We mocked Bloemfontein as Flower Fountain and always looked on Durban as the big city, seldom Joburg, as we would head 299km to the coast not 268km inland to JHB when going for any city business. Bloem never featured. It was 378km and more of a backwater. Once you got there, you’d ask yourself WHY? And yet Bloem was our capital and everything official that went upwards in our little hierarchy summitted in Bloemfontein.
Especially the sporting ladder. If you climbed the sporting ladder and your head popped up through the clouds, there was Naval Hill!
As far as I recall I reached this valhalla of advancing upwards in your sporting code three times at school: For rugby I was not chosen for the Eastern Free State U/13 team in 1967. But I was chosen to be a reserve. The reserve, maybe? – or was there more than one? So I trekked to Bloemfontein, pulled on my togs and sat shivering on the sideline at the Free State Stadium for the whole match. The top pic gives a glimpse in the background of how the stadium looked. Our sponsors didn’t supply us with branded blankets and there was no attractive physio to massage our limbs. I don’t even know if the poor reserve got his quarter orange ration at half time. It was rugged.
For tennis Bruce Humphries entered us for Free State Champs.
All I remember is we drove there in his white Cortina and after I had blasted some booming high-speed double backhands – ala Frew McMillan – in the warmup of the first round, a guy called Symington sent me home 6-0 6-0. I even think he may have yawned while he was doing it. I can’t recall if the famous double pairing of me and Fluffy Crawley played. I have asked him. He can’t remember either.
And lastly, one year I went to Inter-High, which was the Free State athletics champs and I got a bronze medal for my troubles (actually a piece of paper that said ‘derde’) in the high jump.
Other than that, we once went for an ordinary rugby game. Daan Smuts drove us there in his VW Beetle to play against Sentraal or JBM Hertzog. Being Daan, we had beer! Yay!! All teachers should be like Daan. When he remembered that he had forgotten to arrange a place for us to sleep we didn’t mind at all. He dropped us off at an abandoned (for the holidays) koshuis where we shivered on beds with no bedclothes. That was maybe the first time we were glad we had blue and yellow and green blazers. Sure it was cold, but we would not have swopped the beers – die binne-kombers – for blankets!
Talking about the magic photo of the Soap Box Derby on 42nd Hill with Fluffy’s Dad Charlie in it, we got into an extended email conversation:
Fluff: Amazing the dress code!!!
Me: Yes, from kaalvoet kid to full jacket & tie. And three ‘hoeds’. And a cop. Even the most casual of the ‘racing drivers’ has long pants on. I see your Dad clearly, is that Michael Hastings next to him crouched over the reins with his chin between his knees?
Fluff: Yep, Michael Hastings; I sent the photo to Mom to see if she can identify any others on it. My Dad crashed his kart and came a whopper, apparently had no skin left. He was the moer in when we had our races on the old road, because of the accident he was in. He still owes me a hiding with the kweper lat (quince switch). I bet he is waiting for me in Heaven! But we will just chat about it!!
Me: By the time we raced down that hill the trees were tall next to the road, and it had become the ‘old road’, a new one having been built above it. Traffic volumes had increased and we could no longer just stop the N3 and all the Jo’burg – Durban traffic!
= = = = = Canoe trip from Swinburne = = = = =
Me: So we did the full Swinburne to Harrismith in a day? I remember being picked up at the bridge – I think the same bridge you once caught a huge barbel under – correct? You may remember I went again a few years later with Claudio Bellato. The river was up and we both lost our glasses, spent a wet night sharing one sleeping bag, which was only half wet, the other one was sopping; then wrecked the canoe, which I had borrowed from the Voortrekkers, on a tree block in a rapid on Walton farm. Charlie Ryder fetched us and we got the wrecked boat out 2 weeks later. Claudio lives in Durban and I see him from time to time. He still introduces me as “Meet my friend Peter. I slept with him”.
