Harrismith’s New Park

(I’ve done a similar post! on the park in more recent days – ‘Our era,’ the 1960s. Enjoy both, and take both with a pincha cerebos).

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Harrismith’s young town council, established only in 1875, though the town had been going for much longer, decided in 1877 to lay out a large park for its citizens to enjoy on the banks of the Wilge River on the south-west edge of the new dorpie.

Over the following years – and mainly thanks to the efforts of the Landdrost Warden who came to Harrismith in 1884, and Harrismith’s first Town Clerk A. Milne, the area was laid out with winding roads, walking paths, a “lovers lane of poplar trees” and up to 38 species of other trees, in what was then highveld grassland. Or, as described by park praise-singers: “a bare, crude piece of ground!”

Here we see the Wilge River banks and surrounds just upstream of the park site – near where the ysterbrug, or Hamilton Goold bridge was later built:

– the troops stationed in the town around the time of the Anglo-Boer War erected the suspension bridge seen above –

Park tree planting commences. Platberg the backdrop.

The river was narrow and shallow at the time and so an attractive little lake with a central island was built on the right bank (town side) and used for boating. Swans were introduced from London ‘for beauty.’ As for trees, so all local life **sniff** was regarded as inferior to things imported from “home”! Home being a small island to the NW of France. The swans did quite well, settled in and bred, the cygnets being sold for £15 a pair, but they met their end at the hand of ‘some unidentified vandal with a .22 gun.’ Probably an early indigenous wildlife fan, I’d like to suggest?

As the trees grew, so more and more birds roosted in them, large heronries eventually being established. Predictably people complained and as predictably, the council “did something about it,” shooting the local birds while pontificating against the shooting of the foreign birds! The birds’ carcasses dropped into and frotted in the lake, causing a big stink! In the 60s there were still many cattle egrets in the trees and I recall lots of white poo and some dead babies on the ground beneath their nests.

In 1897 the lake was named Victoria Lake in honour of the silver jubilee of the Queen – that’s the queen of England, that little island to the NW of France – along with thousands of other things named “Victoria” that year around the world – much genuflection was expected of the colonies. Also they were probaby trying to ease her pain over the royal pasting we had given her at Majuba.

– they named the lake “Victoria” to arse-creep the queen . . of England – didn’t amuse her, though – never once came to ghoef in it –
– more recently – sans swans – we shot them all –

More & more trees would be planted over the years by schoolkids and enthusiasts. Gotta get this place looking more like England, dammit!

– lovers walk, some said – I remember the poplar trees leaning ominously –

The park was officially opened in 1906 by Sir Hamilton Goold Adams, at “a colourful ceremony with troops on parade and a military band in attendance.” Now they were gloating, having given us a revenge pasting in the 1899-1902 Tweede Vryheids Oorlog (Boer War).

In 1907 the river was dammed by a weir just downstream of the park, thus creating a wider and deeper river for the full length of the park.

This greatly added to the river’s charm and utility, allowing for swimming, drowning, more boating and bigger boats – even the first motorboat in 1918, owned by Mr E.H Friday. Later a boat house and a landing stage were erected by the Boating Syndicate who advertised ‘Boats for 2 and boats for 4 and boats for all’ in 1922. The Syndicate graduated to a motor launch capable of taking 14 passengers slowly along the river, including full-moon evenings where people would sing the songs of the day, accompanied by “the plaintive sounds of the ukelele”.


On the edge of the park nearest town sportsfields were laid out, starting with a cricket oval and an athletic track, then rugby, soccer, softball and hockey fields; and jukskei lanes. No croquet?

The park was extended across the river and a new suspension bridge about 300 yards downstream replaced the one the military had erected (the thrifty town council using some of the metal from the original in the replacement). In time a caravan park was started, but this was soon moved to the town side of the park.

An impressive entrance – wrought iron gates between sandstone pillars – was erected and named the Warden-Milne gate in honour of those
who had done so much to get the park established. Well done, chaps! We enjoyed the fruits of your labour in our youth in the 1960s! OK, not really labour, organisational abilities, nê?

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It’s thanks to the preservation efforts of Biebie de Vos that we can see these old pics. Thanks, Biebie! Also thanks to SA Watt’s military history articles here and here.

