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.
I asked Leanne Hilkovitz Williamson about Poccolan / Robinson’s Bush and this brought a flood of memories:
She takes up the story:
I was born on the farm De Nook which belonged to my grandfather Elias Hilkovitz and was inherited by my father Leo Hilkovitz after the 2nd World War probably round about 1945, two years before I was born.
Dad built Little Switzerland Hotel on the farm and we made pathways through the forest called Robinson’s Bush for guests to hike to various spots: The Wishing Well, Protea Plateau, etc. I named most of the spots, and one that meandered in and out of the forest edge I named Hilky’s Way after my grandfather who was affectionately known as Hilky.
We sold the hotel when I was in my early twenties but the various owners over the years have kept the use of the forest and the guests continue to enjoy its wonderful beauty – it is wonderfully exhilarating to either clamber down Breakneck Pass from the Wishing Well or climb up to it from the road below. The path twists and turns in amongst indigenous trees, true and mock yellowwoods, and lianas and ferns along the side of a stream full of huge beautiful boulders in all shades of grey & lichen & dappled shade. So one experiences the mountain air, the refreshing sound of the steam and always the melodious bird song. I particularly loved calling up the Mocking Chats and Natal Robins that mimic other birds and have a whole repartee of calls, copying them and they’d call back. A wonderful game that Dad taught me.
According to my father, Robinson’s Bush is the biggest natural forest in the Drakensberg. I wouldn’t take that as gospel. I’ve come to be a bit circumspect about those sorts of claims that locals all over the world tend to lay claim to!
Robinson’s Bush abuts on De Nook and we treated it as part of our farm. Dad looked after it although it is part of government nature conservation; at one stage in my late teenage years there were two nature conservation officers who lived in a hut on the edge of the forest and tended it but that did not last.
I was there for my 70th birthday in 2017 with my two sons and their families and we climbed up Breakneck Pass through the forest and I showed it to my granddaughters and taught them the things my Dad had taught me.
Some of my earliest memories are of picnics in the forest on the side of the stream with our neighbours Udo and Margo Zunkle of Cathkin Hotel fame when they lived on Windmill farm. Udo would put small pieces of raw steak on the river rocks and we’d be fascinated by the crabs that came from all sides to feast on it.
Leanne again later:
I put together a Power Point family history together for the family and we had an evening when I showed it to them. It started with the great grandparents on both sides and their cars and the farm in the very early days and the beginnings of the hotel and its growth as I grew up & went to HS Volkschool & then boarding school, varsity, etc. and then our children growing up and then finally the grandchildren from babies to present. I can never leave the farm & the berg for long & return there often – even if it is just up and down in a day – and I climb a mountain, drink in the soul food and return home refreshed, invigorated and together. The families also love it and visit but we have never all been there together at the same time & so took advantage of my 70th to ask this favour. So we stayed in the timeshare from 24-28 Dec & had a wonderful Christmas & my birthday on 27th. We had a wonderful time and I was able to share some of my favourite places & stories with them just this once as you know how short attention spans are when kids are having fun. Didn’t want to bore them!
Pic of me on my birthday in my most favourite place in all the world.
Famous shenanigans: South Africa’s most notorious bank robber, Trust Bank robber Derek Whitehead, was arrested at Little Switzerland in 1971 at 3am on Friday morning the 14th of May. They had arrived at 4.30pm the previous day. A team of CID detectives from Johannesburg, the Orange Free State and Natal were involved in the swoop. After the arrest, the Whiteheads were taken to Bloemfontein for questioning
Drunken shenanigans: Omigoodness; You don’t want to know . .
Our Bruno the doberman was a Hilkovitz! A Little Switzerland doberman puppy! Dad Pieter Swanepoel told me Leo came to town one day, called in at the Caltex garage and said ‘Come and look!’ On the back of his bakkie he had a bunch of little black pups in a box. Dobermans.
Dad chose one – he says he gave Leo a pocket of potatoes! – and we grew up with ‘Bruno’ – I only now know he was a citizen of Little Switzerland! He grew up to be a handsome lad!
Three modern bakkies and a 1979 Series II Landrover LWB with a Ford V6 3litre engine shoved in – and hand-painted flat white with bright red wheels – ventured up Sani Pass one day. The three very capable bakkies sailed up with ease, while Redfoot had to pause for a breather on a stream crossing and have its radiator topped up and let its heart rate subside.
Yet at photo op time everyone posed on old Redfoot the Landie! Hit it!
Aitch found Redfoot. One of her PMB doctors was ‘doing up’ an old Landie, putting a new engine in and it ‘would be like new’ he said. He was a fibbing car salesman but my Need-A-4X4-O-Meter was up and he could have sold me a – Wait! He DID sell me a Landrover!Never thought I’d fall for one of those.
‘Only one previous owner’ he said and that was true: Besides him, only one previous owner – The KwaZulu bantustan homeland Police Force. I only found that out too late but anyway he’d have re-assured me that they treated it with kid gloves and as if it was their own, sticking to the speed limit, never over-loading it and staying on the tar.
