1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, school, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Our Mountain Burns

Once again Platberg is burning. Old school friends Noeline Bester and Annatjie Labuschagne sent these images.

Sure hope the Grey Rhebok and Mountain Reedbuck and Chacma Baboons that Koos Beukes and Pierre du Plessis tell me are still there, are OK.

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 7_Confessions, 8_Nostalgia, sport

Leon Fluffy Crawley

Talking about the magic photo of the Soap Box Derby on 42nd Hill with Fluffy’s Dad Charlie in it, we got into an extended email conversation:

– Charlie Crawley (left kart) and Michael Hastings (crouching); Dr Frank Reitz the starter. It looks like his car in the background ‘vimba’-ing the JHB traffic – this is the N3! – see his car at the bottom –

Fluff: Amazing the dress code!!!

Me: Yes, from kaalvoet kid to full jacket & tie. And three ‘hoeds’. And a cop. Even the most casual of the ‘racing drivers’ has long pants on. I see your Dad clearly, is that Michael Hastings next to him crouched over the reins with his chin between his knees?

Fluff: Yep, Michael Hastings; I sent the photo to Mom to see if she can identify any others on it. My Dad crashed his kart and came a whopper, apparently had no skin left. He was the moer in when we had our races on the old road, because of the accident he was in. He still owes me a hiding with the kweper lat (quince switch). I bet he is waiting for me in Heaven! But we will just chat about it!!

– Fluffy in the later Crawley go-kart – with new improved streamling – obviously wind tunnel tested –

Me: By the time we raced down that hill the trees were tall next to the road, and it had become the ‘old road’, a new one having been built above it. Traffic volumes had increased and we could no longer just stop the N3 and all the Jo’burg – Durban traffic!

= = = = = Canoe trip from Swinburne = = = = =

– We started under this old road bridge in Swinburne –

Me: So we did the full Swinburne to Harrismith in a day? I remember being picked up at the bridge – I think the same bridge you once caught a huge barbel under – correct? You may remember I went again a few years later with Claudio Bellato. The river was up and we both lost our glasses, spent a wet night sharing one sleeping bag, which was only half wet, the other one was sopping; then wrecked the canoe, which I had borrowed from the Voortrekkers, on a tree block in a rapid on Walton farm. Charlie Ryder fetched us and we got the wrecked boat out 2 weeks later. Claudio lives in Durban and I see him from time to time. He still introduces me as “Meet my friend Peter. I slept with him”.

Fluff: Your Dad picked us up in Town, but we did not sleep over en route. The river was terribly low and we did a lot of foot work crossing or bypassing the rapids. We made the trip in one day. I can remember the trip you had with Claudio, jeez terrible to sleep wet, and that with a man. You fixed up the canoe in the backyard if I can recall. That fish: It was a huge barbel from the bridge and that with a split rod, Dad used for bass!! Haha early one morning standing on the bridge, it was still too dark to go down to the river.

– we finished under the old Hamilton bridge – the ‘ysterbrug’ – in Harrismith –

= = = = = The Voortrekker Camp = = = = =

Me: I joined up briefly, thanks to you. Or to your description of the upcoming camp on Bok or Boy Venter’s farm! I remember the camp in the wattles, a campfire, not much else.

Fluff: I remember the Voortrekkers and I think our membership lasted until after the camp. A huge bonfire, that night; Boy Venter. That was about it.

= = = = = The 1969 South West Africa Trip . . That Kestell Trip = = = = =

Fluff: We have good memories of the SWA Trek and I still have some photo’s as well.

Strangely not of the group or individuals!! I will scan at some stage and put them in mail.

The welwitchia plant; Namutoni in Etosha; the Finger of God; the ‘bottomless’ lake Otjikoto with schools of small fish – apparently the Germans dumped their weaponry in these lakes, close to Tsumeb. Did we go to a disco in Tsumeb?

Do you remember the beers we ordered, but we were under age but we reckoned there was no age limit buying booze?! You were on the bell and it got stuck and the barman kakked us out and chased us out of the hotel!!!

The visit to the karakul farm, the meerkats!! Eish the price of that lovely freshly baked brown bread near Twee Rivieren….17 cents OMW – the price of brown bead was about 6 cents back home!!!

Lovely memories; Braam Venter was the guy from Kestell…and who were the brothers who played cowboy and crooks with .303 rifles on horseback!?

I can recall yourself, Pierre, Tuffy, myself who else was in the party from Harrismith?

Swakopmund’s Dune 7 with that huge Chevy bonnet that did not work!!

