When I got to Apache Oklahoma in 1973 I had already finished high school. Not much effort had gone into my matric and I was keen to put minimal effort into this second matric, or ‘senior year’, at Apache High. In my mind I had been sent to America to socialise and be an ambassador, ‘period’.
So I carefully selected my subjects – I had to take American history – I was OK with that. I learnt about George Washington. I had to take English (compulsory for all foreigners). I added typing, ag shop (agricultural workshop – farming, welding, etc making me a member of the FFA – Future Farmers of America), annual staff (making the school annual, acting as a journalist, selling ads in town – a hoot! Actually, they chose me, you couldn’t just elect to do it. I was lucky). I’m sure there was a sixth. Yes, Oklahoman history, I think. My mind wasn’t really on these details.
Here’s me focusing on my typing. I’m with fellow annual staffers Robbie Swanda and David Lodes slave over their hot typewriters. I reached a blistering 19 words a minute with ten mistakes.
Typing – roaring along at 19wpm with 10 mistakes
Robbie Swanda & David Lodes, fellow typists and Annual Staff members bashing out the Apache 1973 school annual
When I told host Dad Jim Patterson my subjects he grimaced. Then he grinned and said – “Peter, are you sure they didn’t offer basket weavin’!”
Jim was a great teacher. He taught me all about ‘counting fence posts’. He would pack a sixpack of Coors into a coolerbox full of ice and we would drive around the district in his old red Ford F150 pickup along the farm roads with Jim recounting all the tales of who lived where, what they farmed and some history of the area. We were ‘counting fence posts’.
Here’s Jim waking up on the back of that pickup one camping trip:
This was taken on my grandparents’ Frank and Annie Bland’s farm, Nuwejaarsvlei in the Harrismith district, 18 miles out on the road to Witsieshoek. The farm is now under Sterkfontein Dam. The solid sandstone stables (‘five loose boxes’) were more stable (!) than the house, which was a long thin prefabricated structure bought from the British army on Kings Hill when they left town in 1913, eleven years after the end of the Boer War. Frank bred race horses. For a while . . .
Frank had the prefab carted out to the farm, then cut off a portion of the long house so they only lived in four rooms: A lounge, a kitchen and two bedrooms. They bathed in a zinc bath in the kitchen while Frank showered with cold water in a reed enclosure outside. Bath water was heated in paraffin tins on the coal stove. Lighting was by lamplight. The toilet was a long-drop outside under trees along a path of white-washed stones leading from the kitchen door.
Here’s older sis Pat pushing Mother Mary in the pram in the farmyard. See the stables in the background.
Frank started to build a big stone house from sandstone quarried on the farm. Built on a slope it was level with the ground at the back, but ended in a high drop in front, which never did get the steps that were to lead up to the big veranda. The walls went up and the kids would roam around the big house, four bedrooms, big rooms, big kitchen but Mom says “no bathroom.” The roof never went on. The builder wanted many sheep (Mom thinks 200!) to do the roof and Frank balked at that / couldn’t afford it.
Other buildings on the farm were a workshop, Frank’s office and a garage for his yellow ‘Erskine’ tourer. It had open sides; when it rained you put up side flaps.
Later Frank bought a 1936 Chev Standard – perhaps like this one, but ‘light brown’:
Mom Mary remembers cousin Janet leaving the door open after she and older sister Pat had jumped out just before Frank drove into the garage. The door, she says, was “damaged forever.”
The Nuwejaarspruit runs from Nuwejaarsvlei down to the Wilge river downstream of Harrismith and then into the Vaal Dam. Sterkfontein dam was built on the spruit and drowned the farm under Tugela river water pumped up from KwaZulu Natal. You would now have to scuba dive in the clear water to see the farmhouse. The pictures are taken from roughly above the farm looking back towards Harrismith’s long Platberg mountain with Baker’s Kop on the left:
They called the hills on the farm ‘Sugar Loaf’ and ‘Horseshoe’. Mom loved the walks they would undertake with Dad Frank.
