While clearing out my stuff I found a 1965 African Wildlife magazine we used to subscribe to. It contained Willem van Riet‘s tale of his and Gordie Rowe’s trip down the Cunene river – blind (unscouted) trip down the Cunene! Shades of Powell’s first trip down the Colorado! I took photos to quickly save it here. Small difference between the two rivers: No Crocs in the Colorado!
In 1984 fifteen South African kayakers drifted 300 miles down a full Colorado river through the Grand Canyon, from Lee’s Ferry to where the current now dies in Lake Mead, arrested since 1936 by the massive concrete Hoover Dam. Our trip was amazing and awe-inspiring but one couldn’t really call it an ‘expedition’ as we were guided by people who had been there before; and we were catered for, and we were just fifteen of about twenty thousand people who trip the canyon each year. Admittedly few do it in kayaks, most going in inflatable rafts. Some still use dories similar to the wooden ones Powell used on the first float down the river.
THE CANYON: Recent studies support the hypothesis that the Colorado River established its course through the area about 5 to 6 million years ago, exposing around two billion years of Earth’s geological history in the various layers as you descend. Current archaeological evidence suggests that humans first reached the Grand Canyon area as far back as 10,500 years ago, and inhabited the area around 4,000 years ago.
In 1540, led by local Hopi guides, Spanish Captain Lopez de Cardenas reached the rim of the Grand Canyon on foot; In 1776 a Spanish priest was taken by a Havasupai trader to his place in Havasupai Canyon, again on foot.
In 1857 a party ventured about 300 miles up the river from the mouth in the Sea of Cortes in a 54ft steamboat to Black Canyon, downstream of the present Lake Mead.
THE FIRST DOWN-RIVER TRIP: The first known trips that floated downstream through the whole of the deep canyonlands were in 1869 and 1871, led by an adventurous one-armed Major with a scientific bent, John Wesley Powell. He kept a diary of his first trip, but no pictures; I have the diary in a beautiful book published a hundred years later:
Powell led a party of ten men in four wooden boats 1000 miles down the Green river, into the Colorado river and through both Glen Canyon and the Grand Canyon to below where we finished. As almost always on any continent, local guides – in this case Native Americans – helped them.
Read much more about this amazing 1000 mile river trip – the first to go all the way through these amazing river canyons – on the Green, and the on the Colorado, Glen Canyon (now drowned under Lake Powell) and the Grand Canyon.
The expedition had little communication with the world outside the valley, leading to rumours they were lost; many reports on the expedition while they were gone were written, mostly made-up and some including obituaries. Powell apparently enjoyed reading his own obituary on his way to New York after the trip ended! What actually happened on the three-month trip is in doubt. New diaries have surfaced that show there were probably tensions leading to people abandoning the journey. Powell’s hero status led to most historians glossing over any doubts. Amazing that one hundred and fifty years later we can still uncover new diaries, new information, new sources – including interviews with descendants of other trip members – that add to our knowledge.
NEW BOOK: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers and through the Grand Canyon continues to be one of the most celebrated adventures in American history, ranking with the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Apollo landings on the moon. For nearly twenty years author Don Lago has researched the Powell expedition from new angles, traveled to thirteen states, and looked into archives and other sources no one else has searched. He has come up with many important new documents that change and expand our basic understanding of the expedition by looking into Powell’s crew members, some of whom have been almost entirely ignored by Powell historians. Historians tended to assume that Powell’s was the whole story and that his crew members were irrelevant. More seriously, because several crew members made critical comments about Powell and his leadership, historians who admired Powell were eager to ignore and discredit them. Lago offers a feast of new and important material about the river trip, and it will significantly rewrite the story of Powell’s famous expedition. His book is not only a major work on the Powell expedition, but on the history of American exploration of the West.
TAKE A TRIP: Here’s a 23 minute video of a six-day raft trip down the canyon on quite a low river. Turn the sound down – it’s just muzak. The footage gives a good glimpse of the magnificent scenery.
