Local Knowledge

Another of Dad’s tales:

Koos Mof van Wyk was a bachelor who lived with his Ma out on the Kestell road. One evening he drove home and a Joburg driver drove right up his bum as he slowed suddenly on the main road in order to turn in at his gate.

The Joburg oke was angry, ‘Waddefok maak jy dat jy sommer so skielik stilhou innie mirrel vannie pad!?’

Koos Mof was astounded. Waddefok maak JY!? he yelled. Almal weet dis my hek hierie en ek draai altyd hier in. Ek is Koos Mof en ek BLY HIER!

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Joburg driver: How can you just stop in the middle of the highway!?

Koos Mof: What do you mean!? Everyone knows this is my gate and I always turn in here! I LIVE HERE!

Rhodesia in a Vauxhall Victor

Sometime back in the fifties uncle and family lawyer Bunty Bland needed to go up to Rhodesia – ‘up north’ – to sort out the sale of his sister’s property. His Rhodesian brother-in-law drove down to Harrismith to fetch him. As ever, the finer details of my story should be checked out . . . pinch of salt. The car is probably right, the country – now Zimbabwe – is almost certainly right, and two of the people – Dad and Bunty – are right, that’s all I know. At first Dad said they drove up in Bunty’s Rover, but I couldn’t find a Rover station wagon. Seems they left ‘that sort of thing’ to Land Rover. I found this Vauxhall Victor station wagon and then Dad remembered it was the bro-in-law’s car and yes, it was a Vauxhall! Memories! Dodgy things.

The reason they took young Pieter Swanepoel, husband of favourite niece Mary, along was to share the driving. He says he ended up driving all the way there and back.

With him he had his new Eumig 8mm cine camera! He took footage of the ruins of the magnificent Great Zimbabwe. Bunty features in his trademark ‘fairisle’ sleeveless jersey . .

Other footage featured the Vauxhall, Bunty again and some fountains . .

Harrismith & District Gymkhanas

Dad remembers the gymkhanas he took part in and so enjoyed in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.

They were held in Harrismith, Eeram, Verkykerskop, Mont Pelaan and Aberfeldy; and on the farms Appin near Swinburne, Primrose near van Reenen, and Maraishoek.

The entry fee was one pound per event – and prize money was less than the entry fee!

Events included Tent pegging; Sword and ring; Sword; Lance & ring; Potato & bucket.

Races were the bending race, we’ll need to ask him what that was; and the owners race, where the owner him or herself had to ride, no hiring a jockey!

Regular participants he recalls are Manie Parkhurst Wessels; Bertie van Niekerk; Kerneels Retief; Richard Goble; John Goble; Kehlaan Odendaal; his son Adriaan and his daughter Laura; Laurie Campher; Hans Spies and his kids Hansie, Pieter and Anna.

Dad says he was the only non-farmer riding! Kerneels was usually his partner.

gymkhana-tent-peg

**  internet pics  ** If anyone has some real Harrismith district gymkhana pics I’d sure love to display them – with full acknowledgment of course.

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Here’s footage from a gymkhana in Cape Town in 1940. With hilarious Pommy-ish commentary.

Platberg Shellhole

We always called it The Moth Hall, and for a while it was where Dad was probably drinking. But it was more correctly called Platberg Shellhole of the M.O.T.Hs – The Memorable Order of Tin Hats. And there was an older shellhole before that one – an older ‘Moth Hall’. It was down opposite the Royal Hotel; down near the railway line.

This was where old servicemen would lie to each other and themselves in song:

“Old Soldiers Never Die;

Never Die, Never Die;

Old Soldiers Never Die;

They Just Fade Away.”

Back then they were all survivors of WW1 and WW2. Only later did they take in ever-more members from ever-more wars. And there’s an endless supply of those; the armaments industry sees to that.

The things I remember about the old shellhole was playing in the dark next to and behind the building – big adventure; And seeing 16mm movies, with big reels whirring in the dark; some were sponsored by Caltex and other companies; I remember Hatari! about yanks in darkest Africa, catching animals for zoos; It starred John Wayne, but who was he to us, back then?

Hatari_(movie_poster)

and Northern Safari, about a 4X4 safari in the Australian outback with a very annoying theme song “We’re Going NORTH on a Northern Safari! We’re Going NORTH on a Northern Safari! We’re Going NORTH on a Northern Safari!” ad nauseum. We loved it!

Northern Safari movie poster

What the folks would remember, if the truth be told, would be booze and sing-alongs and booze and skits and booze and plays; these were the order of the day. * click on the pic * if you want to read some names.

MOTHs names-001

Seated on the left next to Mary Swanepoel and Trudi Else in full voice, is Harold Taylor, veteran of WW1. Under those voluminous trousers is one wooden leg. The other is buried at Delville Wood. He would take his turn standing next to the piano singing:

Etienne Joubert remembers:

The old MOTH hall was not opposite the Royal Hotel but in the vicinity. In fact it was next to Llewellyn & Eugene Georgiou’s home. It was near the railway line below the G’s house.

I remember Ray Taylor who had some shrapnel in his head, not Harold with a wooden leg; also Uncle Jack Hunt; Arthur Gray & of course your folks. I also remember playing in the dark outside. I remember my first sip of beer which I did not like; but I overcame this in years to come to absolutely love it!

I remember the song A Long Way To Tipperary; The piano was very rickety, as was the wooden floor, which squeaked with the slightest step. On the walls were very big portraits of Winston Churchill & Jan Smuts; Dan Pienaar was also there, but smaller; and a pin-up of Jayne Mansfield. This pin up made it to the “new” Moth Hall.