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Me: Was the hiding “on the cards” when he died? Heart attack, was it? How old was he? That was such a damned shame. I can actually still feel (feel, not remember) how I felt standing in the kitchen at 95 Stuart Street when I first heard uncle Charlie had died.
And here’s my old man turned 91 after 60 yrs of smoking and all that dop in the Club and Moth Hall!! Each old toppie I see – and my work consists of seeing old toppies! – has a theory of why he has lived so long but I can tell you right now there’s one main factor: LUCK.
For every “formula” they have for their longevity I know someone who did just that but died young. About the dop my old man used to say, “Ah, but remember he drank cane and WATER. It was the mixers other ous drank that stuffed them up (!!)”. That was his theory and you can say what you like, he’s sticking to it!

I’d love to see the SWA photos. I didn’t take any. I still have the ossewawiel (axle centre – what’s it called?) that I got there. It had everyone’s names on it, but they’ve faded now as it has spent a few decades outside propping up my offroad trailer’s disselboom.

From HY I can only add Pikkie Loots and Marble Hall’s names. From Kestell I remember ‘Aasvoel’ and ‘Kleine Aischenvogel’. And my name was Steve McQueen thanks to you suggesting it then not using it at the last minute!

I don’t remember a disco but I do recall the beers at Karasburg and the oke storming in to ask Waddefokgaanieraan? Wie’s Julle? Waar’s Julle Onderwyser? Also the springbokke caught in the fence and the shout Ek Debs Die Balsak! from a savvy farm kid. I’d never heard of turning a balsak into an ashtray till that day! And the huge bonfire in the riverbed and sleeping out in the open and shifting closer to the embers as the fire died down. COLD nights! Also slept on the ground outside Etosha gates.

I’ll have to cc Pierre & Tuffy on this one!

I don’t recall cowboys & crooks and 303’s.

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Here’s our GP Dr. Frank Reitz’s car OHS 71 on the banks of the Tugela River on The Bend, his farm outside Bergville.

Fluffy Crawley and I probably met at the Methodist Church Sunday School as toddlers, making us fellow-Methylated Spirits. We definitely both went to Kathy Putterill’s pre-school and then from Sub A to matric together. A fine human being.

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kaalvoet – barefoot

hoeds – hats

the moer in – not happy

Voortrekkers – youth group for volk and fatherland – somewhat like Scouts

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1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Save Precarious Platberg!

Platberg, overlooking the town of Harrismith in the Free State, is an inselberg that presents a refuge for indigenous plants and animals. And its status is precarious.

‘Little is known about the different taxa of Platberg and hence a detailed floristic and ecological survey was undertaken in 2009 by UNISA’s Robert F. Brand, Leslie R. Brown and Pieter J. du Preez to quantify threats to the native flora and to establish whether links exist with higher-altitude Afro-alpine flora occurring on the Drakensberg. Vegetation surveys provide information on the different plant communities and plant species present and form the basis of any management plan for a specific area. No extensive vegetation surveys had been undertaken on Platberg prior to this study; Only limited opportunistic floristic collections were done: Firstly, in the mid-1960s by Mrs. Jacobs. These vouchers were mounted and authenticated in 2006 and are now housed at the Geo Potts Herbarium, Botany Department, University of the Free State;

Secondly, 50 relevés were sampled between 1975 and 1976 by Professor H.J.T. Venter, Department of Genetics and Plant Sciences, University of the Free State.

Mucina & Rutherford 2006 say: ‘Platberg is the single largest and best preserved high-altitude grassland in the Free State. ‘

– and I say in 2019: Look how tiny it is! You can hardly see Platberg on this map of all nearby high altitude places. Yet this is our single largest tiny piece of this grassland left!

The authors plead: ‘As an important high-altitude grassland, it is imperative that Platberg be provided with protection legislated on at least a provincial level.’ At present, Platberg is still municipal, with very little protection! – In fact, I think they hire out the grazing for cattle – I hope not, as that really damages the veld and wetlands.

That tiny island above the ‘th’ in Harrismith = Platberg
Harrismith townlands
Harrismith townlands

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The UNISA study found 669 plant species in Platberg’s 30km2 area. To compare, Golden Gate Highlands park has 556 species in 48km2.

Koedoe, African Protected Area Conservation and Science, is a peer-reviewed, open access journal published since 1958, which promotes protected area and biodiversity science and conservation in Africa.