Annie also always drove. Frank said she always drove too fast. Years later the younger crowd John Taylor and Mike ___y said she should speed up – “to the speed limit”!!
Then the Blands moved into town – the metropolis of Harrismith – ca1939 to start a petrol station and garage, having lost the farms. In September 1943 had a colosistectomy for gallstones’ performed by GP Dr Frank Reitz. Mom went to visit him in hospital on her fifteenth birthday, 18 September. He died two months later, aged fifty. The next year when Annie needed an op she sent Mary off with Granny Bland to stay with Mrs Jim Caskie – ‘a huge fat lady’ – in the Echoes Hotel in Durban.
While in Durban they saw a movie “This Is The Army.”
Luckily Annie came through the ordeal intact.
Nearby farm neighbours on Kindrochart were the Shannons, George and Belle, with son Jack, a few years older than Pat and Mary. The Shannons also bred racehorses and achieved forever fame when they won the Gold Cup with their horse Rinmaher.
When Jack had outgrown his Shetland Pony his parents suggested to him that he give it to the Bland girls on Nuwejaarsvlei. He looked dubious but his parents encouraged him.
“Will you do that?” they prodded him.
“Yes, but not with pleasure” said Jack.
Recently Sheila found a pic of Jack – probably on that very pony!
Peter Bell (or Hastings-Bell) became a pilot in the Rhodesian airforce and tragically went missing in action in WW2.
Decades later, here’s Mary in 1990 cruising above Nuwejaarsvlei in a boat the ole man built, with her old family home somewhere underwater below her:
The Erskine was an American Automobile built by The Studebaker Corp. in South Bend, Indiana from 1926 to 1930.
In 1971 I decided I wanted to do the Dusi. Charlie Ryder (who gave me his boat, a fibreglass Limfy K1 with nylon deck and his left-feather paddle) told me it was tough, I’d better train.
So I did. Every morning a few of us (Louis Wessels, Tuffy, Leon Crawley, who else?) got up at 5am, cycled a mile to the boys hostel and then ran the X-country course. About 3km up a hill past the jail, across, down through a donga/stream bed and back. Probably a 20 minute run. After school I would cycle to the mighty Vulgar River and paddle Charles’ boat (which I left “hidden” under a willow tree) for about a km or two. The cycle back home was uphill.
I’m not even sure I told anyone I was I was aiming to paddle the Dusi! I must have, surely? They knew about the boat anyway.
I have never been as fit in my life, before or since. Running I felt like I could fly. I would run hard, then even harder and still think “I could just carry on like this!”
Today I re-read Graeme Pope-Ellis’ book. The part about his training in 1971.
He ran at 4.30 am for two to two-and-a-half hours; He ran hard. In the afternoon he paddled for two to two-and-a-half hours; He paddled hard. Plus he did half an hour of hard, targeted gym work.
My total training was an hour a day and only parts of the running was done hard. The cycling and paddling were leisurely. No pain; No pain!
I didn’t have a clue what “train hard” meant! Talk about chalk and cheese! Quite an eye-opener.
I didn’t do that race in 1972. My boat was stolen shortly before – around New Year. I hitch-hiked to the race and followed it down through the Dusi and Umgeni valleys (with friend Jean Roux), sleeping in the open and bumming rides with paddlers’ seconds. Graeme won the race. His first win. He went on to win it 15 times.
Later I got to know Graeme and many of the guys who dedicated their lives to winning the Dusi. They trained like demons. Some of them did beat Graeme. Occasionally. But usually Graeme did the winning.
Me, I became a tripper! One of the trips was with Graeme and other fast paddlers who geared down and bumbled down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in leisurely fashion. My style!
In my first Dusi in 1983 I politely waited for the okes in a hurry to move on over the flat water in Alexander Park and when I go to the weir I paused to tie a shoelace. Jerome Truran (world-class whitewater paddler) was spectating that year. He spotted me and said “Hey Swanie, you do realise this is a race, right?”