Here’s a short report on an 18-day raft trip through the canyon – interesting how the popularity of this adventure means one has to enter a lottery to get allocated your own private trip down the canyon – getting your turn to go may take many years! Apply now!
Above the Grand Canyon the Powell party passed through beautiful Glen Canyon. The feature pic above this post and this one here show Glen Canyon, which is now gone – drowned beneath the waters of Lake Powell. An environmental desecration committed so crops could be grown where they shouldn’t be grown, so golf courses could be made where they shouldn’t be and so lawns could be watered where there should not be lawns. NO MORE DAMS!
Great news in 2021 that four dams on the Klamath river in Oregon and California are going to be removed, allowing the river to flow free again. And slowly – very slowly – the river and its valleys will hopefully recover. The Glen Canyon dam should be removed, Lake Powell should go, Glen Canyon should be revealed again in all its splendour. Let’s never give up that fight. Crazy to think Homo sapiens 2021 model feels he “cannot” halve the size of his lawn (which he seldom walks on) and so save a river and its valley!
This was the problem: Most of the guys and gals I would do river trips with had a serious deficiency: a lack of some specific paddling strokes one should use on a river trip. Most of them especially couldn’t execute my favourite stroke: Paddle on your lap, arms folded, gaze around in awesome wonder, and allow the boat to gently rotate in the current. The Swanie 360° River Revolution, or Swannee River for short.
They were racing snakes. They’d say ‘Let’s Go,’ and then they would actually do that! Weird. Then they’d look back, wait till I eventually caught up and ask, ‘What’s Wrong Swanie?’ I was of course much too polite to reply, ‘Nothing. What’s The Hurry?’ I’m polite that way. What I meant was, ‘I don’t want this day to end.’
And so we would gently bumble downriver. Every few hundred metres they’d wait, or one of them would paddle upstream (more weirdness) back to me and ask ‘What’s Wrong Swanie?’
Weird. Although I must admit, you wouldn’t want me in charge of timing or logistics on a trip!
When the current was swift enough my speed could match theirs. It was the flat water that was tricky. In their defence, they were actually going slowly and enjoying the scenery in awesome wonder. It’s just that their slowly and mine was out of sync!
Watch Luca Sestak (then 14yrs-old) show us how to do the Swannee River:
‘We think it’s him, but we haven’t been able to catch him. He must distribute the leaflets in the absolute dead of night, probly just pre-dawn. They’re scurrilous. Well, we’ll see if they end when you move in.’
Owners in the shareblock building were gossiping about the mystery vendetta that had been waged for a long time in the block. Someone pecked away on an old typewriter, telling tales (and truths?) about other residents and criticising what the managing committee did and didn’t do for the building. They suspected their mystery person was the owner I had just bought from, and they were looking forward to his leaving to stay far away in the little dorp of Richmond out in the sticks.
My first own home! A spacious, high-ceilinged one (‘and a half’) bedroom flat in a good-looking ‘Art Deco’ building in Marriot Road one block up from Cowey Road.
On the day I moved in I was ambushed by a gang of Kingfisher Canoe Club mates who had spread the word ‘Party at Swanie’s New Place Tonight!’ The electricity wasn’t yet connected, but no problem to these hooligans: They dangled an extension cord out the window and politely asked the elderly couple below me to please plug it in. Bless ’em they did, and hats off to them they withstood the temptation to switch off as the noise lasted long into the night! There was some excess (did I mention they were canoeists!?) and tales – exaggerated surely? – were told of vomit streaming down the steps.
Once I settled in and my fellow occupants realised I was obviously the innocent party in the opening night cacophony (ahem!), I was told more about the strange old geezer I’d bought from. And I was told of a mysterious campaign of leaflets surreptitiously distributed, pointing out people’s faults and complaining of things not done, etc. in harsh language. They suspected it was him, but were never able to prove it. Soon I was able to solve the mystery: A secret compartment in the lounge cupboard revealed copies of his printed leaflets – the vendetta stash!