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Gotta love marketing! In a brochure extolling the virtues of our lovely dorp, the blurb says – where we would have said Dammit, it’s FREEZING! – “the town enjoys a bracing climate.”

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Riding Shotgun

Another re-cycled post to save ink, pixels and perspiration. I tried to reason with these ous, but would they lissen to me?

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My lift from JHB dropped me off at home. The dorp was empty. The city of sin and laughter was somnolent. Soporific even. Where WAS everyone?

I phoned 2630 pring pring pring. Or was it 2603 priiiiing priiiing priiiing? I forget. Can you fetch me? No, get yourself here quick, we’re going to Warden to scare some guineafowls. Now.

What could I do? The imported white Ford Econoline 302 cu. inch V8 van was in the garage, I knew where the keys were, and the folks were away. And after all, I’d only be using it to get to Gilliann then hop into T’s bakkie and away we’d go. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, and I’d better borrow Dad’s cheap Russian 12-gauge shotgun, too. And take a few beers.

As I drew up next to the prefab on Gilliann a cry of Perfect! A real shooting brake! went up and six pre-lubricated gentlemen holding shotguns and beers piled in, calling Tommy the German Pointer in with them. No, guys, hang on, I said feebly . .

The day at Roest was a blur but the drive back came into sharp focus. We ‘had to’ pull in to the village pub. The dorpskroeg. I, of course, had suggested we go straight home, but that went down like a lead balloon. A vote wasn’t taken and I lost, blithely ignored. Overruled. In the pub the barman took one look at us and refused to serve us. Someone who shall remain nameless but whose surname maybe started with a Gee and ended with a Zee, fetched his shotgun and casually aimed it at the expensive bottles of hooch above the barman’s head whereupon said barman suddenly remembered our order and delivered seven beers pronto. When we decided we’d like to play snooker, same thing: It was a No until a The Simpsons-like character aimed a shotgun at the white ball and the cues were produced with alacrity. And chalk.

When to my huge relief, we finally got going, the G-man, who was riding shotgun on my right (the van was Left-Hand-Drive), sat on the windowsill and three of Warden’s four streetlamps went ‘pop’. There he is, in the window, next to the weapon in question. Tommy’s wondering What.The.Hell!? The guinea is mortally wounded, deceased and bleeding on the van carpet.

– riding shotgun –

Now I KNEW I was going to jail forever. Putting my head down and roaring for home I wasn’t stopping again for NOBODY. Except the gentle tickle of a shotgun against my ear persuaded me otherwise and I stopped as instructed with my headlights shining on Eeram. A firing squad lined up, three kneeling in front and four standing behind them. This is for Ram, guys, he’s getting married in Bergville next weekend! BLAM!! The ‘Ee’ disappeared, and there was just ‘ram’. In honour of Ram’s wedding. Nor do I believe it. Maybe it was a dream?

I finally got rid of the miscreants, got home and looked at the van. Holy cow! Dog hair, guineafowl feathers and the mud and the blood and the beer all over the carpets and upholstery of Dad’s white Ford Econoline V8 camper van! 302 cu. inches. I set to work cleaning it. And cleaning it. And scrubbing it. Still it stank of that mixture. In desperation, I took a jerrycan and spread petrol liberally on the carpet and scrubbed again.

When the folks got home I made a full – OK, partial – confession: Dad, I spilled some petrol in your van, but I’ve cleaned it all up. Sorry about that!

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  • the mud and the blood and the beer – Johnny Cash –

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Tragic Testicular Descent

If you’re writing an olden days blog you run out of material. Only so much happened from when I was born till I met Aitch, which is the timeline of this blog. My ** Born, Bachelorhood and Beer ** blog. So there’s recycling. Here’s a post I wrote in 2016, slightly updated:

I used to sing beautifully. The teacher who trained the boys choir in Harrismith Laerskool said so. Well, she might have. She was Mej Cronje, and was half the reason ous would volunteer for the choir. To look at her, gorgeous redhead she was.

I was a soprano and we looked down on the altos who, though necessary as backup, weren’t in the same league as us squeakers. One directly behind me used to bellow in my ear: ‘Dek jou hol met bouse off hollie! FaLaLaLa  La LaLaLaLa.’