Platberg’s altitude ranges from 1 900m to 2 394m ASL. The surface area covers approximately 3 000ha. The slopes are steep with numerous vegetated gullies and boulder scree slopes below vertical cliffs that are 20m to 45m high. Waterfalls cascade down the southern cliffs after rain. A permanent stream arising from the Gibson Dam on the undulating plateau flows off the escarpment and cascades as a waterfall.From a distance, Platberg appears to have a distinct flat top. However, once on the summit the plateau is found to be undulating, with rolling grass-covered slopes. The vegetation of the plateau is dominated by grassland, with a few rocky ridges, sheet rock and rubble patches, as well as numerous seasonal wetlands and a permanent open playa (pan) on its far western side. Woody patches of the genera Leucosidea, Buddleja, Kiggelaria, Polygala, Heteromorpha and Rhus shrubs, as well as the indigenous Mountain bamboo Thamnocalamus tessellatus, grow along the base of the cliffs. The shrubland vegetation is concentrated on the cool (town) side of Platberg, on sandstone of the Clarens Formation, in gullies, on scree slopes, mobile boulder beds, and on rocky ridges. Shrubs and trees also occur in a riparian habitat in the south-facing cleft, in which the only road ascends steeply to the summit up Flat Rock Pass. Platberg falls within the Grassland Biome, generally containing short to tall sour grasses. Platberg is a prominent isolated vegetation ‘island’ with affinities to the Drakensberg Grassland Bioregion, embedded in a lower lying matrix of Eastern Free State Sandy Grassland. Platberg also has elements of Fynbos, False Karoo and Succulent Karoo, as well as elements of Temperate and Transitional Forest, specifically Highland Sourveld veld types.

– spot Platberg’s highest point, Ntabazwe 2394m ASL –
Looking from highpoint Mtabazwe towards Boobejaanskop eastern tip

I wonder if there are any grey rhebok left?

Platberg specials
– the road up Flat Rock (or Donkey) Pass –

Mountain Passes South Africa says our Flat Rock or Donkey Pass it’s the sixth highest above sea level, and the second steepest pass in South Africa.

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inselberg – German for ‘island mountain,’ the word first appeared in English in 1913, apparently because German explorers thought isolated mountains rising from the plains of southern Africa looked like islands in the midst of the ocean. Geologically speaking, an inselberg is a hill of hard volcanic rock that has resisted wind and weather and remained strong and tall as the land around it eroded away. Wikipedia says in South Africa it could also be called a koppie but I think we’d klap anyone who called our Platberg mountain or inselberg a ‘koppie.’

koppie – a smaller thing than Platberg; Just west of Platberg is Loskop; you can call that a koppie, maybe, if you call it a beautiful high koppie with an impreesive cliff

relevé – in population ecology, a plot that encloses the minimal area under a species-area curve; right

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Aside: Talking of special places, and in this case special high altitude grasslands, who knew of the Korannaberg near the mighty metropolis of Excelsior of dominees-wat-meidenaai fame? It has 767 plant species in its 130km2! It sure looks like a must-visit place! 227 bird species too.

dominees-wat-meidenaai – practicing what you preach against

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, Family, school

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.

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, travel

Platberg’s Flat Rock Pass

The eastern-most pass up Harrismith’s Platberg is the fabled Donkey Pass. We called it Flat Rock Pass. Mountain Passes South Africa says it’s the sixth highest above sea level, and the second steepest pass in South Africa.

The road traverses a nature reserve and you need a permit to drive up. The steep parts – with sections as steep as 1:3 – are concrete stripped to aid traction. 4X4 and low range is essential for a safe and – especially – non-destructive ascent.

For those that do get to drive this amazing pass, you will be one of a select few to have done so.

The fauna and flora are special – adapted to the high altitude – up to 2394m – that’s 7854 feet to those stuck in ancient Empirical measures! When the sun never used to set on old whatsername’s empire. Remember? Plant species, over 669; I know of these animals: grey rhebok; chacma baboon; dassie; there must be many more. I hope the rhebok are still there. They live a precarious existence on this little 3000ha ‘island’, with people, fires and cattle around and encroaching.

On top you’ll find Gibson Dam, built by British soldiers soon after the Boer War. The donkeys that carried the building material up gave the pass its alternative name.

Other passes on Platberg’s south side – the side facing the town – are Khyber Pass, ZigZag Pass and One Man’s Pass. They’re all footpaths only though.

Hopefully Platberg’s custodians limit the number of vehicles they allow on top to keep the mountain top as undamaged as possible. Sensitive wetlands!

Here’s the extent of Harrismith’s townlands. This means the rare grassland and wetland top of Platberg is unprotected and could be developed. We really need to up its conservation status:

Harrismith Townlands

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pics from dangerous roads and mountain passes of SA. Thanks!

