one fine day we drove down on the back of Kai’s big Chevy pickup to look at the construction and to say some insightful engineering things about it.
A very high wall had been built starting out from dry land until its highest point in the middle of the river. Very interesting, but we don’t have to . . . . Oh, we do?
So we climbed up it and inched our way on our bums along the 30cm wide wall to its highest point. Some walked, but they were just being foolish, right? OK, so we’ve seen it, can we go now?
The muddy brown water way below us was completely opaque, no way you could see even one centimetre into it. It could have been knee deep or ten metres deep, who knows, so we definitely won’t be . . . . Mandy! ARE YOU MA-AA-aa-aD?!
She’s jumped! Holy shee-yit!! Ah neely dahd, she took forever to plummet as I watched in slow motion, and then she entered with a big splash and disappeared, which I s’pose was better than if she hadn’t.
Eventually she surfaced with a huge grin on her face and now I knew I was stuffed. I’d have to jump. Unless the others chickened out, but no, there went Sheila and so before long I had to stand up, act casual and plummet meself.
Unbelievable what a fierce hold brave women have over us cowardly um, circumspect men . . .