Mrs Hawkins circa 1944 with her horse Pie. Mrs Hawkins was the mother of the five spinster Hawkins sisters who lived at Watersmeet at the bottom end of Harrismith. There were also 2 brothers. Only really old Harrismith people will remember this wonderful family. Blanche wrote the “History of Harrismith”. The other sisters had names like Mab, Mary (known as Bloody Bill who nursed “up north” in the Second World War) Vi and Flo. What wonderful names!
Willow tree in picture, Platberg in the background
I always thought there were 6 sisters that spoilt you and I rotten at “Watersmeet”. Those were really the good ‘ol days. I loved aunty Vi and was rather scared of some of them, but they were all fantastic ladies. The horse’s name was Robin Pie and the old lady was Mrs. Eliza Hawkins.
Jill Taylor (grand-daughter of Eliza?) wrote:
Just the 5 aunts – how does Sheila know so much about them?! Flo, Blanche, Mary (Bill), Mab and Vi in age order and then Frank and Len were the two brothers. They were all characters!
After NTC Rag Ball in 976, we left Pietermaritzburg’s notorious Hotel Insomnia and drove home in Tabs’ red Datsun fastback, famed for having being called a Ferrari by one of the automotively-challenged TC girls, and a Datsun Triple Ess Ess Ess by Geoff Leslie. We had spent a few short hours in the Hotel Insomnia after the ball was over.
Braithwaite was behind the wheel as he had held back slightly as he still had to drive on from Harrismith to Nelspruit where he was needed to dry-clean some Lowvelders’ underpants. Tabs was in the passenger seat, me on the back seat.
me & Liz Howe, Sheila & Hilton – Tabs in full voice with John Venning –
Under the flat raking back window of that fastback was most of a case of beer, baking in the sun. After a short hung-over silence Tabs turned to me and asked “How hot are those beers?”
I said “Shall we share one and see?”
He said “Let’s open two and share them and see.”
We happened to finish the case before we got to HY. Thank goodness for Hilton’s driving!
Tabs & Jilly Shipman sing – Dave Simpson, Lettuce and me sit -all at a very clever stage of these academic proceedings –
I grew up in Darkest Wildest Africa to the sound of lions roaring in the evenings and the early mornings. This is true. I would lie in my bed at 95 Stuart street and if the wind was right, there’d be the clear, authentic sound of the King of the Jungle roaring in the background. Here’s how that came about:
On 1st June 1955 Mr CJ (Bossie) Boshoff was appointed as parkkurator of the now well-established President Brand Park by the Harrismith Municipality. It seems to have been a happy choice, as his entertaining letter about the history of the zoo, written in November 2005, fifty years later, attests. He moved to Harrismith to take up his new post, which included accommodation in the form of the house in the park. Sounds good, but the house was ‘in a state’ due to the previous tenant living in it with etlike groot honde, so the house needed major cleaning and opknap. So much so that Bossie had to stay in the Royal Hotel for a while till the house was livable.
parkkurator – curator of the HS park
etlike groot honde – a few big dogs
opknap – renovate
According to Bossie there was a runaway fire on Municipal property in 1958, and after the municipality had been paid insurance money for the damage, Bossie laid his eyes on a pile of fire-damaged treated fence posts, now written off, and he thought: As ek van hierdie pale in in die hande kon kry dan kan ek n kampie in die park aanle waarin n paar wildsbokkies kon loop wat ‘n aantrekking vir die publiek sou wees.
Once he was given the nod by the town council, he chose an area about one hectare in size just above the Victoria lake, and put a road round it so people could see the game from their cars.
If I can get my hands on those I could make a fenced paddock and keep a few antelope to attract the (paying) public!
According to Bossie, his first inmate was a mak ribbok ooi – a tame mountain reedbuck ewe (‘rooiribbok’) donated by councillor Mike van Deventer. However, according to The Harrismith Chronicle of January 1956 the first inmate was a blesbok ram donated by Hendricus Truter of ‘Sandhurst’. So it seems Bossie’s zoo had an earlier start then he remembers! Such are memories!