One day this delectable and discerning talent spotter, the red-headed Juffrou Ethel Cronje, chose me to sing a solo in the next konsert. Me, the soloist! Move over, Wessel Zietsman!

Fame loomed. It was 1965 and even then, the image of a golden buzzer appeared to me in a vision. This thought crossed my mind: Harrismith’s Got Talent!

Then tragedy struck!

My balls dropped.

They handled it very diplomatically. By ignoring it and cancelling practice. The konsert didn’t materialise. Co-incidence? Surely they didn’t cancel a concert just because one boy suffered testicular descent? And by the time the next konsert came around I hadn’t been banished – just discreetly consigned to the back and asked to turn it down.

* * *

Just in case there are people who think Harrismith se Laerskool se Seunskoor was a Mickey Mouse outfit, lemme tellya:
WE TOURED ZULULAND. The Vienna Boys Sausages were probably nervous.

We got into the light blue school bus and drove for hours and hours and reached Empangeni far away, where the school hall was stampvol of people who, starved of culture in deepest Zoolooland, listened in raptures as we warbled Whistle While You Work, High on your Heels is a Lonely Goat Turd, PaRumPaPumPum, Edelweiss, Dominique, Dek jou hol, and some volksliedjies which always raised a little ripple of applause as the gehoor thought “Dankie tog, we know vis one“.

If memory serves (and it does, it does, seldom am I the villain or the scapegoat in my recollections) there was a flood and the road to the coastal village of ReetShits Bye was cut off, sparing them the price of a ticket – though those were probably gratis?

Can’t remember driving back, but we must have.

After that epic and ground-breaking (sod-breaking?) tour, warbling faded in importance and rugby took over.

Later, there was one brief but intense attempt at reviving my career as a singer.

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Mej ; Juffrou – Miss; not yet married to Kiewiet Uys; ladies had to be tagged as ‘available,’ guys not

Harrismith Laerskool – the village school

Harrismith se Laerskool se Seunskoor – very much like the famous Vienna Boys Sausages

sopraan-ous – high range warblers; not castrati, but can sing like them

ous – us men

‘Dek Jou Hol’ – literally, cover your ass; listen to the sopraan-ous, they’re the ones. The highballs are on them.

highballs – slang for alcoholic drink in USA; ‘giraffe walked into a bar, said The Highballs Are On Me’

seunskoor – boys choir

stampvol – sold out, packed, overflowing; like – viral!

volksliedjies – folk songs; songs of ve Chosen People

gehoor – audience, fans; (yes, it was 1965, but we could hear them clicking ‘like’ and ‘follow’)

dankie tog – fanks heavens, sigh of relief

ReetShits Bye – Richards Bay, then still a small fishing village on the warm Indian Ocean, the bay still a natural estuary, not yet dug out for coal ships

Pa rum pum pum pum – listen to the sopraan-ous, they’re the ones

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None Pictures

Mom tells me that after I had me tonsils out at about age three, she took me to Kindrochart for recovery for the poor little tender chap. I clung to her skirts and wouldn’t go to anyone, but once when lovely friendly Betty Stephens – a huge fan of us kids – offered to carry me up a hill after I’d run out of poof, I condescended.

Mom also tells that I told on Ma Shannon! She had appeared on the stoep in her nightie and I hastened to tell Mom, ‘Ma! Shannon’s got none clothes on!’ Apparently Ma Shannon tried hard to get me to call her Nana, but I’d not call her anything but ‘Shannon.’

On the way back to the big smoke, driving on the gravel road towards Platberg, Mom was telling Betty about a book she’d enjoyed reading about a Belgian nun – The Nun’s Story – I had the book in my hands on the back seat and it seems I was disappointed in it. So I piped up, ‘. . and it’s got none pictures.’

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Pic: Kerkenberg - the old Binghamsberg - from Kindrochart side - from mapio.net

Prices Back Then

Dad: I bought a Russian 12-gauge shotgun, a Baikal. I paid R139. I got it from Musgrave in Bloemfontein.