I bought ca.1984 for R45 000. Sold ca.1992 for R90 000. I saw it offered for sale recently (2021) for R967 000. That’s where I found these pics – someone has opened up the small kitchen so now the lounge and kitchen are all one big room. It looks great.
After a long gap from paddling I decided to relaunch my river paddling career, striking fear into the heart of all contenders.
I would need a boat. Being a cheapskate I searched far and wide, high and low and I found one far and low. In PMB dorp. A certain gentleman in fibreglass, Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw had one for sale at a bargain price. His glowing description of the craft made me know this was the boat with which to relaunch – OK, launch – my competitive career in river paddling.
At Hugh’s place he showed me the boat and it did indeed look pristine. I went to pick it up and load it on my kombi’s roofrack, but Hugh held me back with a firm, ‘NO. Let me have that done for you!’ Customer service, I thought. User-friendly. So I watched as he got his two biggest workers to load the boat for me, which they did with ease. Big, strapping lads.
On the way back to Durban the kombi seemed to be struggling. I had to gear down on the hills, never had that before. Strong headwind, I thought.
The boat stayed there till Thursday, the big day. The first day of my relaunched paddling life. The dice on the Umgeni river outside my Club, Kingfisher. And then I understood. Getting the boat down off my roofrack took a Herculean effort. When I plopped it into the water the Umgeni rose two inches.
I can say this: Rands-per-Kg – pound-for-pound – I got the best bargain from Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw of that century.
While I was contemplating thus, and thinking I’m loving being back on the water, what kept me away so long, Ernie yelled at me through his megaphone and the water exploded around me. What the hell!? All these fools around me suddenly went berserk, water was flying everywhere. It took a few minutes before calm returned and I was sitting bobbing on the disturbed surface. This tranquility was again ruined by Ernie yelling through that same damned megaphone: ‘Swanie what are you waiting for!?’
Jeesh! I headed off after the flotilla disappearing in the distance and after twenty or thirty strokes it suddenly came to back to me in a blinding flash of realisation: I knew why I had stopped paddling. It’s damned hard work.
I canoed the Vrystaat Vlaktes thanks to Charles Ryder, who arrived in Harrismith in 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:
I asked: What’s that? It’s a canoe What’s a canoe? You do the Dusi in it What’s the Dusi?
Well, Charlie 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? Charlie made it sound like the best, most adventurous thing you could possibly think of. He showed me how to paddle (how was I to know at the time he was making me a ‘Left Feather’?) 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, Fluffy Crawley, Leon Blignaut, 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!
Still enthused, though, I persuaded my mate Jean Roux to join me in hitch-hiking to the race. We were going to do the Duzi! All except the part where you used a boat.
We got to Pietermaritzburg, and early the next morning to the start in Alexander Park. 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 seemed 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.
Except! I recently (2020) cleared out my garage under lockdown and discovered this: My notes preparing for the Duzi! I was less disorganised than I remember. I may not have DONE, but at least I did do a bit of planning! Check “Phone Mr Pearce” and “Buy canoe?” – uh, maybe not so very well organised!
1976 Duzi – In 1976 I dusted off my old repaired Limfy and entered the race, ready to finally ‘Do the Dusi.’
(BTW: ‘The Duzi’ or ‘Dusi’ is the Duzi Canoe Marathon, a 120km downstream river race from Pietermaritzburg to the sea in Durban, in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Next year should see the 70th annual running of this crazy biathlon, COVID-permitting).
Like I had asked Charlie Ryder about six years earlier, Louis van Reenen, a fellow student in Doornfontein, asked me, ‘What’s that?’ when I said I was going to ‘Do the Dusi,’ so he was ripe for convincing. Or brainwashing? He decided to join me. I was happy, as he had a car! I headed off to Harrismith for the December holidays, leaving him with wise counsel: Buy a boat and paddle in it a bit.’
