My Small Slice of Vrystaat

cropped-cropped-platberg-pano-0011.jpg

Born in Harrismith in 1955 as was Mom Mary in 1928 and Gran Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” was also the queen of South Africa. Elizabeth, not Pieter-Dirk.

To balance that, there’s this side of the family.

Attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972.

A year in the USA in 1973 as a Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma.

Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977.

Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978.

Army (Potch and Roberts Heights) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.

Stayed in Durban and got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends. (Post-marriage tales are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.

‘Strue!! But also: Pinch of salt.

Harrismith’s Mountain Goat

The people of Harrismith dubbed Michael McDermott ‘The Mountain Goat’.

Or so running e-zine ‘Modern Athlete’ says of SIXTEEN-times winner of our Mountain Race. Apparently we used to write supportive messages for him along the route of the Harrismith Mountain Race, much like supporters do in the Tour De France. Race organisers would set him up our local hotel with the room number that corresponded with the win he was going for. Michael became a hugely popular and inspirational figure thanks to his 16-consecutive-year winning streak in our rugged annual race.

They go on: Michael’s love affair with Harrismith’s imposing Platberg began in 1978, when he was just 13. “I was alone at home and ran 5km to the Harrismith Harriers clubhouse because I wanted to run that day, but no-one was there, so I ran back home. Then they called me up to ask where I was and came to fetch me. So before the race, I already ran 10km,” says Michael, who ran the race and finished 32nd. “Nobody believed I had completed the race, though, because I was so small!” he laughs.

In 1980, he finished eighth and qualified for a gold medal, but had to receive it unofficially, behind the tent, as he was still below the minimum 16-year age limit for the race. A year later and now ‘legal,’ he finished fifth, and then in 1982 he posted the first of his 16 consecutive wins, an amazing world record also held by similarly uber-talented athletes Michael McLeod of England and Jim Pearson of America. He held the record for the short 12.3km course at 50mins 30secs in 1985 and the long 15km course at 1hr 05mins 05secs as the first winner over the new distance in 1996. It came to an end when he ‘stepped skew’ and tore ligaments in his ankle while well in the lead on his way to a 17th straight win in 1998. Michael Miya took over and won the race in a new record time of 1hr 04mins 06secs and became the first black South African winner. While McDermott was really disappointed, it was also “a relief as there wasn’t that pressure to win after that.”

SPRINGBOK

Michael earned Springbok colours in 1988 for cross-country, and was invited to run a number of international mountain running events in the early 1990s. He won the Swiss Alpine Marathon three times, shattering the course record in 1993. He also represented South Africa seven times in the World Mountain Trophy, from 1993 to 1999, with a best placing of fifth in 1993 in France. http://www.modernathlete.co.za

*my potted history of the race*


This post opened a flood of ancient memories!

Thanks Koos – very interesting.

In “our day” Johnny Halberstadt was the King – wonder where he is today?

I strolled the race 2 or 3 times in the 1990s – never finished in the allotted time, but always walked away with a medal, ’cause I knew Jacqui Wessels (du Toit) who handed out the medals!

Remember the year we did it after “peaking” at Pierre’s home the night before – about 3am. You remarked as you crossed the Start Line (not the Finishing Line) – “I think I’m under-trained”. The hangovers were monumental. As we strolled past the adoring, cheering spectators, one guy was heard to remark “Daai mal ou het sy verkyker om sy nek!” That was you!

The year Karin Goss and I did it, (circa 1998) we were so last that even the Coke truck had packed up and left by the time we strolled into Die Groen Paviljoen! We were so busy ‘phoning the whole world from the summit that we forgot to be competitive. Jacqui insisted on giving us medals, but drew the line at Gold – we had to be content with Bronze. Don’t know why she was so strict – there were a few Golds lying in the bottom of the box.

Was Alet de Witt the first lady to compete?

