My father had been mining diamonds at Premier Mine, near Cullinan, for three years when he reached a point of no return: the conditions he worked under were extremely dangerous and the accident rate was unacceptably high.

He resigned from his position as Mine Captain there to take up a similar post at Sheba Gold Mine in the Eastern Transvaal. My father recalled his Mine Manager being angry when he handed in his notice, demanding to know why he was giving up his prospects in the diamond industry. My father later wrote in his memoir: I was perfectly honest with him, telling him that if I never saw another diamond in my life, it would not break my heart, also that if I wanted honour and glory, along with a medal, I could have gone to Korea. My mind was made up, I was leaving. I was born in the Premier Mine Hospital two weeks later on 20th May 1951.

My mother was the only patient in the maternity section and so my eldest brother often slipped into the ward during the day to visit her. My maternal grandparents were holidaying in Italy at the time and my father sent them a telegram: IT’S A GIRL!

We moved to Sheba Gold Mine when I was three weeks old. We lived in this corrugated iron and wood house until I left home to attend university in Natal.

It was nothing fancy, as you can see: basically built from wood and corrugated iron on a foundation built of local stone. These red-polished steps (mimicked on the other side) led straight into our living room. The open door your see there is a screen door – very common in those days to keep out mosquitoes especially; we also had screens fitted to our bedroom windows. It was while sitting on these steps that I, in the company of my family, observed Sputnik I on 4th October 1957 with such excitement. Commentary on the radio indoors kept us informed of its progress as we scanned the sky for what would look like an exceptionally large and bright ‘shooting star’ travel across from one horizon to the next.

The far window is where our dining room was. It is there that my father encouraged us to know about a world wider than the small community we lived in. We discussed what he called ‘general knowledge’; he asked for our opinions; he told us about earthquakes and volcanoes; and would talk to us about interesting events he had seen or heard about. That is where I did my homework in primary school and thought hard about what to write in the obligatory thank you letters for cards or gifts from my grandparents.

You might notice a sprig of leaves in the top left hand corner of the picture. This is a glimpse of rambling roses that twisted their way this way and that through wooden lattice-work at the side of a shady veranda that ran the width of the house – providing protection from the sun for the two bedrooms that faced onto it. The house used to get so hot during summer that on some evenings my mother would hose down the corrugated iron roof to bring down the temperature a little. We would sometimes see snakes threading their way through the roses: a fascinating yet fearful sight when we were small. The building at the back was our garage – also constructed of wood and corrugated iron.

My father was also a part-time farmer, with a farm – Dunduff – in the beautiful De Kaap valley stretching out from Barberton.

I think we enjoyed the best of both worlds: able to take advantage of the amenities of the mine such as the primary school, tennis courts, public swimming pool, being able to watch a film in the recreational hall every week, as well as having the freedom to explore the veld on our farm. That is where my life-long interest in nature had its roots.

My senior school years were spent in boarding at the Barberton High School. Those years proved to be important in terms of me developing a sense of independence and forming my own opinions. It was ostensibly a parallel medium school, but with a ratio at the time of one English class to three or four Afrikaans classes, it is not surprising that most subjects were taught in Afrikaans with only a sprinkling of English!

It was with a heavy heart that I left the bosom of my family and the comfortable familiarity of the Lowveld to attend the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg at the start of 1969. Little did I know that I would never return to live within easy visiting distance of my immediate family.

I met my husband while I was a student and ended up living in Natal for about seventeen years. During that time I got to know the Natal Drakensberg very well and bore two sons before we moved to Johannesburg for a brief sojourn.

After that we spent about eight very happy years living in both Mmabatho and Mafikeng in the then independent homeland of Bophuthatswana. Our daughter was born during this time and was in pre-primary when we made a final move to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape during 1988.




During my childhood, we spent most of our school holidays either at our home on Sheba Gold Mine or on my father’s farm, Dunduff, in the De Kaap Valley near Barberton. There was always plenty to do, so I cannot recall any of us being bored.

Reading has been a life-long favourite past –time for me and school holidays gave me the opportunity to read whenever – and almost wherever – I wanted to. I often kept Mom company in the lounge while she was reading. I have mentioned in other posts that I enjoyed sitting on a branch of either the large lemon tree growing in the mine garden or hidden within a mango tree growing next to the top dam on the farm. Another favourite place to read was in bed before falling asleep.