More animals were offered ‘if they could be caught’ like two fallow deer by Lieb Swiegers. ‘Mes‘ Snyman would be asked to do the catching. After that the park was given a tame aap mannetjie – a male monkey, likely a vervet.
Then the floodgates opened and all sorts of pets were donated to hierdie toevlugsoord! The first of these was a female baboon named Annemarie, so now Bossie needed better cages. Luckily, he says, the town councillor in charge of the park, Pye von During, owned a grofsmit behind the Kerkenberg kerk, and willingly welded iron cages for Bossie.
this shelter or refuge!
grofsmit – engineering works
His next tenant was a blesbok ram who he thought was behaving a bit oddly – nie lekker op sy pote nie. On enquiry he discovered it was onder sterk brandewyn kalmering.
Not steady on its feet – it had been given a strong brandy tranquiliser!
Then he got a tipiese raasbek boerbok – a typical ‘loudmouth’ goat!
Next he was offered a lioness from one of the Retiefs from Bergville (hy dink dit was Thys). The asking price was fifteen pounds Sterling, and as with all finances, he would need council’s permission and a formal decision to be taken. He went instead to Soekie Helman, as he knew Soekie’s “voice was loud in the council at that time”. Soekie’s decision: “Buy the thing and we’ll argue later”. They did. Bossie soon noticed this five month-old pet was gentle for a while and then would ‘suddenly get serious,’ so he realised a strong cage was needed fast. Two brick walls were built at right angles and a semicircular iron bar front was installed from the end of one wall to the other with a sliding door. Inside, a brick shelter in the back corner.
At this stage Bossie asks impishly: Sien u nou in watter rigting die onskuldige wildskampie besig is om te beweeg?
can you spot where this ‘innocent little animal enclosure’ idea is going?
Now there was a lion cage, and next thing Henrie Retief (Thys se broer) phoned from Bloemfontein to say he had bought a male lion which he was donating to what was now undeniably a zoo (not just a wildskampie) on condition that if ‘something happened to the animal one day’ he would get the pelt! The lion-lioness introduction was – according to Bossie – ‘Love at first sight’!
A lady ‘anderkant Warden’ gave them three small jackals which Bossie fetched and built an enclosure for. The increased enclosures within the overall 1ha camp now necessitated footpaths winding about between them, as most visitors were now on foot, no longer just driving around the perimeter.
Tannie Marie Rodgers donated a spoilt hans – hand-reared – duiker ram which head-butted visitors, his sharp horns sometimes hurting folks. Bossie solved this by putting .303 shell casings on his horns to blunt them!
The male lion grew up and his roars could be hear all over town, ‘to the top of 42nd Hill,’ says Bossie, and certainly at 95 Stuart Street where we lived. The lioness fell pregnant but died in childbirth. The male watched them closely as they removed her body. She was soon replaced by another from Bloem, who was placed in a separate cage for two months so they could grow accustomed to one another, but – alas! says Bossie – when they introduced them the male killed her with one bite! Later they got new lions: A male and two females. Bossie said they had to ‘wegmaak’ the original male – kill? sell? Did ou Henrie get his pelt? Wait – The Chronicle of December 1959 says there was talk that ‘a local farmer’ would take the lion in exchange for two blesboks which would be swopped for three lions from Bloem!
How common must lions have been? The three new lions cost them two blesbok ewes in an exchange! These were donated by Kerneels Retief who hand-caught them himself on his farm Nagwag from his moving bakkie at 45mph to Bossie’s amazement. So, Kerneels probably took the lion, then.
More on pricing game: The zoo later got two wild dogs and a warthog from South West Africa in 1959, swopped for two mahems! – crested cranes. In 1965 the Natal Parks Board donated six impala and two warthogs. I wonder which of the warthogs became ‘Justin’ the famous one the Methodist minister Justin Michell would feed and talk to on Sundays after his sermon? When he took it its weekly treat it probly listened to him a lot more attentively than your average Methodist, I’m sure.