A month later in January, he arrived in Harrismith in his light blue VW Beetle with a new roofrack and a brand new boat – a red Hai white-water boat with a ‘closed’ (smaller) cockpit. He had bought it from Neville Truran at his Kensington shop, and had paddled it once or twice on Emmerentia Dam. In those days that could sort-of qualify you for Dusi!
We now had to tackle the dilemma we had left unspoken: Two of us, two boats and one car. Who would paddle, who would drive as the ‘second’ or supporter, taking food and kit to the overnight stops? So we tossed a coin. I lost. DAMN!
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. But – a coin toss is a coin toss. And it was his car!
For Louis, the coin toss won him a first-ever trip down a river. And what a river! Here’s how two-times Duzi winner Charles Mason described it. I have paraphrased excerpts from his memoirs Bakgat:
Charles: The 1976 Duzi was arguably the fullest level ever. The record 420 starters on the first day on the uMsunduzi River were greeted with a very full river, resulting in many casualties.
I helped Louis get onto the water at Alexandra Park and he was relaxed. Although it was moving, the water looked similar to Emmerentia dam as it was flat, so he should be fine, right?
That night at the first overnight stop at Dusi Bridge, Louis’ eyes were a lot bigger. He told of big water, scary rapids and numerous swims. I had pitched my little orange puptent and made him supper. He slept with his rear end out of the tent, ready to sprint off yet again – the dreaded ‘Dusi Guts’ diarrhoea had got him!
Charles again: That night the Kingfisher marquee was abuzz with speculation regarding the river conditions for the next two days on the much larger Umgeni.Our first day’s paddle on the much smaller and narrower Duzi River had been enjoyable and exhilarating. I remember being told many years before that the word ‘uMsunduzi’ is isiZulu for ‘the one that pushes and travels very fast when in flood.’ It had really been pushing that day.I was relaxing in a corner of the Kingfisher marquee, listening to the excited banter and anxious anticipation of the largely novice competitors in the tent, regarding the prospects for the next day’s paddle. Few of them had experienced such conditions previously.
Blissfully unaware, utter novices Louis and I were in my little orange pup tent nearby.
Charles: Around 9pm race organiser and ‘Duzi Boss’ Ernie Pearce came to see me:- Ernie said: “I have just had a visit from the engineer at Nagle Dam. He came to warn us that they have opened all the sluices of the dam to reduce water levels in preparation for a massive plug of flood water making it’s way down the Umgeni. The river will be in full flood below the dam by tomorrow morning!” Very early the next morning, I went to inspect the river downstream for Ernie and then reported back to anxiously-waiting paddlers and officials: “The Umgeni is pumping – it’s bloody big – and I am wearing a life jacket!” Life jackets were optional in those days and in any event, very few paddlers possessed them. I overheard one paddler remarking, “That’s enough for me.” He left to tie his boat onto his car. A few others followed suit. The second and third days were big and exciting.
Louis van Reenen, Duzi novice, first time ever on a river, carried on bravely. Paddling some, swimming some, and portaging – a lot! A lot of portaging was done by a lot of paddlers to avoid the big water.
New watercourses and new islands opened up:
The weather cleared up enough for the welcome newspaper drop by Frank Smith in his light plane at the second overnight stop at diptank:
Us seconds and supporters were kept busy rescuing cars stuck in the mud, including our own Volksie. We’d all be stopped in a long line; We’d get out, walk to the front, push the front car, push the next car, and so on.
Never-Say-Die Louis got to Durban, to the Blue Lagoon, to the salty water of a high-tide Indian Ocean. Hours before him Graeme Pope-Ellis had equalled the best, winning his fifth Duzi, paddling with Pete Peacock.
