ALEXANDER – A Highveld Farm in the Old Transvaal

I Googled the name of my cousin Stephanus Venter, or ‘Fanie’ as we knew him and the name of our family farm ‘Alexander’. I had been trying to contact him on a mobile number that I had for him – this had been in vain. I was hoping that I could find his number on the internet. What came up however, was a post which read – ‘Farm Murders – On the Increase’, with a name in the post – ‘Fanie Venter’.

With disbelief I read the post, which featured an extract from a newspaper report. It went on to describe how Fanie, an elderly bachelor living alone on a farm in the Bethal district in South Africa with his mother, Aunt Hannetjie, was brutally murdered. Disbelief turned to dismay as I read about the events that had occurred. There was no mistake about it, my cousin had been the victim of a brazen farm murder! Somehow my aunt had managed to escape a similar fate.

‘Could this be true’, I questioned – ‘there on Alexander’?

Pensively my thoughts turned to the farmhouse veranda where I would stand as a child, early in the morning viewing the grand orderly sweep of the green corn fields, neatly separated by the tractor tracks. Next to them, the sunflower fields, would mimic the early morning highveld sun above. From these fields, the land gently sloped down to the creek in the west, and then, in a northerly direction, to the stone walled paddock or ‘kraal’. The crisp, early morning air would be punctuated by the call of Turtle Doves from the many Blue Gum Trees within the farmyard.

Within the kraal, the red-brown Afrikaner cattle could be seen, with their great horns curving downwards, lazily jostling each other, bellowing to be let out, awaiting a leisurely day in the veld.

I gathered that Fanie may have been busy somewhere near the paddock when he was murdered!

Visits – long, long ago

My thoughts went back to visiting Alexander – a highlight for us city kids – our only holiday that my parents, with a large growing family, could afford in the post-war 1950s. Our arrival in a Ford Prefect car was an occasion for great excitement. The farm track descended from the crest of a knoll down to the farmhouse in the distance.

With a laugh, I recalled that my anxious mother would, without fail, hysterically advise my father to avoid the road down to the farm coal mine, as plunging down into the mine workings would result in dire consequences for all! As the car bumped along the uneven track, figures would emerge from the farmhouse in the distance as soon as the sound of the car was heard – aided by the blaring of the hooter.

Led by Fanie, cousins would suddenly emerge from the front gate, running wildly to meet us, arms flailing, shouting repeatedly – ‘It’s Aunty Kotie’ – it’s Aunty Kotie’. As the car ground to a halt in front of the gate, the kids would be joined by my Oupa and very large Ouma, my Aunt Hannie, the African servants and a cohort of growling and snapping dogs. Bloody hell, they were vicious! We could never work out if the bared teeth were signs of overt affection or a desire to rip us to shreds! The dogs would be driven off whilst Aunt Hannie would shout to someone to call my uncle, Oom Thys who was always somewhere else on the farm. There would be tears from my mother as she hugged and kissed all and sundry. Aunt Hannie would affectionately greet us all with a few epithets and benevolent profanities – she was the only aunt that I had that could swear like a trooper without missing a beat!

But Fanie was always there to lead us into adventure and high-risk activity!

After all the elaborate greetings were over, all the children, under his instigation, would madly head for the barns, the stone walled cattle and sheep pens and farm machinery sheds, in that dizzying order. Usually, the first port of call would be the cattle pen, which we all would enter with shouting and great gusto. If we were early enough, we would rush into the milking area to ‘assist’ with milking, where we would be greeted good naturedly by the African farm hands, and invited to try our hand at the exposed teats squirting streams of milk into buckets. Tails swished, heads moved; bovine eyes, not so dull, sized us up with hooves clanking against the milking bucket. Ah – I can still feel those teats, with milk shooting into the bucket making a ‘swish-swish’ sound!

We could, and did explore every nook and cranny of the farm. Hours were spent climbing onto old disused ploughs, rakes, tractors, trailers, rusted trucks and combine harvesters. These were all stored under Blue Gum trees some distance from the farm house. We were out of sight and out of mind, as far as the adults were concerned.

