Fine, thank you. I’m tucked up in bed already, waiting for the sister to bring my pain muti and eyedrops. They put a drop in my left eye and five minutes later another drop. Same eye. Only my left eye.
It’s 6pm. Early to bed, my Ma in frail care.
Do you sleep well?
Like a log. I’m warm and comfortable. And Kosie! I’ve been having the most wonderful dreams lately. Nice, happy dreams. I wake up smiling.
That’s so nice! Can you remember what they’re about, or are they too racy to repeat in polite company?
No, they’re about the farm. The wonderful farm, the beautiful view, the walks with my Dad. It’s all underwater now, of course.
The farm Nuwejaarsvlei on the Nuwejaarspruit. Now submerged beneath the waters of Sterkfontein Dam. About ’15 miles’ from Harrismith towards Oliviershoek Pass and ‘on the Witsieshoek road.’
I was eight years old when we left the farm.
That was 1936.
muti – medicine;
Kosie – my nickname; Ma pronounces it the Afrikaans way, Kuwa-see; unlike Annie and her friends who all called me Koosie, rhyming with pussy or wussy; True fact; Accounts for a lot?
Nuwejaarsvlei – New Year Marsh or wetland
Nuwejaarspruit – New Year creek or stream
Sterkfontein – strong fountain
Oliviershoek – the place of the Oliviers, a surname
Witsieshoek – the place of the Basotho chief Witsie who lived there from 1839 to 1856.
The pic shows Mom floating on the water above her old farm in 1990. Its somewhere in the background in this pic:
On March 24, 2015 Danny Moodley wrote a comment on that wonderful website Facts about Durban – and this brought back distant memories:
Danny wrote: I started work at the Killarney Hotel in 1962. The first Durban to Johannesburg oil pipeline started in 1964. The Contract was given to the Americans. I was offered a job. The contract was completed in 1966. The name of the contractors were McAlpine Somerville. The Artisans came from Canada, USA and Britain. Most of us South Africans were assistances. This contract was given by the South African Railways And Harbours.
McAlpine and Somerville – that name brought back memories! Memories of new people with strange accents visiting us at 95 Stuart Street in Harrismith Free State from Canada and America. One lady did beautiful rich pastel paintings of Inuit children (Eskimo children as we called them then).
When they left Harrismith we were left with a few of those beautiful portraits – wonder where they are today?
McAlpine started in Britain and Somerville in Canada, both in the fifties. Both became huge pipeline companies. Their SA project was a joint venture. Driving along the roads I remember seeing the signs McAlpine & Somerville near the pipeline; I seem to recall seeing them near Sunnymede and near Swinburne?
A few years later came another influx of workers, called locally – and tongue-in-cheek – ‘Die DamPaddas.’ They arrived to build the Sterkfontein, Driekloof, Driel, Woodstock and other dams for the Tugela-Vaal water scheme, where water was stolen from Natal and pumped uphill to Joburg; canals were dug, and a power station was drilled into the mountainside at Oliviershoek Pass.
Sister Sheila sent this lovely old photo – she thinks ca 1920 – of Jack Shannon and our Mom Mary’s cousin Peter Bell on their ponies on Kindrochart, the Shannon farm on the Oliviershoek road and near Mom’s parents Frank and Annie Bland’s farm Nuwejaarspruit, on the Witzieshoek road. Sterkfontein Dam now lies between the two farms – in fact, the Nuwejaarspruit homestead is now submerged under the clear waters of the dam.
Peter Bell was Mary’s first cousin – his Mom Jessie Hastings-Bell (neé Bain of the Royal Bains) was Annie’s sister. Peter joined the Rhodesian Air Force in WW2 and went MIA – missing in action – his body was never found.
Mom tells the story of how Jack was urged to give his Shetland pony to “the Bland girls”, Mary and her sister Pat, once he’d outgrown it. He was reluctant but his folks urged him to be generous and asked again if he would be so kind.
This was taken on my grandparents’ Frank and Annie Bland’s farm, Nuwejaarsvlei in the Harrismith district, eighteen miles out on the road to Witsieshoek. The farm is now under Sterkfontein Dam. The solid sandstone stables (‘five loose boxes’) were more stable (!) than the house, which was a long thin prefabricated structure bought from the British army on Kings Hill when they left town in 1913, eleven years after the end of the Boer War. Frank bred race horses. For a while . . .
Frank had the prefab carted out to the farm, then cut off a portion of the long house so they only lived in four rooms: A lounge, a kitchen and two bedrooms. They bathed in a zinc bath in the kitchen while Frank showered with cold water in a reed enclosure outside. Bath water was heated in paraffin tins on the coal stove. Lighting was by lamplight. The toilet was a long-drop outside under trees along a path of white-washed stones leading from the kitchen door.
Here’s older sis Pat pushing Mother Mary in their dolls pram in the farmyard. See the stables in the background.