That night we slept right there at Blue Lagoon, at the finish. Here’s a satisfied and relieved Louis with his Hai and his paddle, and me at the driver’s door of the pale blue Volksie:
Seven years later I FINALLY got round to doing my first Duzi. Sitting in my boat at Alexandra Park in Pietermaritzburg waiting for the starter’s gun, I thought I saw a familiar face and paddled over. Louis! It IS you! He had come back seven years later to do his second Duzi! Never-say-Die!
That 1983 Duzi was the opposite of his first. A low river, lots of portaging because of NO water, not because of high water!
I was born up Shit Creek without a paddle. Quite literally. OK, my actual birth, per se, was in Duggie Dugmore’s maternity home, less than half a kilometer away on Kings Hill (see pic above), but mere days after I was born – as soon as I could be wrapped in swaddling clothes – I was taken home to my manger on a plot on the banks of Shit Creek in the shadow of Platberg mountain. And it was twelve years or so before I owned my first paddle. So this is a true story.
I paddled my own canoe about twelve years later after we lost the plot. OK, sold the plot, moved into town and bought a red and blue canoe with paddle. The first place we paddled it was in a little inlet off the Wilge river above the Sunnymede weir, some distance upstream of town. Right here:
Before this, I had paddled a home-made canoe made of a folded corrugated zinc roofing sheet, the ends nailed onto a four-by-four and sealed with pitch. Made by good school friend Gerie Hansen and his younger boet Nikolai – or maybe his older boet Hein; or by their carpenter father Jes? We paddled it, wobbling unsteadily, on their tiny little pond in the deep shade of wattle trees above their house up against the northern cliff of Kings Hill.
School friend Piet Steyl wrote of the wonderful days he also spent in the company of Gerie Hansen – who died tragically early, adding to the feeling that the good die young. Piet told of fun days spent paddling that zinc canoe, gooi’ing kleilat, shooting the windbuks and smoking tea leaves next to that same little pond. We both remembered Gerie winning a caption contest in Scope magazine and getting reprimanded for suggesting Japanese quality wasn’t good. Irony was, the Hansens actually owned one of the first Japanese bakkies seen in town – a little HINO.
Gerie used to say ‘He No Go So Good’, and Piet says when it finally gave up the ghost he said, ‘He No Go No More’!!
Shit Creek – actually the Kak Spruit; a tributary of the Wilge River which originates on Platberg mountain, flows down, past our old plot and westward through the golf course on the northern edge of town, then turns south and flows into the Wilge below the old park weir; Sensitive Harrismith people refer to it as ‘die spruit met die naam;’
die spruit met die naam – ‘the creek with the name’ – too coy! It’s Kakspruit – one word; always will be; Shit Creek.
gooi’ing kleilat – lethal weapon; a lump of clay on the end of a whippy stick or lath; spoken about way more than practiced, in my experience; and about 10% accuracy when you do get it going; Here’s a kid loading one:
Once chosen as a Rotary Exchange Student in 1972, I had to get to Durban to get my passport done and – I think – some other paperwork; My big mate Leon Fluffy Crawley hitch-hiked down with me. On the way down – or on the way back – we called in at big sister Barbara where she was staying in the Pietermaritzburg YWCA. We met her friend Lyn there.
That’s about all I remember! Luckily, Fluffy remembers it too!
Other hitch hiking at school was to Witsieshoek with Claudio and Carlos.
The picture is the group of Rotary exchange students chosen in 1972 for 1973. It may have been taken at the airport, about to leave. If so, it was students from all over South Africa, leaving for all over the world. Kneeling next to me is the guy who went jolling with me in New York; Seated next to him is Eve Woodhouse from Durban, who ended up in a village Fort Cobb near mine – Apache – in Oklahoma; Right behind me is Lynn Wade from Vryheid.
This is a rambling post cos it started with an email thread that began with gardens and then moved on to sport – swimming and athletics, and lots of old school pals’ names. The gardens were Mariette van Wyk Greyling’s Cape garden with a pin-tailed whydah at her garden feeder; and mine with KwaZulu Natal meadows rather then lawns.