Fanie knew how we needed to behave with all the farm hands, particularly with ‘Aasvoel’ (the vulture), who, it was well known on the farm, had an ‘attitude’. Aasvoel terrified us. He would show his mock displeasure at seeing us in the farmyard, threatening ‘instant death’ if he saw us again! He would look up at us, flash his white teeth in a mock smile and put his finger to his throat, telling us what he intended to do to the annoying little city ‘bana tsoeu’ (white kids) running wild and upsetting everything!

A feudal society

Fanie and I would furtively sneak up to the shed next to the farm house and peer through a crack between the locked doors, when justice was to be delivered. In the 1950’s, much of rural South Africa resembled a feudal society; it was common practice for justice to be summarily meted out in these areas. Here at Alexander, offenders were tried, convicted and sentenced to a good thrashing in the shed. The tribunal consisted of my Oupa, Ouma, Uncle Thys and other farm workers – who supported the system of instant justice. Theft, insubordination or loitering on the farm could result in a thrashing. Sometimes, farm workers appealed to my grandfather to teach members of another tribe or clan a ‘good lesson’. A sjambok (heavy leather whip) was used for this appalling punishment.

Never will I forget the cries of the young African, between the methodical crack of the sjambok.

I return again to Alexander

My thoughts turned to another era – years later I returned from Australia for a visit to the farm, after the release of Nelson Mandela, which saw the demise of the apartheid regime.

I drove up to the huge padlocked gate and the farmhouse surrounded by towering barbed wire security fences, disembarked from the car to inspect the gate, only to be greeted by a pack of snarling, barking dogs which appeared from nowhere. They kept jumping up against the gate, the snarling cacophony and bared fangs ensuring that we maintained a good distance from the gate.

The din was interrupted by distant shouting. A khaki clad figure emerged from the farmhouse and walked to the gate.

It was Fanie, lashing out at the dogs with a ‘kierie’ (walking stick)!

The dogs retreated, protesting and snarling, led by a bitch with the largest teats I have ever seen. ‘They won’t bite, I assure you”’, he said – a huge grin on his face. ‘They only bite kaffirs they don’t know’. I winced at the obvious subconscious bias he still displayed towards fellow African country people. Many of my Afrikaner relatives and friends in South Africa at that stage were anxiously trying to adapt to the new milieu and to expunge such bias. Nevertheless, we shook hands, hugged – again he was the enthusiastic cousin I had always loved to visit and follow. I introduced him to my father and mother – in – law, Dirk and Dina Beukes who had accompanied me. He beckoned to us to follow him. We were thankful to get into the car, looking in all directions to be sure that there was sufficient distance between us and the dogs!

Industrialisation

I recalled my disappointment at seeing a monstrous building on the horizon which now obscured the once pristine, rolling green veld. This was the Kriel Power Station – I was to learn. On the way to the farm, we had passed the huge SASOL petrochemical and synthetic fuel plants and the informal growing settlements of African industrial workers. It was as if Alexander itself cringed in the shadow of these industrial monstrosities. This experience proved to sully all idealistic memories I had of the Alexander of old!

We all entered the house from the verandah. It was still the old farmhouse that I remembered -modernised here and there. Inside we were greeted with laughter, hugs and kisses and the expected profanities from Aunt Hannie. My Oupa and Ouma, long since gone, stared down somberly from the oval frames, still hanging from the wall.

After lunch, Uncle Thys and Dirk, my father-in-law, launched into a heavy right wing political discussion, which rapidly degenerated into an unpleasant mudslinging match. To prevent an all-out feud, I suggested that we all visit the farm cemetery; always a mandatory diversion during visits. It took some effort to calm everyone down again and usher them out by the back door to the cemetery located amongst magnificent Blue Gum trees, as handsome as any found in Australia.

Gravestones tell their stories

As I remembered the inscriptions on the gravestones, stories about our family came to life again, stories passed down by my mother. Stories about the treatment of women and children during the Anglo Boer War, the wanton destruction of the farm, burning of the farmhouse and burying of precious crockery and jewelry in the bed of the creek that ran through the farm, were always tinged with sadness and resentment. The stories also told of the exploits and capture of my great-grandfather and grandfather at the battle of Berg-en-Dal and skirmish at Vlaklaagte – followed by their internment in the Standerton concentration camp, together with all the residents at Alexander – some 53, according to the well documented records in the British archives!