Love

stroller Sheila Swanepoel

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Sheila, I think you forgot that when we allowed you to go through the finish banner after cut-off time, there was a breathalyser test for the finishers. This you seemed to have forgotten! Legal limits are 0,24 milligrams per 1000 millilitres. Finishers (at sunset) with this reading all get GOLD.

Unfortunately your readings were 0.60 . . . hence the Bronze medal. 😉

All the best (hope you enter the Mountain Race again this Year).

Kind Regards

actual finisher Jacquie Du Toit, also ex-Mountain Race high-up official

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Hey Sheils
I think we must do it once more!! Seriously!
What comes after bronze??? And is there a medi-vac chopper available?
Thanks for the interesting article Koos!
Happy Women’s Day everyone.
Love (stroller) Kar Goss xx
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Sheila, As far I can remember my Mom Alet and Mavis Hutchison did the race around 1969,70. Koos Keyser won it 5 times 1964-68. Wally Hayward (5-times Comrades winner) won in 1952.

actual finisher JP de Witt

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Sheila, For what it’s worth – I’m seriously considering doing it this year… if anyone wants to join me, perhaps we can motivate each other 🙂 **(Hushed silence from the sundry assorted 60-somethings – *sound of crickets*)**

and yes, there is a ‘medi-vac’ chopper 🙂 I was running it in about 1985-ish, when a runner from Welkom dislodged a rock on One-Man’s Pass. The rock fell onto his thigh, cutting and damaging the muscle. Tony Perry (a fellow runner from Newcastle) and I were immediately behind and below the unfortunate gent. With the help of two of his team mates we carried him to the top. Another of his team mates went ahead to tell Doc Mike van Niekerk that we needed a casualty to be taken off the mountain. By the time we got to the top, both Mike and the chopper were ready….

Tony and I missed out on our silver medals by about 10 minutes (silver time was 1 hour 40 minutes). I moved to Cape Town and never ran another mountain race! So I still only have a bronze. [PS! Mike asked the committee to award Tony and I silver medals, but they must have had a shortage that year 🙂 ]

Footnote: Michael McDermott was at school when he joined our running club in Newcastle, in about 1979… there were a few ‘windhonde’ in the club at the time, but pretty soon he was chasing and beating most of them on the shorter runs. There were a few Harrismitters I saw regularly at races: Pieter Oosthuyzen and Koos Rautenbach, I especially remember, as I often chatted to them at races.

Has anyone from Harrismith ever won this besides Volschenk? and btw, I thought it was Koos Keyser who was the big hero winner of our school days?

PS! note I said ‘doing’ the mountain race… no commitment to running it at this stage, but that may change on the day 🙂

Love to you all

actual finisher Pikkie Loots

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Martha and My Man Friday

This beautiful 1938 Buick Coupe was a regular sight on the streets of Harrismith back in the Sixties.

Martha McDonald and her friend Carrie Friday used to cruise the streets going nowhere. Mom called them Martha and My Man Friday after Robinson Crusoe.

Years later Sheila found out that PMB restorer Ty Terblanche had found it, bought it and restored it to its former glory. What a beaut!

1938 Buick coupe2

With childish logic and mischief we’d occasionally throw it wif a stone (as we’d mockingly say). Always missed, mind you.

Here’s a better angle to showcase those beautiful lines (thanks, conceptcarz):

Buick 1938

 

Hector Fyvie’s ‘English Team’

West Indies cricket. Wow!

They would play England – and thrash them at their own game. We would listen to the games on the steam-powered radio.

Representing England you had names like Hicks, Lamb, Greig and Smith who sound OK, except – they were all born in South Africa. Then you had Tavare, de Freitas, Ramprakash, D’Oliviera and Hussain. All Englishmen.

In the other team you had posh and correct names like Sir Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Sir Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshal, Courtney Walsh, Sir Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop.

So Uncle Hec – always quick to spot an anomaly – would refer to them as . . .

“The English Team”.

Hecs Windies Cricket Team

Annie Watson Bain

By the time we knew her she was Annie Bland. Never ‘granny’. Only Annie.