Fluff: Your Dad picked us up in Town, but we did not sleep over en route. The river was terribly low and we did a lot of foot work crossing or bypassing the rapids. We made the trip in one day. I can remember the trip you had with Claudio, jeez terrible to sleep wet, and that with a man. You fixed up the canoe in the backyard if I can recall. That fish: It was a huge barbel from the bridge and that with a split rod, Dad used for bass!! Haha early one morning standing on the bridge, it was still too dark to go down to the river.
= = = = = The Voortrekker Camp = = = = =
Me: I joined up briefly, thanks to you. Or to your description of the upcoming camp on Bok or Boy Venter’s farm! I remember the camp in the wattles, a campfire, not much else.
Fluff: I remember the Voortrekkers and I think our membership lasted until after the camp. A huge bonfire, that night; Boy Venter. That was about it.
= = = = = The 1969 South West Africa Trip . . That Kestell Trip = = = = =
Fluff: We have good memories of the SWA Trek and I still have some photo’s as well.
not of the group or individuals!! I will scan at some stage and put
them in mail.
The welwitchia plant; Namutoni in Etosha; the Finger of God; the ‘bottomless’ lake Otjikoto with schools of small fish – apparently the Germans dumped their weaponry in these lakes, close to Tsumeb. Did we go to a disco in Tsumeb?
The visit to the karakul farm, the meerkats!! Eish the price of that lovely freshly baked brown bread near Twee Rivieren….17 cents OMW – the price of brown bead was about 6 cents back home!!!
Lovely memories; Braam Venter was the guy from Kestell…and who were the brothers who played cowboy and crooks with .303 rifles on horseback!?
I can recall yourself, Pierre, Tuffy, myself who else was in the party from Harrismith?
Swakopmund’s Dune 7 with that huge Chevy bonnet that did not work!!
Me: Was the hiding “on the cards” when he died? Heart attack, was it? How old was he? That was such a damned shame. I can actually still feel (feel, not remember) how I felt standing in the kitchen at 95 Stuart Street when I first heard uncle Charlie had died. And here’s my old man turned 91 after 60 yrs of smoking and all that dop in the Club and Moth Hall!! Each old toppie I see – and my work consists of seeing old toppies! – has a theory of why he has lived so long but I can tell you right now there’s one main factor: LUCK. For every “formula” they have for their longevity I know someone who did just that but died young. About the dop my old man used to say, “Ah, but remember he drank cane and WATER. It was the mixers other ous drank that stuffed them up (!!)”. That was his theory and you can say what you like, he’s sticking to it!
I’d love to see the SWA photos. I didn’t take any. I still have the ossewawiel (axle centre – what’s it called?) that I got there. It had everyone’s names on it, but they’ve faded now as it has spent a few decades outside propping up my offroad trailer’s disselboom.
From HY I can only add Pikkie Loots and Marble Hall’s names. From Kestell I remember ‘Aasvoel’ and ‘Kleine Aischenvogel’. And my name was Steve McQueen thanks to you suggesting it then not using it at the last minute!
I don’t remember a disco but I do recall the beers at Karasburg and the oke storming in to ask Waddefokgaanieraan? Wie’s Julle? Waar’s Julle Onderwyser? Also the springbokke caught in the fence and the shout Ek Debs Die Balsak! from a savvy farm kid. I’d never heard of turning a balsak into an ashtray till that day! And the huge bonfire in the riverbed and sleeping out in the open and shifting closer to the embers as the fire died down. COLD nights! Also slept on the ground outside Etosha gates.
I’ll have to cc Pierre & Tuffy on this one!
I don’t recall cowboys & crooks and 303’s.
Here’s our GP Dr. Frank Reitz’s car OHS 71 on the banks of the Tugela River on The Bend, his farm outside Bergville.
Fluffy Crawley and I probably met at the Methodist Church Sunday School as toddlers, making us fellow-Methylated Spirits. We definitely both went to Kathy Putterill’s pre-school and then from Sub A to matric together. A fine human being.
kaalvoet – barefoot
hoeds – hats
the moer in – not happy
Voortrekkers – youth group for volk and fatherland – somewhat like Scouts
Annie was one of the seven Royal Bains in Harrismith. She was born in the cottage behind the hotel where her parents Stewart and Janet raised all the kids.