In January 1964 three lion cubs were born. One was killed the same night, the others were removed and raised by Mrs JH Olivier. In 1966 the Chronicle told of two five month-old cubs for sale. These cubs had ‘been involved in a hectic incident’ a while before when two African attendants were tasked to remove them from their mother and she attacked them! Workman’s Compensation, anyone?
Two porcupines arrived at the zoo, and soon made a nuisance of themselves, chewing the fence posts. One night Bossie’s assistant Machiel Eksteen saw one in the road outside the zoo, caught it with a hessian sack and put it back in the dark enclosure. Only to find three porcupines there in the morning!
Mrs Lindstrom (‘Redge se vrou‘) promised Bossie a python from Pongola and duly delivered it in a hessian sack, saying it was 3m long. Bossie put it in the storeroom on top of the ‘mieliedrom‘. The next morning Tobie (‘the feeder’) said the sack was empty! Of course Tobie was told he was talking nonsense, but he wasn’t. A big search was instigated, the Voortrekkers were even called in but the snake is ‘missing to this day.’ Bossie says, ‘Just as well, as I don’t think he’d have adapted to Harrismith’s cold!’ Another escapee was a civet cat, one of a pair from Ladysmith. But it was found.
Then came their ‘biggest challenge’: A lady phoned. She was oom Kaalkop vd Merwe’s skoondogter (daughter-in-law). Kaalkop was the MP for Heilbron. Did Bossie want two Russian brown bears? They were her children’s pets but had grown too big and they were going for thirty pounds Sterling the pair. The ever-resourceful Bossie got to work: He went to business owners in town and said ‘You owe me one pound.’ Bossie says he badgered ‘Jan van Sandwyk of Harrismith Motors, Rheine Lawrence of the chemist, Redge Lindstrom of the tyres, Jannie du Plessis of the tractors, etc etc’! and by that same afternoon he had his 30 pounds and bought the bears, which, he says, made Bloemfontein zoo, ‘yellow with jealousy!’ Here, he says was a postage stamp-sized zoo in a small dorp that was now known nationwide! He and Pye made the cage of iron, with a concrete waterhole and some tree stumps, just what zoos of the time thought bears needed.
In 1963 a concerned resident wrote to the Chronicle about the poor condition of some of the animals. Mayor Boet Human and councillor Pye von During were interviewed and basically said ‘all is well.’
A large aviary was built. People donated peacocks, guineafowl, fantail pigeons, a tame crow, ‘mahem’ crowned cranes and an ostrich. And tortoises. It became ‘a certain status’ to donate an animal to the zoo, says Bossie – and he ‘appreciated that enormously.’
How to Feed this Menagerie!?
Suddenly food was an issue! How to feed the growing menagerie? They started charging adults a sixpenny entrance fee. Kids were free but had to be accompanied by an adult. But most of the meat for the lions was supplied by generous farmers. He mentions oom Frikkie (Varkie?) Badenhorst whose dairy had no use for bull calves and donated these. Mostly it was on a ‘yours if you fetch it’ basis, so Bossie would have to travel all over the district to keep his lions in meat. Farmers would donate their horses once they got too old to ride. The fact that many of these had names, and that they were still ‘on the hoof’ and looking at him when Bossie arrived didn’t make matters any easier for him.
One such was Ou Klinker, a Clydesdale used in the town’s forestry department. Piet Rodgers, the forester, told Bossie he could fetch Ou Klinker – but only when Piet wasn’t there! Bossie says usually when the shot was fired the horse’s legs would just fold and they would drop on the spot, but not old Klinker! When the shot went off he rose ‘like a loaf of bread and fell as stiff as a pole, says Bossie. And then he says ‘dit was baie vleis!’
that Clydesdale was a lot of meat!