Subject: Sundry garden pictures – Here’s one showing the bit of lawn and the more of meadow. Plus your pintail added in.
Mariette wrote:Green with envy. My type of garden. You have a stunning pool. And you don’t even swim!
Swim? So The Talk Turned To Sport – and Injury!
Me: I swim like a corobrik. In the warmest weather I dive in, swim to the far end, halfway back, and walk up the steps. Swimming training over. At all times I am able to touch the bottom.
Pierre, Tuffy, Sheila, Ilse, Lulu (and maybe you?) used to go to Mazelspoort outside Bloemfontein for the big Free State gala. Me I was still swimming breadths, not lengths and even then in the shallow end! That’s why I took up canoeing: When there’s water about, I need a boat.
Mariette:Yip I went to Mazels. Second team though. The others were all in the elite team. I always aspired to follow in Sheila’s footsteps. Didn’t get there.
Well, now I’m in hospital – probably for the next week. Shattered my ankle walking the dog. Just want to get out. Gave me the wrong meds last night. My drip came undone and spilled over the bed. The op is only on Friday – provided the horrendous swelling is down.
Me: I just re-read: What? “Op on Friday”!? Ouch! Hope all goes well. As a dedicated coward I will cross fingers and hope you’re well and that I never land up there. Note to self: Walk slower. Especially near bridges or mud.
“Aspired” – that’s so good. I can’t think I ever aspired to anything. It’s so weird. I have always suffered from complete complacent contentment. Weird. A non-planner. At the atletiekdag in Std nine I won something and De Wet Ras, walking past on the field, said “Hey jy! Jy moet ophou wen. Ek wil die beste seunsatleet wen hierdie jaar!”, digging me in the ribs. We laughed and I thought, ‘He’s actually aiming to win it!’ That struck me as unusual. I didn’t think you set out to win things. You just went your hardest and it just either happened or it didn’t. Ridiculous in retrospect. I had won it the year before ‘out of the blue,’ that’s why De Wet was saying ‘hold back!’ And he did, in fact, win it that Std 9 year – 1971.
Mariette:That’s quite something beating De Wet at something sport-related. What was it? Think hard!! Strange that you weren’t competitive. You were good at a few things. Mind you, I wasn’t competitive in sport either. Academically yes. (Yes, indeed! Mariette ended up top-of-the hele-Vrystaat in the matric 1972 results!) Just wanted to do my own thing sport-wise. But I did want to join Sheila and them in first team swimming. Not for competitive reasons. They simply were a fun crowd.
Even though I was in the first team tennis, there was never much FUN among us lot. Actually got bored with tennis. The car accident gave me a reason to stop without being seen as a drip. Team members I remember were De Wet, Fluffy, you, Scottie or was it Blikkies? Elsie, Ina, I think, me and Noeline? Can’t remember a single fun thing, even when we took bus trips to all those mal rock n rollin’ places. Ha ha. Maybe getting some free koeksisters 🙂
Me: I didn’t beat De Wet – he was an age group older. I just won something and he was kidding that I should stop winning as he was going for the victor ludorum (beste senior seunsatleet) that I had won the previous year in Std 8. Here’s old Ella Bedford handing me that beker that year – 1970. Ann Euthimiou took the picture. When the announcement was made it didn’t register with me. De Wet, sitting next to me, dug his elbow in my ribs: ‘Hey! Dis jy, jong!’ That’s when I mosey’d down for my Ella Fitz-Bedford handshake.
In the inter-regional athletics byeenkoms that year – 1970 – in Senekal we had a blast.