The story of the horrific death of Uncle Trompie, my grandfather and step grand-mother’s only son, resurrected again in its full detail. On returning from a hunting trip in Swaziland, he pulled a shotgun from the back of a truck, by the barrel, which then discharged as the trigger hooked onto something. The helplessness and panic of all as he lay dying in front of the farm gate.

The story of my grandmother who died in childbirth, when my mother was only four years old. An old lady at the funeral gave her a peppermint when she repeatedly asked when would her mother be returning from hospital. My mother always wept when she told us this story.

That was the last time that I saw Fanie, just after migrating to Australia.

The murder report

The report, from a local tabloid, gave a graphic and sensational description of the events that unfolded on that fateful Sunday morning. The heading read: ‘Executed Bethal Farmer Fanie Venter’s mom Hannetjie Venter, 79 – walked 4km to get help’.

The details were: ‘BETHAL – February 7th, 2010 – An elderly Afrikaner Bethal farm woman had to walk four kilometers to get help after three farm attackers had killed her son, execution-style on Sunday-morning – a popular time for farm-attackers – and stole her mobile phone so she couldn’t call for help. Hannetjie Venter, 79, didn’t see them kill her son Fanie, but did hear the single shot the robbers had fired into his head. A friend of the family, Sakkie Pretorius, says her ordeal started at about 08:30.

He says Hannetjie saw the black gunmen – apparently three of them – and tried to warn Fanie who was busy elsewhere on the farmyard.

He probably didn’t hear her. One of the men put his hand over her mouth. Fanie, who always carried a firearm, was caught unawares and was shot in the head.

When she got to him, one of the men said her son was ‘just sleeping’. But there was blood everywhere and she could see that he was dead, according to Pretorius. The robbers held a gun to her head and forced her to unlock the safe. She asked: ‘Why don’t you shoot me as well?’

The farm attackers could have looted all the contents of the homestead at their leisure – but they only stole a shotgun, mobile phones, money and Hannetjie’s handbag. Francois van Dijk, a neighbour, said ‘because the robbers stole the Venters’ cellphones and Hannetjie can’t drive, she and their dog walked about four kilometers to Van Dijk’s house to get help. ‘She got here at about 10:00. She walked all the way. It was very traumatic for her.’ Van Dijk immediately alerted the police and neighbours, but the men – who’d arrived in a car – were long gone’. So, the report ended.

After reading the report, I attempted to contact the local police in Bethal to obtain some information regarding the murder and the whereabouts of my aunt – to no avail.

In a recent visit to South Africa, I was able to establish that the farm lies abandoned with gates padlocked and secured with heavy chains and that the farmhouse is slowly succumbing to the onslaught of mining operations, vandals and the environment.

Alexander – I will never forget you. Fanie – we’ll explore the meandering Alexander Creek again and run wild where the cosmos flowers forever bloom, our faces young and spirits free.

 

 

 

 

 

Monbulk

As Spring approaches rapidly, we decided to visit friends at Monbulk and had a most delightful day. The chooks, alpacas, border collies), magpies, blackbirds, cockies, doves, ducks put on a special show for us in the lovely garden that is being preparing for the onset of the warm weather

 

 

Interbeing

 

Defining, describing, modelling, deciphering – whatever means deployed
Should fail – without tools, performance standards, where do we start?
Programmed to add, subtract, linearise and build with zeroes and ones,
What do we get, approximations – lines, rectangles, circles and all the variants?
Cannot construct this we see!
Step back, aside, gently breathing, until….we see.
That it’s always been there – embryonic programming.
That is the reason – too close to see.

 

Pretty Rough to be a herbivore in Arusha!

We didn’t have a thought about Wild Dog Hunts – had a lot of confidence in this guy
Beguiled by these beauties

Our last day’s visit with Hilda to Arusha National Park made us thankful that we were shielded all round by the body of the Rav 4WD. We had just got out of the car to view the Flamingoes and were driving contentedly along when Dedrie shouted – hey! look! a Warthog chasing the Zebras, Giraffe and Wildebeest. Surely not? Then – to our dismay – we saw that we were witnessing a Wild Dog hunt – the Warthogs were actually Wild Dogs creeping along their bellies in the long grass . “Der hund begraben”!!

