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1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia school travel Wildlife, Game Reserves

South West Africa Tour

The Kestell bus was like a half-loaf, but still the metropolis of Kestell couldn’t roust enough boys to fill it, so we Harrismithians had been invited along. Johan Steyl announced in the hall one assembly that Kestell was inviting Harrismith boys to join their ‘seunstoer’ to South West Africa. It would be fifteen days in the July holidays, and the cost would be twenty five South African Ront. Leon ‘Fluffy’ Crawley, Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots, Pierre du Plessis, Tuffy Joubert, Piet Steyl and me, plus a few others said YES! and then our parents said yes, so we were off!

– an actual pic by Fluffy, care of mother Polly’s Kodak! –

It was boys-only, a seunstoer, but Mnr Braam Venter of Kestell took his daughter along. She was about Std 4 we were Std 7 to 9. She was very popular and soon became like the tour mascot, second only to Wagter the tour dog – who was actually a found holey corobrick with a dog collar through one of its three holes and string for a leash.

The short bus had a longitudinal seating arrangement. Long rows running the length of the bus so you sat facing each other, sideways to your direction of travel.

We all bundled in and set off. After a few hours we had the first roadside stop. Mnr Venter lined us all up outside the bus and said ‘Right, introduce yourselves,’ as the Kestell ous didn’t know us – and we didn’t know them. Down the row came the names, van Tonder, van Wyk, van Niekerk, van Staden, van Aswegen, vanne Merwe, van Dit, van WhatWhat, Aasvoel, Kleine Asenvogel, Marble Hol. Fluffy standing next to me murmured ‘Steve McQueen’ but when his turn came he let out with a clear ‘Leon Crawley’ so I said ‘Steve McQueen’ out loud. Without a blink the naming continued before I could say ‘Uh, just kidding’, so I became ‘Ou Steve‘ for the duration.