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, Family

Cosmos Niks

Mom Mary in the cosmos outside Witsieshoek back ca. 1970:

Mary Cosmos Witsieshoek2.jpg

Sheila years later at the foot of the eastern tip of Platberg – some call it Bobbejaankop:

Sheila cosmos Platberg.JPG

Sheila sent a 2018 pic of Brenda Sharratt in the cosmos behind Platberg:

Brenda_Sharratt_cosmos_Platberg[1].jpg

Apparently cosmos got here in horsefeed imported from Argentina during the Boer War for the Poms’ horses. Hopefully only the seed, as the greenery must have tasted foul! It has a pungent smell.

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wikipedia: Cosmos is native to scrub and meadowland in Mexico where most of the species occur, as well as the USA, Central America and South America as far south as Paraguay.  One mainly Mexican species, Cosmos bipinnatus, is naturalized and widespread over the high eastern plains of South Africa. It has also spread to the West Indies, Italy, Australia and Asia.

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cosmos niks – free! literally ‘costs nothing’

Cosmos
pic from Getaway mag

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 4_Optometry Johannesburg, 8_Nostalgia, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Good Lord, Deliver us!

I needed to take a hike, I really did.

But to do it I needed a henchman. You can hike alone, but I’d really rather not, so I persuaded Stefaans Reed, The Big Weed, resident son of hizzonner the Worshipful Lord Mayor of Nêrens (aka Clarens) and fellow optometry student in Jo’burg to accompany me.

We sallied forth, rucksacks on our backs, boerewors and coffee and billy can and sleeping bags inside, up the slopes of Platberg, from Piet Uys Street, up past the Botanic Gardens, von During and Hawkins Dams, into the ‘Government forest’. The pine plantation. ‘Die dennebos.’ We could discern two types of pines. The type we liked had the long soft needles and made a good bed. We walked next to the concrete furrow that led water down the mountain into town. Often broken and dry but sometimes full of clear water, it made finding the way easy.

Gibson Dam furrow
– the furrow on top –

Halfway up we made camp, clearing a big area of the soft pine needles down to bare earth so we could safely light a fire.

Learning from our primate cousins we piled all those leaves and more into a thick gorilla mattress and lay down on it to gaze at the stars through the treetops. This was 1974, we were eerstejaar studente in the big smog of Doornfontein, Jo’burg. We had learnt to drink more beer, sing bawdy songs, throw a mean dart in a smoke-filled pub, hang out of friends car windows as they drove home thinking ‘Whoa! better get these hooligans home!’ and generally honed our urban skills. Now we were honing our rural skills. Wilderness ‘n all.

As we lay in our sleeping bags, burping boerewors and gazing through the pine fronds at the stars, we heard a loud, startling, beautiful sound.

I was wide-eyed wide-awake! WHAT on EARTH was that!? I knew it had to be a night bird, but what? Which one?

In the dark I scribbled down a picture of the sound. This is what it sounded like to me and I wanted to be sure I didn’t forget it:

sonogram-fiery-necked-nightjar

I didn’t know I was drawing a “sonogram” – I’d never heard of that.

When I got back home I looked through my ‘Birds of South Africa – Austin Roberts’ by  G.R. McLachlan and R. Liversidge, 1970 – and found there was a nightjar that said “Good Lord Deliver Us” and I knew that was it. The Fiery-Necked Nightjar – some call it the Litany Bird. I loved it, I love it, I’ll never forget it and it’s still a favourite bird.

– know their calls – they look similar but sound very different –

Click here to hear it as we heard it that night.

Fiery-necked nightjar_2.jpg
– stunning nocturnal aerial insect catcher –

Next morning we hiked on, past the beautiful eastern tip of Platberg – some call it ‘Bobbejaanskop’ – and down round Queen’s Hill through some very dense thicket, across the N3 highway, back home and a cold beer.

Sheila in the cosmos
– that dense thicket in foreground –

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– here’s a real sonogram of the Good Lord Deliver Us bird –
  • Thanks xeno-canto.org for sharing birdsounds from around the world.
  • Those pine trees may be Pinus patula – soft leaves, not spiky. Comfy. Still an invasive pest, though.
  • A ‘litany’ is a tedious recital or repetitive series; ‘a litany of complaints’; ‘a series of invocations and supplications‘; – “Good Lord, Deliver us!” T:

The Catholics can really rev it up – Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us. – This is one-twelfth of the Catholic Litany, there’s eleven-twelfths more! Holy shit!!

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boerewors – raw beef wurst; just add fire

dennebos – pine plantation; plantations are not forests!

eerstejaar studente – first year students

Bobbejaanskop – Baboon peak

Nêrens – nowhere, or Clarens in the Free State, named after Clarens, Switzerland to which that coward Paul Kruger fled cowardly after accusing my brave great-great Oom of cowardice. Ha! Who actually stayed and fought the war, huh?