We’re not gonna be your tea tonight!
This is not good!

 

Mikumi National Park – Tanzania

After a full day’s driving from Dar-es-Salaam, arriving at the main gate at about 10 pm, we raised the ranger at the main gate who booked us into a lodge for the night. Thankfully we had at that stage given up plans for camping at one of the camp sites for the night.

The lodge was most pleasant with great views – but excessively expensive. We had to pay in US$ for rather run-down facilities. At night the place was teeming with Masai guards. Wish we could have had them when we went to the camp site!!!

Next morning we drove to the ‘camp site’ near the Hippo Pool. We knew from the outset that this site epitomised remoteness. We had to share the camp site with all the giraffes, impala, warthogs, finches, swallows, snakes and predators in the area . Not known to us, though, was that we were also in the hunting area for a pride of lions! No – we were not warned or informed about this! One of the rangers did however shiver as he made an off-the-cuff remark that he hoped that we weren’t afraid of lions! Wiping the sweat off his brow, he said that he was terrified of the lions near the camp site.

Little did we know what to expect. See the locked kitchen area at the back. That night – Hilda & I drove in the dark to fetch that darn key from the rangers at the main gate. That is when the nightmare began.
Driving back – worried about Dedrie alone at the site, we got lost and found our road blocked by this fellow. He would not get out of the road. Eventually he let us pass, his yellow eyes glowering at us in the headlights. We eventually found the camp site. But where was Dedrie? The little camp fire was out and it was pitch dark. We eventually found her zipped into the tent – ‘bloody lions’ she managed to say – ‘they walked past here and I jumped into the tent to be on the safe side’. No wonder the Masai guard was missing.
These sleepy cats (nearby – the next day) frightened us as we cooked dinner, grunting, roaring and scaring the wits out of the Impala – frightened eyes peering at our torches as we walked to the tents in close single file. The pouring rain did little to deter these girls at night.

Apart from these encounters, where we learned a lot regarding the ‘predator-prey’ relationship in nature, there were many delightful and beautiful poses for us by the visitors to the camp.  Giraffes would stare at us from under a nearby tree for hours on end, thoughtfully chewing cud.

Didn’t realise that these creatures are so inquisitive?
Ullo ullo!
Goodbye Mikumi – goodbye Tsetse Flies – they nearly bit the hell out of us. They anaesthetise the skin before they put the proboscis in – then you don’t feel a thing. And can they suck up a lot of blood! Dedrie found a big fat one in the vehicle which got me on the neck – filled with blood. Fortunately none of us has come down with sleeping sickness!

 

Family time & time with old friends!

Another ‘blast from the past’! Nico Hoogendoorn. Living on the Lesotho border. Last visited in Bloemfontein 1980’s sometime. We spent a great time ‘solving’ the problems of the world and reminiscing about the good old Durban days and the South Africa we all grew up in.

 

Robert de Beer’s birthday – Robert and his brother Roy’s family attending Robert’s birthday. A very pleasant and interesting afternoon. Last saw Roy and Esme when Tante Nellie was still alive – at least 30 years ago.
Xmas day conviviality – Greens, Beukes’s and Cuz Robbie de Beer
The pool at Dinokeng, day before Xmas, was a winner!
Was a great pleasure catching up with family and friends over the Christmas period. Cousins not seen in 50+ years! What a special occasion. We drove past Sharpeville to Vereeniging. The last time I had been there was in 1962 during the infamous Sharpeville uprising. We were evacuated on that day.
Breakfasts, brunches and generally good food in Plett
Visited Oom Tjaart and Tannie Miena in Pretoria. Both in their 90’s now – but contented in their new residence.

 

Early Spring!

Blossoms out during the first week in August! Is this a climate change phenomenon, an El Nino effect or the very dry Winter we have just had? Stradbroke Park – a favourite oval near our house in Kew.