In fact ‘Annie Watson Bain’ to me was the lady who died (WW1?) whose name was on one of the monuments outside the Town Hall (a cousin of our Annie?).

They’d already lost the farms and the racehorses, and our gran Annie now owned the Caltex filling station in town. It was on Caskie Corner, opposite our posh Town Hall which Annie’s father Stewart Bain had been instrumental in building. It was called Bain’s Folly as it was such an imposing structure for our modest dorp.

HS Town Hall

Harrismith Town Hall Bain's Folly

Town Hall3

Annie always spoke with great admiration of her late husband Frank – the granpa we never knew – and told me proudly how she’d never seen his fingernails dirty (as she looked disapprovingly – probably more disappointedly, she never had a harsh word for me –  at mine). She called me Koosie (and the way she pronounced it, it rhymed with ‘wussie’ but don’t say that out loud).

Annie

And the car she drove was like this one, except faded beige:

Chev Fleetline 1948

I think a 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline.It had a cushion on the seat for her to see over the dash.

She was born in 1893, the fifth of seven Bain kids of the ‘Royal Bains’ – meaning the Royal Hotel Bains. There were also ‘Central Bains’.

She went to school at St Andrews in Harrismith:

StAndrews School_Boarding House

and St Anne’s in PMB where she played good hockey ‘if she would learn to keep her place on the field’. She’s the little one on a chair second from left:

Annie St Annes

Looks like St Anne’s in Pietermartizburg was a riot of fun and a laugh-a-minute.

HS Caltex

She ran the Caltex and rented out the Flamingo Cafe and Platberg Bottle Store premises. At that time she lived in the Central Hotel a short block away across the Deborah Retief Gardens and I do believe she drove to work every day. Maybe drove back for lunch even?

Sundays were special with Annie as your gran. She’d roll up at our house in the big beige Chev, we’d pile in and off we’d go on a drive. The back seat was like a large lounge sofa. Sometimes she’d drive to nowhere, sometimes to the park, sometimes cruising the suburbs. OK, the one suburb. I’m sure she told us the whole history of Harrismith and who lived where and who was who. All of which we ignored, so I can’t tell you nothing!

Later she got a green Opel and for some reason (she could no longer drive?) it was parked on our lawn. I sat in it and changed gears on its column shift about seventy thousand times. Probably why I (like all males) am such a good driver today. Like this but green and white:

Annie's Opel Rekord

The pic of the Town Hall with the green Chev is thanks to De Oude Huize Yard – do go and see their blog. They’re doing great things in the old dorp, keeping us from destroying everything old and replacing it with corrugated iron and plastic (excuse little rant there!).

Feel The Burn

Sheila sent me an old picture of the du Plessis’ beautiful pool in Harrismith. Joan and Jannie built a big one as they had three amazing swimmers in their stable. As far as I know, Lynn, Pierre and Sonja all represented Vrystaat and South Africa (or at least went to ‘Top Ten’ where the top ten swimmers compete in the final big national gala).

Here’s Gary Beaton’s butt, Pierre’s leg and a du Plessis poodle with Platberg in the background. Plus the big wooden fence shielding the pool from Arthur Kennedy’s famous triangular wood and glass house next door.

Gary Pierre poodle Hector St

Which reminded me:

We painted that fence with creosote. Child labour unpaid by Jannie. Pierre, Tuffy and me, topless in our swimming cozzies. It was great fun. When one of us (must have been Pierre, he was usually our chief instigator) ‘mistakenly’ painted another it was hilarious. Retaliation followed. More hilarity.

And then it started to burn. Really, really burn. Creosote on your skin is unfunny. We ended up in the pool scratching and rubbing and wiser. We’d learnt a chemistry lesson.

Fifty years later they invented the internet and now I know this:

Coal tar creosote is a mixture of hundreds of chemicals in a thick and oily liquid. People need to be trained and certified to use creosote. Creosote is also a pesticide. A pesticide is a substance that kills pests.

So Pierre was in real danger there.