Internet comments are mostly very complimentary about Baikal down-to-earthness, ruggedness and value: The first Baikal shotguns years ago were side-by-sides; They were not very sophisticated; They are more reliable than their price would suggest; You can depend on them; If you’re on a modest budget then a Baikal is a good first buy; etc.

– I used to occasionally use this implement to miss guineafowl ca.1977 –
– guineafowl shoot on Rust outside Warden ca.1977 – I’m 2nd left – none of those birds were harmed by me in the shooting of this movie –

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Dad: When Harry Mandy went to Japan I asked him to get me a Canon camera and telephoto lens. He got me a FT QL camera body with standard 50mm lens, a close-up lens and a 200mm telephoto lens for R140.

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Mist or Smoke?

Mom says they loved swimming. All the boys were at the baths – the Harrismith Municipal Swimming Baths about a kilometre away up the hill past the Town Hall.

Some days they’d get ready to go – cozzies and towels over their arms, but Granny Bland would be standing on the back stoep with her hand on her hip, looking at the mist on the eastern end of Platberg and announce firmly, ‘No, you can NOT go swimming. You can put that in your pipe and smoke it!’

Early Daze

A re-post cos Mom told me some news today (see right at the end):

My first recollections are of life on the plot outside Harrismith, playing with Enoch and Casaia, childhood companions, kids of Lena Mazibuko, who looked after us as Mom and Dad worked in town. The plot was in the shadow of Platberg, and was called Birdhaven, as Dad kept big aviaries. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!

I lived there from when I was carried home from the maternity home till when I was about five years old, when we moved into town.

1955 Koos with aviaries
– those pigeon aviaries – and me –

I remember suddenly “knowing” it was lunchtime and looking up at the dirt road above the farmyard that led to town. Sure enough, right about then a cloud of dust would appear and Mom and Dad would arrive for their lunch and siesta, having locked up the Platberg bottle store at 1pm sharp. I could see them coming along the road and then sweeping down the long driveway to park near the rondavel at the back near the kitchen door. They would eat lunch, have a short lie-down and leave in time to re-open at 2pm. I now know the trip was exactly 3km door-to-door, thanks to google maps.

Every day I “just knew” they were coming. I wonder if I actually heard their approach and then “knew”? Or was it an inner clock? Back then they would buzz around in Mom’s Ford Prefect or Dad’s beige Morris Isis. Here’s an old 8mm movie of the old green and black Ford Prefect on the Birdhaven circular driveway – four seconds of action – (most likely older sister Barbara waving out the window):

birdhaven

1. Ruins of our house; 2. Dougie Wright, Gould & Ruth Dominy’s place; 3. Jack Levick’s house; 4. The meandering Kak Spruit. None of those houses on the left were there back then.

Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that mimic’d a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who could mimic a bit more. A tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl would visit at night.

Our next neighbours, nearer to the mountain, were Ruth and Gould Dominy and Ruth’s son Dougie Wright on Glen Khyber. They were about 500m further down the road towards the mountain, across the Kak Spruit over a little bridge. Doug’s cottage was on the left next to the spruit that came down from Khyber Pass and flowed into the bigger spruit; The big house with its sunny glassed-in stoep was a bit further on the right. Ruth and a flock of small dogs would serve Gould his tea in a teacup the size of a big deep soup bowl.

Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo
– Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo outside the rondavel –

Judas Thabete lived on the property and looked after the garden. I remember him as old, small and bearded. He lived in a hovel of a hut across a donga and a small ploughed field to the west of our house. He had some sort of cart – animal-drawn? self-drawn? Self-drawn, I think.

Koos
– Me and Sheila on the front lawn – 1956 –

Other things I remember are driving out and seeing white storks in the dead bluegum trees outside the gate – those and the eagle owl being the first wild birds I ‘spotted’ in my still-ongoing birding life; I remember the snake outside the kitchen door;

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad in the Kitchen
– Scene of the rinkhals leap – this taken thirty years later, in 1990 –

I don’t remember but have been told, that my mate Donald Coleman, two years older, would walk the kilometre from his home on the edge of town to Birdhaven to visit me. Apparently his Mom Jean would phone my Mom Mary on the party line and ask, “Do you have a little person out there?” if she couldn’t find him. He was a discoverer and a wanderer and a thinker, my mate Donald.