Frank started to build a big stone house from sandstone quarried on the farm. Built on a slope it was level with the ground at the back, but ended in a high drop in front, which never did get the steps that were to lead up to the big veranda. The walls went up and the kids would roam around the big house, four bedrooms, big rooms, big kitchen but Mom says “no bathroom.” Frank believed in an outside bathroom.
The roof never went on. The builder wanted many sheep (Mom thinks 200!) to do the roof and Frank balked at that / couldn’t afford it.
Other buildings on the farm were a workshop, Frank’s office and a garage for his yellow ‘Erskine’ tourer. Mom remembers: “It had open sides; when it rained you put up side flaps.”
Later Frank bought a 1936 Chev Standard – perhaps like this one, but ‘light brown’:
Mom Mary remembers cousin Janet leaving the door open after she and older sister Pat had jumped out just before Frank drove into the garage. The door, she says, was “damaged forever.”
The Nuwejaarspruit runs from Nuwejaarsvlei down to the Wilge river downstream of Harrismith and then into the Vaal Dam. Sterkfontein dam was built on the spruit and drowned the farm under Tugela river water pumped up from KwaZulu Natal. You would now have to scuba dive in the clear water to see the farmhouse. The pictures are taken from roughly above the farm looking back towards Harrismith’s long Platberg mountain with Baker’s Kop on the left:
They called the hills on the farm ‘Sugar Loaf’ and ‘Horseshoe’. Mom loved the walks they would undertake with Dad Frank.
I wish we had pictures of the farm. Here are the only ones I have found so far of areas near the farm before it was flooded:
Annie also always drove. Frank said she always drove too fast. Years later the younger crowd John Taylor and Mike Malcolm-Smith said she should speed up – “to the speed limit”!!
Then the Blands moved into town – the metropolis of Harrismith – ca.1939 to start a petrol station and garage, having lost the farms. In September 1943 Frank had a colosistectomy for gallstones’ performed by GP Dr Frank Reitz. Mom went to visit him in hospital on her fifteenth birthday, 18 September. He died two months later, aged fifty. The next year when Annie needed an op she sent Mary off with Granny Bland to stay with Mrs Jim Caskie – ‘a huge fat lady’ – in the Echoes Hotel in Durban.
While in Durban they saw a movie “This Is The Army.”
Luckily Annie came through the ordeal intact. She would live for many a year yet.
Nearby farm neighbours on Kindrochart were the Shannons, George and Belle, with son Jack, a few years older than Pat and Mary. The Shannons also bred racehorses and achieved forever fame when they won the Gold Cup with their horse Rinmaher.
When Jack had outgrown his Shetland Pony his parents suggested to him that he give it to the Bland girls on Nuwejaarsvlei. He looked dubious but his parents encouraged him.
“Will you do that?” they prodded him.
“Yes, but not with pleasure” said Jack.
Recently Sheila found a pic of Jack – probably on that very pony!
Peter Bell (or Hastings-Bell) became a pilot in the Rhodesian airforce and tragically went missing in action in WW2.
Decades later, here’s Mary in 1990 cruising above Nuwejaarsvlei in a boat the ole man built, with her old family home somewhere underwater below her:
More decades later and I phoned Mary (now aged 92). She said she’d had a lovely night’s sleep and . . . see here.
The Erskine was an American Automobile built by The Studebaker Corp. in South Bend, Indiana from 1926 to 1930.
When modern man decided to pinch water from the Tugela river and pump it uphill to satisfy the Vaalies’ thirst, our area around Harrismith and Bergville saw a flurry of activity and an influx of new people. A bus arrived at school and a flock of new kids tumbled out. They were cruelly christened Die Dam Paddas by us parochials.
New things started appearing in the distrik: Sterkfontein dam; TuVa township (Tu Va – Tugela/Vaalies, geddit?); a vertical tunnel in the Drakensberg for the hydro-electric turbines; canals and smaller dams. All had to be built.
One of the latter was Driel Barrage on the Tugela river on Kai Reitz’s farm The Bend, so once we’d had sufficient beer one fine day we drove down on the back of Kai’s big Chevy pickup to look at the construction and to say some insightful engineering things about it.
A very high wall had been built starting out from dry land until its highest point in the middle of the river. Very interesting, but we don’t have to . . . . Oh, we do?
So we climbed up it and inched our way on our bums along the 30cm wide wall to its highest point. Some walked, but they were just being foolish, right? OK, so we’ve seen it, can we go now?
The muddy brown water way below us was completely opaque, no way you could see even one centimetre into it. It could have been knee deep or ten metres deep, who knows, so we definitely won’t be . . . . Mandy! ARE YOU MA-AA-aa-aD?!
She’s jumped! Holy shee-yit!! Ah neely dahd, she took forever to plummet as I watched in slow motion, and then she entered with a big splash and disappeared, which I s’pose was better than if she hadn’t.
Eventually she surfaced with a huge grin on her face and now I knew I was stuffed. I’d have to jump. Unless the others chickened out, but no, there went Sheila and so before long I had to stand up, act casual and plummet meself.
Unbelievable what a fierce hold brave women have over us cowardly um, circumspect men . . .