Black Wattle in full bloom – sadly, reminds me of “Blouboskraal” this time of year.

The King Parrot – she was agreeable and paused for this moment!


Two regular Spring visitors – safe terrain – want to avoid Gippsland in a few weeks time!

Although Lil B decided on a full charge – met with disdain as these two languidly took off, circled the oval and descended a few meters away – continuing to feed on luscious insects that survived footy boots!

 

 

“The Briars”

 

Don the ‘puffer jackets’, an essential requirement for heading outdoors this time of the year and head out to “The Briars” in Mt. Martha on the Mornington Peninsula! This is what Dedrie and I did last Tuesday with the Port Phillip Probus Club. It certainly was a memorable day – enjoyed by all.

It all started off with an early morning drive down the freeway – in the opposite direction to the morning traffic. It was a stark reminder of days past when we battled the traffic on our way into the Melbourne CBD. The vacant concentration of drivers struck one, as car-upon-car continued at snails pace in the many lanes of traffic to that island of sky scrapers behind us.

As we had about an hour to kill, we stopped at the Lilo Cafe on the Esplanade on the way to Mt Martha, where we enjoyed good ‘skinny flat whites’ and shared an excellent muffin. The view from our table was most inviting, bottle brush and grevilleas adorning the nature strip across the road, many seagulls rising into the wind and gliding into the blue-grey background.

We reached the ‘The Briars’ just in time for the introductory film in the Visitor Centre. This film sketched the lives of the Balcombe family.  Alexander, with his wife Emma Juana brought livestock and settled in Port Phillip in 1842; in 1846 took over the run Chen Chen Gurruck, or Tichingorourke, changing the name to ‘The Briars’. The property extended from the present Mornington to Mount Martha. The property is now managed by the Mornington Peninsula Shire.

 

 

Black Rock – Coastal Walk

Our city has much to offer – all within easy reach. Discovered Black Rock again after visiting my sister Marge in the ’80s. The walks along Port Phillip Bay are so well preserved and the revegetation programmes a success. For ‘birding’ enthusiasts – there are many surprises, from the Blue Wrens in the coastal fringe, to the Albatrosses brooding on the tiny black basalt (I think) islands

Coastal walk at Black Rock – many surprises and delights along the way

Banksias in bloom

Heading towards the Sandringham Yacht Club along the seaweed trail

Cormorants and Sea Gulls watching the human panorama on the board walk

Dedrie and Lil B enjoying some respite and a welcome escape from those “oh so fierce” Labradores

The walk back to the car with the promised cold front starting to make it’s appearance

An Albatross bidding us farewell

Bullying!

Bullying – much is occupying our media at the moment regarding this ‘ever increasing in intensity’ social phenomena. My ex-Nababeepian friends have recently touched on this not so delicate subject. Bullying seems to have become a many faceted problem in our Aussie society? Appears to be the same everywhere. Thinking back – Geez bullying was rife in my schooldays, plus a lot of sadism. An incident – never to be forgotten: Just before moving to Nababeep; at Oliver Lodge School – Standard 4. I was a lively kid, but a favourite of Mrs Park our teacher. I got too big for my boots one day and talked as we filed into our class after ‘break’. She was having a ‘bad hair day’ and sent me out to stand next to the door on the veranda. Of course, I nearly freaked, and went to hide behind the open door. Lo and behold – our principal, Mr Kloppers appeared, grabbed my ear and marched me to the front of the class. “What’s the problem”? he asked. Mrs Park said that I was “showing off”. The bastard then grabbed me, grabbed the feather board duster (a huge stick with feathers at the end), sat down on the chair and pulled me onto his lap. He proceeded to hit me with all his force until I started screaming.  I sank my teeth into his leg – which provoked him into a frenzy. He could or would not stop. The teacher started crying, including the girls in the class. He then stopped, pushed me off his lap and left me to get up from the floor; then left the classroom without a word. That day – not a whisper in the class! My parents, on seeing the bruises and open weals, were extremely angry – but – did nothing! Of course, I still have a vivid memory of that day – nearly 60 years on; and irrationally – avoid anyone with the surname ‘Kloppers’.