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad on the front veranda
– 1990 – Mom & Dad sit on the stoep –
1955 Barbs Birdhaven tyre Dad.jpg
– fun on the lawn – and Bruno the Little Switzerland doberman –

Bruno the doberman came from Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek pass down the Drakensberg into Natal. Leo and Heather Hilcovitz owned and ran it – “very well” according to Dad. Leo came into town once with a few pups in the back of his bakkie. Dobermans. Dad said I Want One! and gave Leo a pocket of potatoes in exchange for our Bruno. He lived to good age and died at 95 Stuart Street after we’d moved to town.

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rondavel – circular building with a conical roof, often thatched;

spruit – stream; kak spruit: shit stream; maybe it was used as a sewer downstream in town in earlier days?

stoep – veranda

donga – dry, eroded watercourse; gulch, arroyo; scene of much play in our youth;

bakkie – pickup truck

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– 1948 Ford Prefect –

A newsflash the year I was born – check the cars.

Our Ford Prefect was somewhere between a 1938 and a 1948 – the ‘sit up and beg’ look, before sedans went flat. They were powered by a 4 cylinder engine displacing 1172cc, producing 30 hp. The engine had no water pump or oil filter. Drive was through a 3-speed gearbox, synchromesh in 2nd and 3rd. Top speed nearly 60mph. Maybe with a bit of Downhill Assist?

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Today – 25 Sept 2021 – Mom (who turned 93 a week ago today) tells me Kathy Schoeman bought the old Ford Prefect from her and one day they drove to work to see it lying on its roof in the main street outside the town hall! Kathy had rolled it in the most prominent place possible!

Mom Mary 93

Written on the day, posted (very) late.

18 September 1928 plus ninety three years gets you to today. So if you were born then you’ve had around 33 968 sleeps.

Quite something, Mom! Happy birthday, we feel very lucky to have you with us and be able to listen to your stories, and hear your memories and your piano playing. Love you lots!

I listen to the Chopin and Mozart etc you used to play and I say to the expert pianists playing: Huh! You shoulda heard my Mom!

She recently said she thinks the best piece she played was the duet with Una Elphick in the town hall of Beethoven’s 5th symphony

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Mom’s Friends

Phoned Mom yesterday and she started talking of her old friends.

Joey de Beer (Onderstall), Dossie Farquhar (de Villiers) and Ursula Schultz were big and close friends at school in Harrismith.

The picture was taken at their 45th matric reunion.

Ursula used to get comics, or comic books and I would visit her and her Mom and we’d read them. I felt sorry for Ursula and her mother as their husband and Dad was locked up for World War 2 as a possible German sympathiser.

Sometimes us kids would play cards while the ladies played bridge. Mrs Woodcock, Mrs Schultz and maybe Mrs Rosing would play. Maybe Fanny Glick too. Not my Mom Annie, she was at work, running her Caltex garage.

Joey’s sister was Marie de Beer, who became Marie Lotter of Havengas bookstore.

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The conversation wandered on to the lovely stewed fruit Sheila makes for Mom.

Yes, I share it with my tablemate in the diningroom. I call her my ‘stablemate.’

Sixties Home Movies

We were lucky enough to watch 16mm Charlie Chaplin movies in our lounge at home back in the ‘Sixties.

Here’s the Chaplin movie I remember the clearest, watching it in our lounge in Stuart Street and collapsing with laughter:

Charlie Chaplin was one of the most amazingly accomplished individuals to have ever worked in film. He was so much more than just a slapstick comedian as his later films showed. Raised in poverty in England, he grew to be a very wealthy and influential film-maker in Hollywood, with his own studio. Although he became very popular he also had enemies, notably the trumped-up anti-communist McCarthy-ites who gunned for him when he hit the news for his private life scandals.

This episode of |CineMasters| shows the upbeat side of Chaplin as well as the melancholy. A man so beloved yet ultimately so hated at one point that he left America. A truly remarkable yet depressing story of a director who still remains unmatched in his craft. Just an absolutely amazing career and a gifted individual as well.

Thank you CineMasters on Vimeo – by Alex Kalogeropoulos

More home movies from the Sixties.

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