The first recorded polo game in South Africa took place in October 1874 at the King Williams Town Parade Ground between the Gordon Highlanders and the Cape Mounted Rifles.
The Military Ninth Division played during the 1880s at Harrismith, Orange Free State.
Polo was played in Cape Town in 1885 at a club formed by army officers, and in Natal by the officers stationed at Fort Napier, in Pietermaritzburg; a year later, they formed the Garrison Polo Club.
Play in Transvaal began in Johannesburg in 1894, when the owner of the Goldfields Hotel founded a polo club. The game was dominated by the military, but civilian clubs sprouted in several places.
Someone must have the history of Harrismith polo. I hope. The first polo field I remember was in the sixties on the far side of the railway tracks; you drove under the subway to get there. Across the road was the sportsfields: a hockey field and then the cricket oval. Legend has it that Jimmy Horsley once hit a famous six across the hockey field, across the road and onto the polo clubhouse roof!
During a recent visit to Harrismith I spotted this on good friend Bess Reitz’s passage wall: Her Dad and Ginger Bain in the winning team!
My first recollections are of life on the plot outside Harrismith, playing with Enoch and Casaia, childhood companions, kids of Lena Mazibuko, who looked after us as Mom and Dad worked in town. The plot was was in the shadow of Platberg, and was called Birdhaven, as Dad kept big aviaries. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!
I was there from when I was carried home from the maternity home to when I was about five years old, when we moved into town.
I remember suddenly “knowing” it was lunchtime and looking up at the dirt road above the farmyard that led to town. Sure enough, right about then a cloud of dust would appear and Mom and Dad would arrive for their lunch and siesta, having locked up the Platberg bottle store at 1pm sharp. I could see them coming along the road and then sweeping down the long driveway to park near the rondavel at the back near the kitchen door. They would eat lunch, have a short lie-down and leave in time to re-open at 2pm. I now know the trip was exactly 3km door-to-door, thanks to google maps.
Every day I “just knew” they were coming. I wonder if I actually heard their approach and then “knew”? Or was it an inner clock? Here’s an old 8mm movie of the old green and black Ford Prefect on the Birdhaven circular driveway – four seconds of action – (most likely Barbara waving out the window):
1. Ruins of our house; 2. Dougie Wright, Gould & Ruth Dominy’s place; 3. Jack Levick’s house; 4. The meandering Kak Spruit. None of those houses on the left were there back then.
Back then they would buzz around in Mom’s Ford Prefect or Dad’s beige Morris Isis.
Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that mimic’d a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who could mimic a bit more. A tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl would visit at night.
Our next neighbours, nearer to the mountain, were Ruth and Gould Dominy and Ruth’s son Dougie Wright on Glen Khyber. They were about 500m further down the road towards the mountain, across the Kak Spruit over a little bridge. Doug’s cottage was on the left next to the spruit that came down from Khyber Pass and flowed into the bigger spruit; The big house with its sunny glassed-in stoep was a bit further on the right. Ruth and a flock of small dogs would serve Gould his tea in a teacup the size of a big deep soup bowl.
Judas Thabete lived on the property and looked after the garden. I remember him as old, small and bearded. He lived in a hovel of a hut across a donga and a small ploughed field to the west of our house. He had some sort of cart – animal-drawn? self-drawn? Self-drawn, I think.
Other things I remember are driving out and seeing white storks in the dead bluegum trees outside the gate – those and the eagle owl being the first wild birds I ‘spotted’ in my still-ongoing birding life; I remember the snake outside the kitchen door;
I don’t remember but have been told, that my mate Donald Coleman, two years older, would walk the kilometre from his home on the edge of town to Birdhaven to visit me. Apparently his Mom Jean would phone my Mom Mary on the party line and ask “Do you have a little person out there?” if she couldn’t find him. He was a discoverer and a wanderer and a thinker, my mate Donald.
Bruno the doberman came from Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek pass down the Drakensberg into Natal. Leo and Heather Hilcovitz owned and ran it – “very well” according to Dad. Leo came into town once with a few pups in the back of his bakkie. Dobermans. Dad said I Want One! and gave him a pocket of potatoes in exchange for our Bruno. He lived to good age and died at 95 Stuart Street after we’d moved to town.
rondavel – circular building with a conical roof, often thatched;
spruit – stream; kak spruit: shit stream; maybe it was used as a sewer downstream in town in earlier days?
stoep – veranda
donga – dry, eroded watercourse; gulch, arroyo; scene of much play in our youth;
Our Ford Prefect was somewhere between a 1938 and a 1948 – the ‘sit up and beg’ look, before sedans went flat. They were powered by a 4 cylinder engine displacing 1172cc, producing 30 hp. The engine had no water pump or oil filter. Drive was through a 3-speed gearbox, synchromesh in 2nd and 3rd. Top speed nearly 60mph. Maybe with a bit of Downhill Assist?
We grew up next door to Gould Dominy on a plot outside town. Our plot was Birdhaven, theirs was Glen Khyber. We knew him as Uncle Gould and would watch fascinated as he drank tea out of the biggest teacup you ever saw. Size of a salad bowl. A flock of small dogs would be running around his ankles as he drank, seated on their wide enclosed and sun-filled stoep.
Then he disappeared and re-appeared years later at the hoerskool as religious instruction (RI) teacher. Seems he had been teaching music at some naff school in Bloemfontein all those years. St Andrews or St Somebody.
He had been very fond of me as a boy but he was re-meeting me as a teenager and that was about to change. Or would have had he not been such an amazingly tolerant and loving gentleman.
His classroom was at the back of the school in the row of asbestos prefabs. For the cold Harries winters it had a cast-iron stove in one corner.
We were terrible. We would saunter in while he caught a quick smoke outside, grab his sarmies and scoff them, move the bookmark a hundred pages forward in his copy of The Robe* (that he was considerately reading to us as our “RI” in lieu of bible-punching) and pull up our chairs around the black stove and sit with our backs to him.
Dear old Mr Dominy would come in and start reading while tickling the inner canthus of his eye with a sharp pencil till he couldn’t stand it any longer, would then “gril” and rub his eyes vigorously, flabby cheeks wobbling, and then carry on reading. Every so often he’d mutter “I’m sure we hadn’t got this far?” proving he was the only one listening to the story. Not even the girls, sitting in the normal school benches, would comment on the fact that we read ten pages a day but moved on a hundred pages at a time.
‘Tex’ Grobbelaar, meantime, would also have swiped one of his cigarettes. Rolling up a sheet of paper, he would set light to it in the stove, light the fag and smoke it right there, furtively holding it in the palm of his cupped hand in that ‘ducktail’ way and blowing the smoke into the stove opening.
What a lovely man. Gould. Not Tex. Nor the rest of us.
Here’s Ann Euthemiou combing Mr Dominy’s hair on a trip to Kruger Park back in 1968.
*The Robe – a historical novel about the crucifixion of Jesus written by Lloyd C Douglas. The 1942 book reached No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. The 1953 film adaptation featured Richard Burton in an early role. (wikipedia)
hoerskool – house of ill repute; or place of learning if you add an umlaut;