The local police also phoned whenever they came across road kill, and the health inspector Fritz Doman would tell him whenever he condemned a pig with measles at the abbatoir. One guy even offered a dog on a chain. But surely Bossie didn’t . . Oh, yes he did! But the lions ‘het nie baie van die vleis gehou nie,’ says Bossie. They did like the pork, however.
didn’t much like the dog meat
To keep surplus meat cool, Bossie built an old-time ‘evaporation fridge’ of bricks and clinker in chicken mesh, kept wet so the evaporation cooled the interior. It worked ‘uitstekend’ (very well).
The Wheels of Change
Bossie took a job in East London, a new town clerk DelaRey decided Harrismith was too small to afford a zoo and according to Bossie the animals were ‘sold to circuses, given away – and Harrismith is the poorer for it.’
Most of this source material comes from Harrismith historian Biebie de Vos. Thank you Biebie! Thank goodness someone is keeping records!
More Research Needed
But here we need to find out what really happened with the sale? Can Mariette Mandy help? Did the Chronicle report on this? Where did Patrick Shannon, who ended up with the cheetah, fit into the tale of the Harrismith zoo? I heard he bought it lock, stock n barrel and then sold what he could, kept what he wanted and turned the rest loose! I know that I saw Justin the warthog floating pote in die lug * all bloated up and stone dead in the Wilge river when I was out canoeing one afternoon (about 1970 if my memory is right, so we can check that timing).
legs sticking up vertically out of the water as I paddled past
I’d love to get some pics of the zoo from a distance or from outside, plus any of the animals. Who knows the general layout? I can draw a rough plan as I know where warthog corner was, where the lion cage was, and where the entrance gate was; plus the aviaries (and am I right there were vultures?). But other than that I’m a bit vague. Someone will know!
I also need to know if Biebie’s pic of a male lion is really one of ‘our Harrismith lions?’ – I sure hope so! What a magnificent specimen! I could hear him roaring uuuuunh uuuuunhuh uh uh uh lying in my bed on the other end of town!
Mom remembers a Mr Patterson running the zoo. His one daughter Mary married Jack Hunt; they ran the dry cleaners. Another, Margaret, married Frank Mandy, Syd’s father.
A decision to make a park on the banks of the Wilge River on the south-west edge of Harrismith town was made by the newly-established town council in 1877 (the council having been established just two years earlier). Mainly thanks to the efforts of the Landdrost Mr. Warden who came to Harrismith in 1884, and Harrismith’s first Town Clerk Mr. A. Milne, the area was laid out with winding roads, walking paths, a “lovers lane of poplar trees” and a variety of other trees (up to 38 species) in what park enthusiasts described as “a bare, crude piece of ground” but which was probably really open highveld grassland.
The troops stationed in the town around the time of the Anglo-Boer War erected the suspension bridge seen above, near where the Hamilton sandstone and iron bridge is today (named after Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams, Lieutenant-Governor of the then Orange River Colony):
Tree planting commences on that bare piece of ground:
The river was narrow and shallow at the time and so an attractive little lake with a central island was added and used for boating. Swans were introduced from London ‘for beauty’ (as for trees, so all local life was regarded as inferior to things imported from “home”!). The swans did quite well, cygnets being sold for £15 a pair, but they met their end at the hand of ‘some unidentified vandal with a .22 gun.’ 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 birds and causing a big stink when their carcasses dropped into the lake!
In 1887 the lake was named Victoria Lake in honour of the Queen of England’s silver jubilee (along with thousands of other things named ‘Victoria’ that year around the world in a mass-hysterical colonial spate of arse-creeping!). The park itself was called the President Brand Park (when?), similarly to curry favour, no doubt – this time local favour, not far away ‘little island called home’ favour.
More & more trees would be planted over the years by schoolkids and enthusiasts:
At ‘a colourful ceremony with troops on parade and a military band in attendance,’ the park was officially opened in 1906 by Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams, Lieutenant-Governor of the Orange River Colony.
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, greatly adding to its charm and allowing for swimming, 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 Two and boats for Four 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.