 

 

Jock Grant

Jock Grant was a Harrismith legend. Fresh out of Scotland he joined the golf club and announced to the usual crowd leaning up against the bar in his broad accent that he was taking Afrikaans lessons.

“Jock”, said Jannie du Plessis, “We think you should first take English lessons!”

He started a plumbing business, married lovely local lass Brenda Longbottom and ended up owning the quarry, becoming famous for his loud booms which would rattle the windows in town, as he dynamited rock on 80th hill on the western edge of town.

Then he owned Swinburne. Well, the Montrose Motel, anyway.

Not much left now:

Montrose Motel2

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Ian Fyvie has a story about when Jock went over to visit his family in Scotland. On his return they were playing golf and Ian asked him if he had enjoyed the visit. Jock’s reply was very non-committal and unethusiastic. Ian said “But you must have enjoyed some part of the trip! What was the highlight of the whole holiday?”

“When I came over 42nd and saw the lights of Harrismith!”


Nick Leslie tells of going for a walk in the veld with Jock and Brenda. Climbing through a barbed wire fence Brenda got her slacks caught. Jock said “Well your name’s not Longbottom for nothing!”

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Dad tells of Jock’s big talk which was most unlike most of their Harrismith friends’ more modest approach. Jock could swagger. He arrived at a party (always there were parties!) smoking his big cigars and between puffs boasted “He wanted *puff* six million *puff* but I said I’ll offer you five million and not a penny more *puff*. When he left that night Hector Fyvie said in his quiet way “There goes Jock Maximilian”.


Jock brought his nephew Morris Crombie out from Scotland to join him in his plumbing business. Morris was invited to join Round Table and at his first meeting stood up to announce himself. In his broad Scots accent the lanky Scotsman intoned: “I’m Mawriss Crawmbie – Ploomer” and probably didn’t understand why the whole room collapsed with laughter.


 

Hance in the Grand Canyon

Hance Rapid3

Hance Rapid at Mile 76.5 stands sentinel at the Colorado river’s entry into the Granite Gorge. The river drops 30 feet as it passes through a natural constriction formed by the Red Canyon. The dark dike cutting through the red Hakatai Shale is one of the most photographed features in the Canyon.

I found out more about the man the rapid was named after:

John Hance (1840 – January 8, 1919) is thought to be the first non-native resident of the Grand Canyon.

John Hance_cr

He opened the first tourist trail in the canyon before the canyon was a national park, giving tours of the canyon after his ca.1866 attempts at mining asbestos failed. “Captain” John Hance was said to be one of the Grand Canyon’s most colorful characters, and one early visitor declared that “To see the canyon only and not to see Captain John Hance, is to miss half the show.”

Hance delighted in telling canyon stories to visitors, favoring the whopper of a tale over mere facts. With a straight face, Hance told travelers how he had dug the canyon himself, piling the excavated earth down near Flagstaff (thus ‘explaining’ those mysterious then-unexplained dirt piles).

Flagstaff SanFranciscoPeaks

John Hance died in 1919, the year the Grand Canyon became a National Park, and was the first person buried in what would become the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery.

(from wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and archive.org)

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In May 1891 one Charley Greenlaw wrote this in John Hance’s guestbook:

I can cheerfully say that this, the Grand Canon of the Colorado River, is the grandest sight of my life. As I noticed in this little book of Capt. John Hance, a great many people say indescribable. I can say nothing more. It is beyond reason to think of describing it in any way. You must see it to appreciate it. A grand sight of this kind and so few people know of it. By accident I formed the acquaintance of two ladies en route to the Grand Canon. I joined them. We have enjoyed our trip; the stage ride from Flagstaff to the Grand Canon is grand. Good horses, competent and accommodating drivers. I have seen the Yosemite, have visited California several different times, in fact seen all the principal points of interest in the United States, but the most wonderful, awe-inspiring piece of Nature’s own work is this, the Grand Canon of the Colorado River.