One thing I did not like was helping my Old Man clean the Shellhole on a Saturday morning; the smell of stale beer & cigarette smoke remains very vivid in my memory.

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Still nostalgic?

and here’s Vera Lynn, 101 yrs old and still going (Nov 2018). In 2009, at the age of 92, Lynn became the oldest living artist to make it to number 1 in the British album chart.

The ole man acting Paganini:

The real Niccolo Paganini – and probly why the ole man wanted to be him:

When he was eighteen the young virtuoso escaped his father’s control, following his elder brother to the Tuscan city of Lucca. “Freed from parental control, Paganini embarked on a life of famous excess. As he later put it, ‘When at last I was my own master I drew in the pleasures of life in deep draughts.’ He would spend the next twenty-seven years in Italy, filling his life with music, love affairs, and gambling, interrupted by long peri­ods of utter exhaustion.”

Early Daze

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 called Birdhaven – Dad kept big aviaries – and was in the shadow of Platberg. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!

1955 Koos with aviaries

The pigeon aviaries – and me

What I remember is 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 & 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 Ford Prefect on the Birdhaven circular driveway – four seconds of action:

birdhaven

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 home in the tiny green and black Ford Prefect or the beige Morris Isis, not yet the little powder-blue Beetle.

Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that said a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who said more. A tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl would visit at night. Our next neighbours 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.

Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo

Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo outside the rondavel

Judas Thabethe 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.

Koos

Me and Sheila on the front lawn – 1956

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;

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad in the Kitchen

Scene of the rinkhals leap – this taken thirty years later, in 1990

I don’t remember but have been told that my mate Donald Coleman, two years older, would walk the 1.1km 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.

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad on the front veranda

1990 pic Mom & Dad near where the 1956 pic was taken

1955 Barbs Birdhaven tyre Dad.jpg

Fun on the lawn – and Bruno the doberman

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. 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.

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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;

bakkie – pickup truck

A newsflash the year I was born – check the cars.

Honeymoon Hudson

Mom & Dad went to Lourenco Marques in Mocambique for their honeymoon in 1951.

With cars being very scarce after the war, Dad looked around for anything he could afford. He found a Mr Smith selling a fifteen year old Hudson Terraplane 4-door for £100. It came with a spare engine in the boot – and the feeling that it would probably be needed.

Honeymoon Hudson.jpg

But it made it to LM – and back. Mom had to put her feet on the seat – the floor got too hot, even with shoes on. While in Lourenco Marques the Hudson started missing so Dad took it to a garage but the Portuguese owners couldn’t understand him. He tried Italian, which he’d learnt in the war. “Candela?” – Ah! Candela! Yes, they had sparkplugs and they could sort him out.

They stayed in a boarding house a couple blocks back from the seafront. ‘It was cheaper than a hotel’. While there they met with Frank Cabral a big game hunter married to some relative of Mom’s. They swam – Mom remembers the huge beach and the shallow sea with only tiny waves. They had fish for breakfast one morning – a whole fish whose eye gazed balefully at Mom, spoiling her appetite.

Outside the zoo Dad bought six parakeets or lovebirds with red faces. He made a cage for them and as they approached the border he hid it behind the large Hudson cubbyhole – there was plenty of space under the dashboard. So he’s a smuggler.
On the way back they went through Kruger Park and Mom distinctly recalls feeling very uncomfortable at how flimsy the reed walls of the park huts at Skukuza seemed when she thought of the wild animals outside! They went to visit an old friend of Dad’s, Rosemary Dyke-Wells, an old Boschetto agricultural college girl who was married to a game ranger there. He was the son of the famous Harry Wolhuter.

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The Kruger Park was opened to tourism in 1927 and after a slow start  – only three cars entered the Reserve in that first year – soon turned into a popular destination. Within a decade, 3600 kilometres of roads had been built and several camps established. In 1935, some 26,000 people passed through the gates. By 1950 a research station and rest camp had been developed at Skukuza, transforming Stevenson-Hamilton’s base into the “capital” of Kruger.

Some Kruger Park pics from the later fifties – 1956 to 1958:



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Later back in Harrismith when the clutch packed up Dad found out the Hudson had a cork clutch. He bought dozens of cork medicine bottle tops from the chemist and hammered them into the angled holes set in concentric circles in the clutchplate, then cut the protruding parts off as level as he could and it worked again.

When it came time to sell it he can’t remember who he sold it to and for how much, but he does remember Pye von During would pay £25 for them and convert them into horse carts.

Years later they came across one at a vintage car show. Dunno when this was, but this year they’ll be married 67 years (2018).

1936 Hudson Terraplane

Hudson Terraplane 1936 interior RH Drive

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Soon after this the Post Office moved Dad back to Pietermaritzburg following a back injury. They stayed in the Creamery Hotel – ‘a dive, but cheap’. They moved to the slightly better (but ‘very hot in the afternoon’ – Mom) Windsor Hotel. Mom took a sewing course at ‘the tech’ while pregnant and then, just before first child Barbara was born they moved in with Ouma Swanepoel in Bourke Street in downtown PMB. Mom gave birth at Greys Hospital in mid-summer, 7th January, then came home to Ouma. Mom remembers the Bourke street home being beautifully cool.

Somewhere before or after, they stayed in Howick, in The Falls Hotel.

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First ‘date’

Annie came to Mom and said ‘Peter Swanepoel has tickets to the Al Debbo concert in the Town Hall, would you like to go?’ He sat between Mom and Annie in the upstairs stalls, and ‘that was the beginning of their romance’ says Mom.

Al Debbo around then – 1949