Petronella van Heerden

Steve Reed sent a picture of old American cars in Aussie .. I wrote:

These lovely old motorised wrecks remind me of Swinburne character Abe Sparks’ Rolls Royce bakkie. And that reminds me of Nell van Heerden.

Apparently Dr Anna Petronella van Heerden, Harrismith’s first lady doctor around 1916 and later South Africa’s first lady specialist gynaecologist, who studied in Holland and London, bought the Roller in England, toured the continent in it, then shipped it back to Kaapstad where she ran her specialist practice. The part about the car is according to 96yr-old Dad.

She gave up practicing medicine and came to Harrismith to farm and was legendary among the boere here. Always dressed in khaki trousers, khaki shirt, sturdy shoes and hoed, she would answer my gran Annie’s How are you, Nell? query with ‘Fair to bloody’ as she filled up with Caltex at Annie’s Central Service Station. She had a live-in girlfriend who sometimes had to move out to the cottage when Nell had city girlfriends over for wild parties on the farm.

A cattle farmer, she would be seen at the vendusies where some of the boere would make the mistake of saying something and she’d be ready along the lines of “Ja, (Jan, Piet, Koos) ek is n fokken vrou al lyk ek nie so nie!” A true character. Imagine how strong you’d have to be, being ‘anders’ in a milieu where being a Male White Afrikaans Christian made you a baas, made you automatically right and should have made all women appreciative and in their plek – and NOT at vendusies! And if they must be at vendusies they should serve the tea and koeksisters!

She wrote two books – I must try and get hold of them.

This from wikipedia:

Anna Petronella van Heerden (1887–1975), was the first Afrikaner woman to qualify as a medical doctor. Her thesis, which she obtained a doctorate on in 1923, was the first medical thesis written in Afrikaans. She practiced as a gynaecologist, retiring in 1942. She also served in the South African medical corps during World War II.

She campaigned for women’s suffrage in the 1920s, and worked as a farmer after retiring from her medical work. She also published two autobiographical texts, Kerssnuitsels (Candle Snuffings) and Die Sestiende Koppie (the Sixteenth Cup).

This from Women Marching Into the 21st Century: Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo:

This from “Nationalism, Gender and Sexuality in the Autobiographical Writing of Two Afrikaner Women,” Viljoen L. (2008):

Viljoen investigates questions of nationalism, gender and sexuality in the autobiographical texts of Petronella van Heerden and Elsa Joubert, and makes the point that autobiography, a genre often considered marginal to the literary canon, can be regarded as a site for examining the impact of nationalism on the construction of gendered and sexual identity. Petronella van Heerden (1887-1975) became the first Afrikaner woman to qualify as a medical doctor and published two short autobiographical texts, Kerssnuitsels (‘Candle Snuffings’) and Die Sestiende Koppie (‘the Sixteenth Cup’), in the early 1960s. The article argues that van Heerden’s omission of overt references to her lesbianism can be attributed to the strong, though embattled, position of Afrikaner nationalism at the time her texts were published.

My guess is there would also have been a fair dose of Nell saying ‘its none of your bloody business’ in there as well.

She died in 1975, aged 88.

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Oh, back to the Rolls Royce! I imagine – but I don’t know this – that it was converted into a bakkie, a pickup, a ute, after Abe had bought it from Nell. We always heard stories of how Aussie sheep farmers ‘drove Rolls Royces around their farms, as the running boards were wide enough to carry dead sheep.’ Abe would have liked that and thought ‘I can do that too.’

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Kaapstad – Cape Town

boere – farmers

hoed – hat

vendusies – livestock sales / auctions

“Ja, (Jan, Piet, Koos) ek is n fokken vrou al lyk ek nie so nie!” – Yes, Koos, I am a woman even if I don’t look like one!

anders – different

plek – place; as in ‘know your place’

koeksisters – ‘South African doughnut’; deep-fried, very sweet

bakkie – pickup; ute