Her daughter Mary says they were Ginger, Stewart, Carrie, Jessie, Annie, Hector and Bennett. Only Hector got off his bum and got a job – he went off to become a bank manager in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. The rest hung around the hotel and had fun, got married, whatever. Ginger played polo; Carrie got married and left for Australia. Stuart did a bit of work on their farm, Sarclet, not far out of town on the Jo’burg road. None of the other six felt compelled to move on, up or out. After all, Dad was the Lord Mayor of the metropolis and was known as The Grand Old Man of Harrismith, so enjoy!
When Annie married Frank Bland, she moved out to their farm Nuwejaarsvlei on the Witsieshoek road;
When the farm could no longer support the horseracing they moved in with Frank’s mother Granny Mary Bland, nee Caskie, now with two daughters, Pat and Mary. When Frank died aged 0nly 49, Annie and the girls stayed on. They were joined there by her sister Jessie when her husband __ Bell died; Then later they were joined by now married daughter Mary, husband Pieter Swanepoel, and daughter Barbara when they arrived back from his work in the Post Office in Pietermaritzburg.
Some time after that – maybe when Granny Bland died? – Annie moved into Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel; She then left Harrismith for the first time in her life and went to stay with sister Jessie down in George for a few years; When Jessie died Annie returned to Harrismith and lived in John Annandale’s Grand National Hotel. John said to Mary he was battling to cope with hosting her, so Mary moved her home. Much to Pieter’s delight. NOT.
So Mary soon moved Annie into the old age home. Two years or so later, Mom remembers a night hosting bowling club friends to dinner when the phone rang. It was Sister Hermien Beyers from the home. “Jou Ma is nie lekker nie,” she said. Mom said I’ll be right over and drove straight there, she remembers in her red car wearing a navy blue dress. She sat with her dear Mom Annie holding her hand that night and knew when she died in the wee hours.
Her visitors the next morning included Mrs Woodcock and Miss Hawkins. Mom regrets not letting Miss Hawkins in to see Annie. She should have, she says. She remembers being fifteen years old and not allowed to see her Dad lying in Granny Bland’s home and has always been glad that she snuck in when no-one was watching and saw his body on his bed and so knew it really was true.
Part of the stone wall which surrounded Granny Bland’s home in Stuart Street, Harrismith; and the oak tree her grand-daughter Pat Bland planted.
Our great-grandmother ‘Granny Bland’ was a Caskie who married a Bland who begat Frank (JFA) Bland who married Annie Watson Bain. Bain Sisters Annie Bland and Jessie Bell lived there with Granny Bland after their husbands died. Her granddaughter – Annie’s daughter – Mary and great-granddaughter Barbara also lived there for a while, some sixty five years ago.
The old home now has an artist family living in it and has been beautifully restored.
Dad was a Post Office technician. He applied for ___ which was more technical, but was given electrician. He did his apprenticeship ca.1938 and was soon put on telephones for some reason, given a truck and sent off to Ixopo where he was assigned a “line boy.” Actually an adult to do lots of the hard work for you. His line boy’s name in Ixopo was Charlie.
Himeville fell within his area and he got to know the lady in charge of the General Post Office there – Miss Viven Wise. Miss Viven D Wise, actually, which got the young techies snorting as “VD” was rude. She spoke of the Sani Pass up into Basutoland and how beautiful and rugged it was, so when out that way one day Dad decided to see if he could get there. He soon came across a stream he had to ford, so out jumped Charlie to pack stones in the stream so the truck could get across. Soon another stream and the same procedure. After the fourth stream he decided this is going to take too long and turned back.
He also tells of putting in new telephone lines. From one farm to the next the line would go as the crow flies, over hills and through valleys. They’d be allocated long gum poles treated with creosote and they’d take them as close as they could in the truck, but to some places they had to be carried on their shoulders. Heavy and the creosote burning their shoulders, they’d lug them over the veld, dig the holes and plant them.
I’m guessing Charlie did more than his fair share?
I can’t really say I was born ‘up Shit Creek without a paddle,’ but I can say that mere days after I was born I was taken home to our house on a plot on the banks of Shit Creek. And that it would be ten years or so before I owned my first paddle.