Aughrabies Falls
– Aughrabies Falls – by Leon Fluffy Crawley –

Our first stop was Kimberley, where we camped in the caravan park; then on to the Aughrabies Falls on the Gariep River, stopping at the roaring dunes near Hotazel in the Kalahari. On from there to the borderpost at Onseepkans.

~~~oo0oo~~~

When we entered SWA we headed straight for a pub. The first pub we found. Us fourteen to sixteen year-olds. Read about that here.  

We went to the Fish River Canyon. Like all canyons, it was billed as the biggest, longest, deepest, whatever in the (insert your area, your country, or ‘world’ here). We stood on the rim and gazed down. Then Pikkie Loots and I couldn’t stand it; so – against orders – we zipped down the pathway, slipping and sliding down as fast as we could. Before we got to the bottom we decided we’d get into big kak if we took too long, so we reluctantly stopped and returned to the top, slowly.

– Steve Reed’s pic from 1993 when he did the full hike –

We camped next to the Vingerklip, while it still stood (it fell down nineteen years later on 8 December 1988, so its obviously it wasn’t our fault, nê). About 30m high from the vlaktes at the base, the little neck it balanced on was only about 3m by 1,5m, making it rather precarious.

SWA_mukorobvingerklip-before-it-fell
– vingerklip as we left it – promise! –

Later we camped near Windhoek where my Dad had arranged that I got fetched by some of his relatives I had never met. Third or fourth cousins, I suppose. In the car on the way to their home they had lots of questions, but before I had finished my second sentence the younger son blurted out “Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” (Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!) and my bubble burst. All of my short life I had laboured under the mistaken and vain impression that I was completely fluent in Afrikaans. Hey! No-one had told me otherwise.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

– a Welwitschia plant in the Namib desert – pic by photographer Crawley (Fluffy)

SWA_Brandberg

On to the Brandberg, where a long walk would take you to some rock paintings. I chose not to make the walk. Pikkie did, and remembered: ‘the terrain was barren, hot as hell, and rock strewn. The rocks had a rich red-brown colour, and I thought it was amazing that the local indigenous people had painted a white lady, which according to legend was the Queen of Sheba, who they would probably never have seen! Some people wanted to pour water on the paintings but I think Braam stopped them and of course today I realise that he was a hundred per cent right in not letting us do it. If we all poured water on it it would have been washed away by now!’

– new Okakuejo gate –

We got to Etosha National Park after dark so the Okakuejo gate was closed. We didn’t pitch our tents that night to save time, simply bedding down outside ready to drive in first thing the next morning. On spotting us the next morning the game ranger said Net hier het ‘n leeu eergistraand ‘n bok neergetrek.

– Namutoni camp, as we saw it! Fluffy’s pic again –

On our way back, we passed Lake Otjikoto, the ‘bottomless lake’:

SWA_Otjikoto lake
SWA_Lake Otjikoto
– cichlid fish, Tilapia guinasana
– that’s us at the ‘bottomless’ lake – Fluffy the photographer – with his Ma Polly’s Kodak –

The Hoba meteorite next. Weighing about 60 tons, made of iron and nickel, it is still the largest single intact meteorite known, and also the most massive naturally-occurring piece of ferronickel known on Earth’s surface. Estimated to have fallen 80 000 years ago, it was discovered around 1920.

SWA_Hoba meteorite
– this pic from July 1967, two years before we saw it –
– 1969 –

On the way out of SWA we reached the South East corner of the country, heading for the border with the Kalahari Gemsbok Park, when we spotted something tangled up in the roadside fences. Turned out to be a few springbok, some dead, some still alive but badly injured. As we spotted them one of the farm boys yelled out ‘Ek debs die balsak! He cut off the scrotum, pulled it over the base of a glass cooldrink bottle. What? we asked. When it had dried he would break the glass and he’d have an ashtray, he explained. Oh.

The alive ones were dispatched and all were taken to the nearby farmer who gave us one for our trouble. It seems some hunters are indiscriminate and less than accurate and the buck panic before the onslaught and run into the fences.

SWA_springbok
– looking at them I would never have guessed they had potential ashtrays a-hanging behind them! –

That night we made a huge bonfire on the dry bed of the Nossob river or one of its tributaries and braai’d the springbok meat. It was freezing in July so we placed our sleeping bags around the fire and moved closer to the bed of coals all night long. Every time we woke we inched closer.

A wonderful star-filled night sky above us.

~~~oo0oo~~~

edit: Updated since Fluffy found his 1969 pictures of SWA. Taken with Ma Polly’s Kodak camera. So now our story has real pics, not just internet pics. – Pikkie says: Even reading it a second time brings back great memories! Fluffy asks: Can you guys remember the freshly baked brown bread we bought from a plaas winkel… Twee Rivieren… On our way back… Pretty expensive if I remember well – 17 cents . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

seunstoer – boys tour;

Wagter – Rover

– y’understand?

“Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” – Your Afrikaans Are Atrocious; or Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!

Ek debs die balsak! – ‘Dibs on the ballbag!’ or ‘I lay claim to the antelope scrotum’;

Net hier het ‘n leeu eergistraand ‘n bok neergetrek – Right here where you’re camping a lion killed an antelope the night before last;

– another view of Otjikoto ‘bottomless’ Lake – about 100m deep vertically, but then leading off horizontally into caves beyond that –
– a hillock covered with rocks – oh, and boulders – near Aughrabies Falls –

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions

Farming Kenroy

I’m a farmer. I know I’m a farmer because I have the keys to the bakkie and instructions on how to run a dairy.

The instructions were flung at me outside the door to the Platberg Bottle Store in Warden Street along with the bakkie keys as the car taking Des and Tabs to Jan Smuts airport roared off. They were late and could miss the departure of their flight to Harare and on to Mana Pools on the Zambesi.

Were they written instructions? No, shouted instructions. The three-second short course on the finer aspects of dairy herd management: “You’ll be fine! The bakkie’s parked in Retief Street.”

O-kay! Let’s see: What did I get wrong? I ran out of feed for the cows, then bought the wrong feed at the mill and it was made clear to me I’d have to go back and change it; I had the farmhands look at me in amusement once they realised just how little I knew; I had Des’ horse King realise he had a novice on his back when I took him for a daily morning ride; And I had a cow get stuck in labour with a breech calf. I had to phone Kai to come up from Bergville to sort that out.