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Another entry by J. Curtis Wasson told of the twelve hour stage coach journey after alighting from the Santa Fe Railroad Company’s train:

From Flagstaff at 7 o’clock a.m. our stage and six goes out.

Arriving at Little Springs Station, where a new relay of six horses is added, we make haste until the half-way station is reached, passing through a fine unbroken forest of Pinus ponderosa, quaking aspen, balsam fir, and spruce. The open forest, the waving grasses, the gorgeously colored mountain flowers, the occasional chirp of the forest songsters, the ice-cold springs traversing our smooth compact road, the peaks, clear-cut and massive, towering up nearly 14,000 feet into the blue above, the low rumbling of our great Concord stage, the sound of two dozen hoofs, the sharp crack of the driver’s whip, the clear, bracing atmosphere, every breath of which seems to stimulate, the indescribably beautiful Painted Desert outstretching for a hundred miles to our right.

stagecoach2

One fain would linger on scenes like these but we have arrived at Cedar Station, and after partaking of a very refreshing luncheon we are given a new relay of horses and hasten over the desert portion of our ride to Moqui Station, where another relay is provided, which takes us to the hotel at the rim of the Grand canon, where we arrive at 7 o’clock p.m.

Leaving our Concord stage, giving our grips to the porter, not even waiting for “facial ablutions”, we hasten across the yard and up to the rim of the canon, when, looking over — the Chasm of the Creator, the Gulf of God, the Erosion of the Ages, that Erosive Entity, that Awful Abyss, lies in all its awfulness before us, — awful, yet grand; appalling, yet attractive; awe inspiring, yet fascinating in its greetings.

Grand Canyon South Rim

Panoramic view of Hance Rapid:

Hance Rapid

coach pic from wildwesthistory.blogspot.com

 

A Fine Spectacle

This story will be fuzzy in parts because of the long passage of time. But although some details may be slightly different, ‘strue. So I must tell the tale before those last few grey cells that hold the memory get blitzed by the box wine.

It was on the Berg River Canoe Marathon that Christof Heyns came to tell me was pulling out of the race. Why!? I said, dismayed. He’d fallen out in the frigid flooded Berg river and lost his glasses. Couldn’t see past his nose, so it was way too dangerous to carry on in the mid-winter Cape cold and the flooding brown water.

Hell, no, I said, I’ve got a spare pair, you can use mine.

He rolled his eyes and smiled sadly at my ignorance. His eyes were very special, his glasses were very thick and there was no way just any arb specs would do, he mansplained patiently. In his defence, he didn’t know I was an optometrist, that I was wearing contact lenses, that I had a spare pair of specs in my luggage and one tied to the rudder cable in my boat, or that I had a very good idea of what his prescription was from seeing his glasses on his nose both on this race and on a Tugela trip we had been on together. I knew about his eyes better than he knew about my soul (he might have known a bit about that as his Dad was a very belangrike dominee in the Much Deformed Church – top dog, in fact).

So I said, trust me swaer and went and fetched my spares. He put them on and was amazed. I can see! he shouted like I was Jesus who had just restored his sight. I know, I said.

specs

So he wore the glasses and finished the race and I said keep them till we next meet.

Many months later I saw an article in the SA Canews, the paddling magazine, titled: “My Broer se Bril”. Christof wrote the story of how he had lost hope when some arb oke said “Here, try mine” and he could see! And he could finish the race. He ended off by saying “Actually they were so good I’m wearing them to this day”. Ja, you bugger, I know, I said. I could have written an article “How a dominee’s son appropriated my bril”, but I didn’t. I’m way too kind! (In his defence, we haven’t seen each other since that race).


belangrike dominee – important churchman

swaer – bro

my broer se bril – my brother’s spectacles

mansplain – when a man laboriously explains something you already know (usually inflicted on women)

Lee’s Ferry across the Colorado River

Lee’s Ferry on the right bank of the Colorado River, just above the mouth of the Paria River, at an elevation of 3,170 feet asl is the site of the start for most river trips through the Grand Canyon.

