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

Abe Sparks

I thought of Abe Sparks as the “Lord Mayor of Swinburne”.

Ever since he went to Texas he wore a stetson, cowboy boots and a string tie with a polished stone clasp. He was a larger than life character, colourful. He and Lulu were always very friendly to me. He drove an old Rolls Royce which he’d converted into a pickup truck. It looked something like the one in the pic. I think a darker colour, though.

I have a clear childhood memory of it parked in Stuart Street near the corner of Retief Street, opposite the Post Office. Near Havenga’s. Near Basil’s Cafe. Near the corner Kovisco Butchery. Opposite Herano Hof. Opposite that Co-Op building. You know. Here are two more conversions similar to his:

1915 Silver Ghost in Western Australia
1926 Silver Ghost in California

Abe owned the Swinburne Hotel which became the Montrose Motel, later bought by Jock Grant; scene of an interesting brandy-filled night many years later.

He and Lulu would throw big parties and the story goes – yes, the old story goes. Rural Legend Alert! – that one night they decided to cook the mushrooms they had gathered in the veld / garden / woods that day. To be safe they fed some to the dog and asked the kitchen staff to keep an eye on it for the next hour or so. They continued partying up a storm with the grog flowing and then ate supper and carried on until one of the staff came in to say “Baas die hond is dood”.

Panic ensued as they all bundled into cars and rushed off to the Harrismith Hospital twelve miles away, had their stomachs pumped out and returned much later to the farm looking chastened, wan and sober.

Next morning Abe asked to see the dog and was shown where it lay dead and mangled. It had been run over by a passing car.

I imagine a pinch of salt was added to the wild mushrooms.

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Baas, die hond is dood – Boss, the dog has died

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Leon Strachan, Harrismith author (nine books), publisher, historian, military buff, farmer, jam bottler, businessman, tour guide and all-round mensch has a much better grip on Abe’s life in Swinburne. His farm Nesshurst is in the same area as many of Abe’s sixteen farms over the years. He tells of pub tales, a Swinburne cricket team made up of eleven Sparks (one was selected to play for South Africa!), brandy taken internally and externally and how the sheer size of Louis Bischoff’s schlong displayed for all to see on the pub counter was one of the few things that ever rendered Abe speechless.

Blafboom 1991, Leon Strachan – ISBN – 1-919740-21-1

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This guy reminded me of Uncle Abe: Abe would have wanted this car!

Abe Sparks Tailor

Dad tells me Abe bought the Rolls Royce from fellow Harrismith farmer and character Nell van Heerden.

An old-car-nut Aussie confirms another version of the old sheep farmers / Rollers rural legend thus:‘I can see why the conversion was done. When the Silver Shadow was introduced, it was unpopular with graziers: it could fit only two sheep on the back seat; the Silver Cloud could hold three.’