I bought it for R12000 in partnership with my three business partners, 25% each. I assured them they would thank me. I don’t think Lello and Stoute ever used it. Yoell did once. And Prem Singh used it once to take a wedding party to Ladysmith. Maybe Soutar used it a few times.
I spent a further R13000 on two more Ford engines and sold it with relief for R5000. This Sani trip was the only worthwhile exercise it ever undertook. Come to think of it, I don’t think my ungrateful partners ever did thank me! I don’t know why. It was a real conversation stopper. You had to say what you wanted before you left, cos on the journey there was no way you could even yourself speak. There was a hole in the aluminium between your knees and the engine compartment and a hole in the aluminium between your heels and the road, so lots of noise rushed in.
Greg came to Harrismith from Ohio in 1972. We lost touch then thanks to Sheila picked up as though no time had passed! Greg was helping Sheila research ancient family history and was also sending lovely pics of his schooldays in Harrismith.
He was planning to come and visit and, among other places, visit Steph de Witt’s game farm near Tshipise with Steph.
Then Steph died.
Now Greg’s gone, suddenly, out of the blue.
R.I.P Greg! Dammit!!
** I’ll find a pic of Greg. Meantime that’s one of his pics above **
Wonderful memories of walking down Normandien pass in the Drakensberg with Greg, just me and him along lonely dirt roads and railway tracks, through these tunnels and ending up near Van Reenen – at Moorddraai where we were fetched – I think by Father Sam van Muschenbroek? I had to keep telling Greg to slow down! He was a fast walker and I was in no hurry!
I don’t have a pic of Greg yet. The top pic is one he took in our physics class back in 1972.
Greg’s last message on 28 April 2016:
On Apr 28, 2016, Sheila had written:
Gregor! Where the hell have you been? Are you okay?
You just dried up and went away! A bit like our money is doing right now! All’s well here – am having fun putting old pics on FB – am loving the responses. I hope you’re okay.
Lots of love, Sheila
Greg replied same day:
I'm doing just fine. Been a bit of work finishing up the estates of
mom and dad. Was quite ready for mom to go, but dad went kinda suddenly.
Such is life. What brought about this great burst of picture activity?
I'll have to get back to posting more of mine again.
My brother is probably going back to Port Elizabeth later this year.
I might try to come with him this time since my last trip got all
Glad you are doing well!
Sent from my iPad
So Greg's poor kids lost their Grandma, their Granpa and their Dad
in quick succession!
Greg's brother Jeff did come to SA in 2014. I took him to Hluhluwe game reserve. Greg did not accompany him. He should have. He never did make it back to SA to visit. Damn!
Some freezing nights I recall. Funny thing is, most hold such good memories!
– At home some nights at 95 Stuart Street, getting in between cold sheets in a cold room; Harrismith Free State in winter! In the ’60’s
– On the Wilge riverbank with Claudio – sharing a wet sleeping bag after one swim too many on an overnight canoe voyage from Swinburne to Harrismith; ca 1970
– Above Oliviershoek Pass, under some wattle trees on a stream bank – sleeping bags on the ground, no tent – on Jack Shannon’s farm Kindrochart with Pierre and his cousin Kevin, fresh from Durban. In mid-winter in the July holidays. We rode there on our bicycles – about 19 miles. Kevin thought he was gonna freeze-die; To be fair Durban is sub-tropical and Kevin’s thighs were not made for long bike rides! We woke up to find the top of our sleeping bags frozen – the dew had turned to ice. ca 1968
– With Tuffy and Fluffy in Bloem in an empty school hostel (Jim Fouche Skool?); No bedding, huddled under our school blazers. ca 1970. Apparently Daan Smuts had forgotten to arrange accommodation. But who cared! He had NOT forgotten to arrange a coupla beers for us first – which made us late for whatever accommodation may have been arranged by other, more boring, teachers. That’s how I remember it anyway!
– On the Berg River Canoe Marathon in the Cape. July, mid-winter in a winter rainfall area! Rain sweeping in horizontally on the freezing cold gale-force wind. The night before the race we were given a shed to sleep in and reminded to bring mattresses. I managed to burst my new blow-up mattress and so had a freezing night on cold concrete. That second day, the shortest of four, was the longest day of my life; and the coldest I have ever been. EVER! The first fatality ever in a canoe race in SA happened that day. Novice Berg paddler Gerrie Rossouw died. The third and fourth days warmed up, thank goodness; ca 1983
With Aitch in the kombi in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. Like sleeping in a refrigerator. The lions knew to wait till the sun was up before getting it on; ca 1996
With Aitch on Sheila’s expedition up Mt aux Sources. Sheila insisted we camp right in the open, exposed to a freezing gale with our tents leaning at 45º and rolling away if they weren’t weighted down. Pegs didn’t help. The reason Sheila wanted us just there became clear at sunrise; ca 1996
Another cold night on Mt aux Sources with Larry Pierre and Tuffy ca1970, where we were joined in the hut after dark by two guys who had got a bit ratty with each other on the walk in the dark. They argued about the beef stroganoff and whether the wine was being ‘frozen instead of chilled’ where it was outside in a bank of snow; that set us off into gales of laughter and mocking. When they eventually shut up and settled down for the night Larry started off with 100 bottles of beer on the wall and we sang that very annoyingly for way too long. Hopefully they were more cross with us than with each other in the end?