The first time ‘I paddled my own canoe’ was years later after we had lost the plot. OK, sold the plot, moved into town and bought a blue and red canoe. As far as I remember 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 zinc roof sheet, the ends nailed onto a four-by-four and sealed with pitch. Made by Gerie Hansen and his younger boet Nikolai – or maybe 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.
Good school friend Piet Steyl wrote of the wonderful days he also spent in the company of Gerie Hansen – who died tragically early. He told of fun days spent paddling, gooi’ing kleilat, shooting the windbuks and smoking tea leaves next that same little pond. He also remembered Gerie winning a caption contest in Scope magazine and getting reprimanded for suggesting Japanese quality wasn’t good. Irony was, they had one of the first Japanese bakkies seen in town – a 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 originated on Platberg mountain, flowed down, past our plot and westward through the golf course on the north edge of town, then turned south and flowed into the Wilge below the park weir;
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; Here’s a kid loading one:
Dad: “Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.
“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”
So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad:
I knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking and at lovecamping.co.za I found this:
A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.
One of Annie’s workers at the Central Service Station on the corner of Warden street and Southey street – the ‘Caltex garage’ as we knew it – was called Johannes. Because he looked so different from the other petrol attendants, we learnt his surname. He was Johannes Culling.
Today I found out a bit more:
The Boer War started in 1899 and ended in 1902, but a lot of British soldiers stayed on in Harrismith until 1913. One of these was Sergeant Culling, stationed on Kings Hill. He, in fact stayed on even longer, as he married a local lady and went to live with her in the ‘location’ called ‘Skoonplaas’ outside town, probably when it was south of Queens Hill on the far (left) bank of the Wilge river.
Dad knows of three children: Johannes, Henry and a daughter. They could not have had an easy life in the Free State of yore and Dad tells of problems: ‘run-ins with the police due to drinking and fighting.’
contacted JP du Plessis wanting to know wassup!? Catch me up on your
to hear from you. We’re living in Austin, Texas – since January 2016.
We spent sixteen years in Mandeville, Lousiana – near New Orleans. We raised our kids there, and still have the house there.
stints in Chicago, Illinois, Las Vegas, Nevada and Los Angeles,
California. Can’t believe we’ve been here 30 years.
fondly (jealously!) followed your past road trips through the States
on vrystaatconfessions.com – Sorry you had to experience Shreveport!?
I get to travel quite a bit for work. I have extensively traveled the
Gulf States by road and other places by air.
you made your way on I-20 through to Vicksburg and saw the mighty
Mississippi River on your way up from Shreveport to New York with
still think that is why I came here: because of Huckleberry Finn and
Tom Sawyer as well as the fascinating origins of American music in
the Mississippi Delta.
had a great time living in New Orleans. Our daughter still lives
there. We’re going there for a few days on Wednesday for a bit of
Mardi Gras and work.
other kids live in Brooklyn, New York City, Chicago and Fort
Funny….I thought so much of you yesterday listening to a “rubriek” on the New Yorker Radio Hour podcast about this guy who traveled all over the States on his canoe. For two decades! Saying: Hey I’m not lost and I’m not homeless…..I’m just paddling on the water seeing some fantastic geography and meeting very nice people on the way, (paraphrased). He wrote three books (not published). I will try to find the link for you.
Koos Mof van Wyk was a bachelor who lived with his Ma out on the Kestell road. One evening he drove home and a Joburg driver drove right up his bum as he slowed suddenly on the main road in order to turn in at his gate.
The Joburg oke was angry, ‘Waddefok maak jy dat jy sommer so skielik stilhou innie mirrel vannie pad!?’
Koos Mof was astounded. Waddefok maak JY!? he yelled. Almal weet dis my hek hierie en ek draai altyd hier in. Ek is Koos Mof en ek BLY HIER!
Joburg driver: How can you just stop in the middle of the highway!?
Koos Mof: What do you mean!? Everyone knows this is my gate and I always turn in here! I LIVE HERE!