Originally called Lonely Dell by Mormon church-man with 19 wives and 67 children John D Lee, who established the ferry in 1872, it provided the only access across more than 300 miles of river for many years. Actually one of Lee’s 19 wives, Emma ran the ferry for a number of years while he was on the lam – hiding from the law for his leading part in the wicked 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre.

The massacre near St George, Utah involved a group of emigrants known as the Fancher Party trekking west from Arkansas who were camped at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah preparing for their final push across the Mohave Desert when they were attacked by a group of Mormon Militia who disguised themselves as Native Americans so as to cowardly deflect blame for the attack.

It was a time of great tension between Mormons and the rest of the United States, and the massacred party was most likely attacked because they were not Mormons.

After an initial siege, the treacherous Lee approached the emigrants saying he’d negotiated safe passage for them with protection from their supposed Native American attackers if they surrendered their weapons. The group agreed, whereupon the militia proceeded to kill all but the children under 8 years of age.

One hundred and twenty men, women and children died that day. For almost two decades, the incident was covered up, but in 1874, Lee was brought to trial. Never denying his complicity in the massacre, Lee did insist – probably correctly – that he was acting on orders from high up in the church. He was the only one of about fifty men involved in the massacre to be brought to book. He was convicted and executed by firing squad in 1877.

His widow Emma Lee sold the ferry in 1879 for 100 milk cows to the Mormon Church who continued to operate it until 1910 when it was taken over by Coconino County, Arizona. The ferry stayed mostly in use until 1929 when the Navajo Bridge was completed. Ironically, the ferry was used to ship much of the material to build the bridge that put it out of business.

1984: There was only one bridge when we crossed to the right – or ‘north’ (rivers only have left or right banks – think about it) – bank of the river. It was completed in 1929. A larger parallel second bridge was added in 1995. The bridge we crossed is now used for pedestrian sight-seeing.

Now: To make sure there are no misunderstandings, our John Lee on the 1984 trip down the Colorado is a good ou who, at that stage, had zero wives:

John Lee

 

1970 – Netjies!

The Harrismith Stadsaal was propvol. Albert Hertzog was coming to speak as leader of his new breakaway party, and the doubtful and the faithful were all there. Plus one Yank.

The doubtful were there to worry about the severe liberalisation evident in the Nat Party lately – I mean, they were considering allowing television! – while the faithful were there to heckle ou Hertzog.

Hertzog

A dapper little dutchman, he gave a rousing speech about the great injustice done to them by the Nats, building up to a rousing “en hulle het ons UITGESKOP!” upon which, from the back of the hall rang out a clear “NETJIES!” which brought the house down and quite ruined the dramatic effect.

This as reported to me by the Yank Larry Wingert, Rotary exchange student from Cobleskill New York, who’d gone along to witness democracy, Old-SA-style.

In typical political fashion the verligtes hated their brother verkramptes even more than they hated the old enemy, the Sappe. The Sappe they could say, were just stupid, but these ous were verraaiers!

In the election that followed, the SAPPE (United Party – the nickname was from an older party, the South African Party) made gains, the Nats losing seats in parliament for the first time since they came to power in 1948.

But ou Hertzog’s Herstigtes won 0 seats. Zero. Not one, despite appealing to Larry that they were the way forward to the past!

The Nats were still in power, but to put their “power” in perspective, they got a total of 821 000 votes in a country of 22.5 million people! And that made them the bosses of South Africa!

Talk about illegitimate.

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propvol – full, full to bursting

“en hulle het ons UITGESKOP!” – The Nats booted the doubters out. They then formed the “re-established National Party” (Herstigtes)

NETJIES!” – Well done! Neat move!

verligtes – sort of ‘enlightened’ racists; more realist than the verkramptes, who wanted nothing to change

verkramptes – cramp-ass racists (keep the world at bay!), send the Indians back to India, drive the blacks into the sea. Back to their imaginary ‘good old days’!

verraaiers – traitors