So DeWet won it in 1971. The next year – 1972, our matric – things were different: I just couldn’t lose! I won the 100m, 200m, 400m, 3000m, long jump, high jump (edit: WRONG: Fluffy Crawley won the high jump – I see he also won the paalspring), the discus, the javelin, the U/17 4X100 relay and the U/19 relay. It was ridiculous. I felt like the wind was under my wings and I could always run faster, throw harder, jump further. An amazing feeling. I was really fit, fittest I have ever been. I’d been training to do the Dusi canoe marathon, but that didn’t happen till eleven years later. Sheila found the cutting from the Chronicle that Mom had sent to her mother Annie down in George.
But not quite ‘couldn’t lose’ – in the 800m I thought, ‘better take this one easy, lots of events still to go,’ so when Klein Uiltjie Earle ran off I let him go thinking Ek Sal Jou Vang but he just gaan’d aan and aan and I ended up coming third. Well done Klein Uiltjie! I think Stefan Ferreira came second (edit: WRONG: Stefan passed him; Uiltjie got second). Stefan also got seconds in the high jump, 200m and 400m, and he won the 1500m easily.
In the paalspring – pole vault – teacher Ben Marais said “Ons begin op 2m,” and I said Nooit Meneer! Ek kon in die hoogspring net 1,56m spring, hoe gaan ek hoer spring met n paal in my hand? I had never paalspring’d in my life. So I ran at the 2m bar, ducked under it and gave up. Went and rested on the pawiljoen – and tended to blisters on my heels while Fluffy won, adding it to his win in the high jump.
That year Gabba Coetzee broke the U/19 shot put record and I broke the U/17 100m record. Mine stood for over 20yrs and I think Gabba’s still stands! I used to see him in Harrismith from time to time and he’d always update me: ‘Die rekords staan nog steeds.’ Then one year he told me ‘Yours was beaten. A new boy came to town who ran like the wind.’ His was still standing.
Tennis – You’re right, that was definitely Scottie Meyer in tennis. I lost most of my singles matches, but Fluffy and I won a few doubles games. Years later I was sent to Addington hospital in Durban by the army and there was Petrie de Villiers from Warden who was a tennis foe and also a team mate when we went to Bloemfontein to play at the Vrystaat whatevers. I got knocked out in the first round by a Symington who went on to win, I think. Petrie would usually beat Fluffy and his twin brother Jossie would always beat me, but Fluffy and I would usually beat the broers in the doubles. Our tennis role models were Ray Moore and Frew MacMillan – especially Ray with his Afro frizz hairstyle. I drew his cartoon image everywhere, even on a white T-shirt! I emulated Frew’s double-handed backhand.
Interesting times. We drove to Bloem in Bruce Humphries’ little brand-new white Ford Cortina. Dunno where we stayed. In a school koshuis, maybe.
Fluffy tells of another year we went to Bloem to play rugby against Sentraal or JBM Hertzog. Daan Smuts took us in his old VW. The night before the match he took us to a party. Beer! Late at night he dropped us off at an empty skool koshuis to spend the night. There were beds but no bedclothes. We lay shivering in our clothes on the mattresses. Daan was our kinda guy: Lotsa fun, zero organisation! Laid back. Rules = optional.
The swimmers were a fun crowd. They were probly – definitely – the coolest bunch at school over the years. And, of course, also the coldest in those Harrismith temperatures.
Mariette: Jis, you were hot in so many things. I knew you were good at all sorts of stuff, but forgot about your athletics achievements. At that stage athletics didn’t interest me much – probably because I wasn’t good at anything. Tried ‘em all: From shotput (whoever the teacher in charge was said to me ‘nee man, gaan sit op die bank’), ditto with discus and javelin, high jump (too short) and whatever else was going. Fourth or maybe it was fifth in the 100m at some stage was my big achievement. I just enjoyed shouting for the Kudus and listening to Jan van Wyk’s mal quips. Oh, and being a hot drum majorette J.
Ja, old Gabba. What a rock. And what a sad end.
I remember Petrie well. Quite smaaked him, but Elsie won his favour – I didn’t stand a chance. Saw him years later again at varsity – same mischievous face. Strange that the girls all fancied him so much and his twin brother never got a second glance.