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. Jolly good. In time, a caravan park was started, but this was soon moved to the town side of the park.
An impressive entrance gate of wrought iron 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.
Personal memories of the park were about cars – cars before we were actually allowed to drive! On the town side in Steph de Witt’s black Saab. Actually Gerrie Pretorius’ Saab but ours for the night – ‘borrowed!’ We would hurtle around the atletiekbaan at speed , drifting sideways left then sideways right long before ‘drifting’ had a name. One night we hugged the final bend coming into the home straight and there was a moerse big bloekom stump in the headlights right in front of us! Someone must have seen our tracks and thought ‘I’ll put a stop to this!’ or ‘Ek sal hierdie bliksems wys!‘ How Steph missed that huge log I do not know, but we hosed ourselves and roared off. Instead of Yee Ha! we’d say Arrie-ee! (from a joke about camels . . )
On the other side of the river it was in Tim Venning’s light blue Triumph 2000. Actually Dr Dick Venning’s Triumph, but ours for the night – ‘borrowed!’ Tim behind the wheel, laughing his head off as we roared around in a cloud of dust late at night, drifting sideways most of the time.
We were good kids all in all though, of course. Nostalgia makes it ‘naughtiness,’ ‘mischief.’ Nowadays people would slate the ‘Hooliganism Of The Youth Of Today!’ Maybe adults did then? Tut tut, how wrong they were . . and are.
atletiekbaan – 440 yard athletic track – a cinder track
moerse big bloekom stump – huge ‘blue gum’ eucalyptus log or stump – about half a metre to a metre in diameter and three to five metres long. If we’d hit it, the SAAB would have been moertoe
moertoe – varktap
varktap – damaged
Ek sal hierdie bliksems wys! – I’ll show them! Ha! You missed!
” . . and over the hills lay long fields of barley and of rye
and through the fields a road runs by . . .“
Douglas Wright Esq would wax poetical after a few beers, quoting Alfred, Lord Tennyson out on the Vrystaat vlaktes. I spose that’s what happens if you get sent to a soutpiel school in the colonies.
I see now he was misquoting Tennyson – or maybe I misremember and he was spot on? Anyway, I prefer his version. It’s hardwired in my brain now.
In my mind’s eye dear ole Dougie is wandering across the veld with a shotgun in the crook of his arm, deerstalker on his head, waxing forth . . . .
The rest, L to R:
Tony Porrell, Koos Swanepoel, Nev Shave, Charlie Deane, Dirk Odendaal, Ian Fyvie, Rob Spilsbury, Nick Leslie, Doug Wright wearing the black beret, John Venning, Mike Curnow, Tabs Fyvie and Guy Kirk
Other Dougie things I remember:
‘Let’s play Bok Bok Staan Styf! Hoeveel fingers op jou lyf?’
‘We must play pennetjie!’ – urgently suggested after a few beers. We never did.
His fox terrier — (name?)
His cottage on Glen Khyber, their plot in the shadow of Platberg, away from the big house. It was right on the verdant banks of a little stream that flowed down from Khyber Pass into the beautiful Kak Spruit as it tumbled down from Platberg on its way to the Wilge River. Glen Khyber was below Platberg’s steep, narrow, stony Khyber Pass.
Doug’s story about Tabs Fyvie when Tabs was little: Dougie asked him “Did you have any rain?” and Tabs answered “Not much but they were big drops”.
How we used to walk to Glen Khyber from Birdhaven and wake Doug up in his cottage (him probably hung over) and Barbara would show him her whispy ponytail at eye level as he lay in bed and say “Look Doug, my ponytail!”.
1. Birdhaven – the ruins; 2. Glen Khyber – Doug’s cottage the green roof;
3. Jack Levick’s plot; 4. Kakspruit
soutpiel – English-speaking South African; said to have one foot in SA, the other foot in England, his penis hanging in the sea, so ‘salt penis’
Bok Bok Staan Styf! Hoeveel fingers op jou lyf? – weird game where you jump on each others’ backs! amiright?
pennetjie – game where you scratch a hole in the ground and use a stick to prevent your opponent from tossing his stick into the hole; amiright?