What did I get right? Well, I ate breakfast every morning. Quite well. Gilbert presented me with a plate with one egg, one rasher of bacon and one slice of toast, arranged identically on the plate each morning at 6am sharp. That I was good at.

Decades later my nephew Robbie told me dairy farming was all about managing your pastures. Hell, don’t tell Des, but I didn’t given his grass one glance all week.

.

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The picture is Kenroy but there were no ladies on the gate when I was farming.

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions

Call the Engine, Call the Engine . .

Fanie, is that a box of matches in your pocket? asked stern Uncle Louis. No Dad, its just a block of wood.

We were having lunch on their smallholding east of Harrismith and father Louis knew enough to ask, but not enough to check. After lunch we were off into the veld and once out of sight Farnie bent down, struck a match and set fire to the grass, watched it in fascination for a few seconds, then beat the flames out with his hands. My turn. Then his turn again.

Who knows whose turn it was – doesn’t matter – but we let it grow too big. Both of us tried to beat it out, stomp it out, but the flames spread and ran away from us.

OH! SH*T!! We ran back to the farm house and phoned the fire engine in town. When Louis found out he phoned again and told them not to come. He had already phoned the neighbours and alerted all hands on deck.

My most vivid memory was herding cattle out of a paddock and having a cow refuse to go, charging straight back at us and forcing her way back in. Her calf was in there and she only left once it was with her.

Nine farms burnt, we were told. And calling the fire engine costs money we were told. And we learnt some other lessons, too. You can tell: Both of us are fine upstanding citizens today (telling our kids to BEHAVE themselves, dammit).

Bakerskop Platberg 2

A fire in 2014 in the exact same spot (click on the pic). Our fire was ca 1960.

~~~oo0oo~~~

NB: As memories are notoriously fickle, read older sister Barbara’s (probably more accurate!) recollection of this day:
Let’s go back to the Schoeman’s farm. The three little Swanepoels were spending a week-end on the farm with the three little Schoemans.
BarbsKoosSheila ca1960 Three Swanies ca 1960
After breakfast the six of us went for a walk in the veld. Unbeknown to me, two little sh*ts had lied about having matches in their pockets. Not far from the house they crouched down and I thought they had seen something on the ground. On inspection I now knew that it was matches that they were playing with. They lit a few little fires and quickly with their bare hands (brave boys!) killed the flames. Until then it was all fun for them but I felt very uneasy.
Suddenly the next little flame became a “grand-daddy” of a flame and within no time the two little sh*ts could not longer use their brave little hands. Guess who ran away first? Yes, the two little sh*ts! Something made me look back at the roaring fire and that’s when I saw little Louie – who was 3 – standing in a circle of flames with his arm raised and covering his face – he was frozen stiff. I turned around, ran through the flames, picked him up and ‘sent it’ back to the farmhouse.
With no grown-ups at home, I phoned my mother at the Platberg Bottle Store and through lots of “snot and trane” told her what had happened. She ran across the road to the Town Hall corner and “hit” the fire alarm for the Harrismith Fire Brigade to come and save the day. Needless to say they saw no fire in town so must have just gone home.
The fire did burn through about 3 farms – the damage was extensive. Uncle Louie and Aunty Cathy, on coming home that afternoon, apparently stopped the car on the main road, got out and just stared – could not believe what they was seeing.
Well, we were supposed to spend the week-end there but all the grown-ups had had enough. We were packed up, bundled up into the car and taken home.
Years later (before they left SA) I bumped into Louie and Gaylyn and told them the story. I could not believe it when Louie told me he had always known that I had saved his life – and I thought that that memory had gone up in flames!
Lots of love to you all
Yours “Firewoman” Barbara

~~~oo0oo~~~

Later I wrote (thinking that nothing had really happened to us after the fire):
Dammitall, we really had amazingly tolerant parents back in the sixties, come to think of it!

To which Farn Schoeman replied:
Koos, small correction: YOU had amazingly tolerant parents!