With Aitch on Nyika Plateau in Malawi 10 000ft asl – but then we dragged our mattress to the lounge and got a roaring log fire going using felled timber from the pine plantation that was being cleared! So that night only counts before the fire got going; ca 1993
Way back in high school we spent a night in an old sparsely furnished Drakensberg farmhouse with no ceilings and a tin roof.
We accompanied Klein Kerneels Retief to his Dad’s winter grazing farm below Oliviershoek Pass and were left on our own overnight. Adventure! The skies were overcast and soon there were deep rumblings and flashes of lightning. A heavy rain started falling followed by hailstones. The storm built up until it was a roar and we couldn’t hear each other at all – not even shouting into your ear from an inch away was audible above the tinroof fandango. We jumped a foot high when a massive crack of thunder clapped half an inch above the roof. The loudest bang I’d ever heard.
The next day we explored the ouhout thickets above the house and came across a well-endowed woman lying naked, gloriously kaalgat, on a huge stone in the woods. She sported huge shapely boobs and was a wonder for the eyes of lustful teenagers. She was gorgeous! OK, she was made of stone, but hey, what else did we have?
I have often thought of her over the years and started thinking I may have imagined her but then I read of the stone carvings of the Drakensberg and determined to go and find her.
I took the kids and we stayed at The Cavern, lovely old-style ‘Berg hotel.
Asking around, one of their hiking guides said he knew where my statue was and he’d take me there. I packed a rucksack, he packed lunch and off we went for the day, leaving the kids behind. They could not WAIT for me to GO! DAD! as they had discovered an amazing secret: If you gave any hotel employee your room number he or she would give you anything you wanted under the sun. They had discovered the key to endless riches.
When my guide and I got to the little valley in the foothills where he said the statue was it didn’t look right. It didn’t feel like the place I remembered from – uh, 40yrs ago. But there she was: A maiden with luscious boobs carved in stone.
But this lady was standing up, not lying down on a rock in a seductive pose. There is another statue, I told him. This is not the statue I saw. Its beautiful, and thank you, but she is not the lady of my dreams. Ah! He knew where the other one was. It was on private property and he couldn’t take me there. Back at the hotel I asked around and they showed me a picture.
And there she was, exactly as I remembered her: . Well, almost exactly. Um, I must confess I did NOT notice that she had wings back then, nor that she had clothing. I was remembering naked bunnytail more than dressed wings. Hey, Testosterone! Vrystaat! 1970! No internet! Very few Playboy magazines! Cut me some slack here!
The story was told of a reclusive sculptor who fell in love with a trader’s daughter and sculpted these rocks in homage to her. She was a Coventry. We had Coventry twins Glenda & Glynis in Harrismith who came from a Drakensberg trading family. And I think I see a resemblance . . .
I found this by Rowan Philp: Rediscovering South Africa: A Wayward Guide. “There are two boulders hidden deep in a Drakensberg forest which tell a near-Shakespearean tale of obsession, genius, and revenge. Completely unsign-posted, they feature magnificent, life-size sculptures of the same nude, full-breasted woman, painstakingly carved by her lover 50 years ago. The story begins when Willie Chalmers, a wandering artist with a wildly unkempt beard, came to the area from the Kalahari in the 1930’s to learn more about Bushman paintings from a farmer’s daughter, Doreen Coventry. He fell in love with her and spent 14 months carving her likeness into a flat sandstone rock on her farm, adding a halo and the face of a child alongside. He called it Spirit of the Woods.
But some of his younger in-laws saw him as a con man and a parasite at the family homestead, and at the height of the row, Coventry’s nephew hiked up to the sculpture in a rage and smashed off the nose. So, some say, Chalmers began a second Spirit of the Woods, this time in a secret location almost completely enclosed by other boulders, sometimes working for weeks without a break.”
School holidays. We have to DO something or we’ll go crazy!
Ma, we want to go and climb Mt aux Sources. How are you going to get there?
We’ll hitch-hike. Over my dead body! or words to that effect. NO, I think she meant.
So two days later we get home – me, Claudio Bellato and Carlos da Silva – drenched, muddy and weary, having reached Witsieshoek, but not the mountain, as the heavens had opened up, torrential rain turning the roads into quagmires. So the mountaineering goal of the expedition had been thwarted, but the main goal – having fun – had not!
Where have you been?! To Mt aux Sources, like I said. How did you get there? We hitch-hiked, like I said.
One of our lifts was with one of the Trading Greys, dunno who exactly. The rain bucketed down and I learnt a lot about driving in slick mud by watching him continuously turn into the skid on the muddy Witsieshoek road.
As always, Mother Mary couldn’t stay cross with me for long. My companions on this adventure, Claudio and Carlos, loved it as much as I did.
That same road in sunny weather years later (it was wet and gravel, not dry and tarred):