Kak Spruit – Shit Creek; Stream flowing down from the top of Platberg past Dougie’s plot Glen Khyber, then past our plot Birdhaven
I’ve always wanted to fly. Who hasn’t? But I dislike noise, so while my first flight in a light aeroplane (I think with an Odendaal or a Wessels piloting it?) was great, and my first flight across the Atlantic in a Boeing 707 at seventeen was unforgettable, it was a glider flight that first got me saying “Now THIS is flying!!”
We hopped into the sleek craft, me in front and pilot Blom (?) behind me. Someone attached the long cable to the nose and someone else revved the V8 engine far ahead of us at the end of the runway of the Harrismith aerodrome on top of 42nd Hill. The cable tensed and we started forward, ever-faster. Very soon we rose and climbed steeply. After quite a while Blom must have pulled something as the cable dropped away and we turned, free as a bird, towards the NW cliffs of Platberg.
“OK, you take the stick now, watch the wool” – and I’m the pilot! The wool is a little strand taped to the top of the cockpit glass outside and the trick is always to keep it straight. Even when you turn you keep it flying straight back – or you’re slipping sideways. I watched it carefully as I turned. Dead straight.
“Can you hear anything?” asks Blom from behind me. No, it’s so beautifully quiet, isn’t it great?! I grin. “That’s because you’re going too slowly, we’re about to stall, put the stick down”, he says mildly. Oh. I push the stick forward and the wind noise increases to a gentle whoosh. Beautiful. Soaring up close to those cliffs – so familiar from growing up below them and climbing the mountain, yet so different seeing them from a new angle.
This was taken at the sad occasion of Jean Coleman’s funeral yesterday. Jean was Mum’s great friend in Harrismith in the 50’s & 60’s. They lived in Hector Street, opposite the du Plessis’ first home.
Mum says when we still lived on the ‘townlands’ on the way to the waterworks, Jean would often ‘phone and say “Have you got a little visitor?” – once again her son Donald had gone missing *** and she knew exactly where he was – he used to walk all the way to our farm to visit his great mate, Koos. The two were inseparable.
Mary Methodist is Anne’s godmother. The Colemans left Harrismith in about 1964.
While we were standing around chatting yesterday, Anne suddenly realised that she, her brother Eddie, and George Elphick (whose daughter is engaged to Anne’s son – small world) had all been delivered by Sister Dugmore at the maternity home on Kings Hill.
“So were we!” chorused Koos & Sheila!
So we had to have this pic taken!
Duggie Dugmore’s maternity home – and below what was left of it the last time I visited. )
More from Sheila:George Elphick is an architect in Durban. His parents John & Una, also left Harrismith in about 1964. They lived in Lotsoff Flats where Una had a grand piano in their tiny sitting room! She was a very talented pianist and used to accompany Mary Methodist, Trudy Else and other singers. We used to have ‘musical evenings’ in our home in Stuart Street – wonder what the neighbours thought? John Elphick, bless his soul, had an enormous reel-to-reel tape on which he would record the proceedings. I have had these tapes put on CD – no Grammy winners here – but just to have this music preserved is so special. I have Mrs Euthemiou singing ‘La Paloma,’ William vd Bosch singing and playing his guitar, Harold Taylor singing ‘Til the sands of the desert grow cold.’ Harold lost his leg at Delville Wood and on tape he tells us that he learnt the song on board ship en route to Alexandria in Egypt, in World War 1. So now you know.
*** Donald once did a big ‘going missing’ on the beach somewhere on the KwaZulu Natal Coast. That time the police were called to help find him. But – as always – he was just exploring. He’d have made it home sooner or later, I’m sure.
He and I once walked home from the Kleinspan school – a distance of less than a kilometer – and got home somewhat later than our folks thought we should have.
Duggie in a nutshell:
We’ve just heard Una Elphick died this year. – R.I.P –