We had a fairly meagre selection of suitable books at home, but I was able to borrow books both from the small school library and from the even smaller ‘library’ in the mine recreation hall. The latter consisted of two steel cupboards!

The mine public swimming pool was only a short walk from our house. My brothers and I practically lived there during the summer. I also played tennis; as I grew older and more adept at the game, I was frequently drafted to make up a fourth with the adult women whenever they were short of a player. I became a regular player with them during the holidays once I had reached high school.

As we lived on the side of a mountain, it was inevitable that my brothers and I would explore the veld. We loved climbing trees too and I enjoyed swinging on the swing Dad had erected in our mine garden. I have had my share of making mud pies and sneaking into the neighbouring garden for the sheer fun of being in a place we were not allowed to be. We used to watch a film in the mine recreation hall every Friday evening: rather a mixed bag for we were never sure what was to be screened.

Left to my own devices, I was happy to play in the garden, creating fairy glades among the rocks or between the exposed roots of the flamboyant trees (Delonix regia) that grew near the bottom of the garden. I spent hours combing through the gravel on our long driveway looking for large pieces of iron pyrites – also known as fool’s gold – for the sheer fun of finding something pretty.

I loved listening to the radio when I was a teenager; playing cards with my mother; colouring in – and writing. Several exercise books were filled with lists of the songs I heard on the radio; lyrics I had copied down; new words I had come across; titles of the films we had seen; and snatches of stories that even then floated about in my imagination.

Of course there was always a lot to be done during the time we spent on the farm. It wasn’t all work and no play, however, as there was the opportunity to walk around the farm; catch fish; climb trees; eat whatever fruit was in season; make fires; and to watch the cattle. I absolutely loved the braais we had over a weekend once my Dad had relaxed a little and we gathered around the flames and chatted as a family. He could tell the most entertaining stories too.

Me with a cow named Paraffin in 1969.

On very rare occasions, Dad would sacrifice some of his precious leave (and thus time on the farm) to drive us down to Southbroom along the south coast of what was then Natal to visit our maternal grandparents. Granny and Grandpa Donald’s home there was called Stonybrae – a nod to his Scottish origins.

How exciting it always was to see the sea! We spent a lot of time on the beach during those visits: exploring rock pools; swimming; building sand castles; and picking up shells. It was an adventure to walk along the rocky shore until we reached the swimming beach – and very exciting to see ships passing along the horizon.

At the swimming beach we would dive fearlessly into the waves; try out body surfing; laugh when dumped by a wave or our bathing costumes were filled with sand. There was a tidal pool to swim in too. A real treat, usually shortly before we walked home, was being allowed to buy an ice-cream cone: a tickey for one scoop and a sixpence for two scoops. I unfailingly chose green lime ice-cream – still a favourite.


I last visited our family farm, Dunduff, in the De Kaap Valley near Barberton about thirty-four years ago. This was a sad visit for my father had died some years earlier and my mother, having sold the farm, had already made great progress with sorting and packing in order to move into town. The memories of that farm remain with me still – and even more pleasingly, it is remembered by my children too. I have written before that the house burned down long after we’d left and of my sadness that the entire farm has been turned into an orchard of nut trees that have obliterated all the roads, buildings and trees that meant so much to us. Clearly, I have nothing to go back to.

This Google map shows the dirt road that we used to drive along, having turned off the tarred road at the Caledonian station and passed several other farms before reaching that curve in the road you can see so clearly. The farm gate was not far from there and our house was more or less where the red pointer is on the map.

The original farm house – which had been added onto over many years – was constructed in 1910, mainly of wood and iron. Some of these materials – I imagine especially the corrugated iron – had been brought in by ox wagon from Delagoa Bay, which is on the south-east coast of Mozambique.

This undated photograph shows one of the most pleasing features of the house, the cool, cement-floored veranda that ran along three sides of the house. This is a perfect architectural feature that wards off the main heat of the Lowveld summers. It kept the bedrooms cool and proved to be a wonderful place to sit to catch the breezes and from where one could look over the farmlands, across the De Kaap Valley towards the town of Barberton nestling in the foothills of the Makhonjwa Mountains.

The water tank on the right was essential as we relied on both rain water and borehole water for our needs. Two tanks were perched on very high tank stands in the back garden. These were filled from a borehole behind the house and sported clear markers so that my father could keep an eye on the water levels and know which tank required filling. We learned from a very early age not to waste water – a good lesson, given that where I live now we only get water every second day!

It was on those steps leading up to the veranda that late one afternoon we came home to wonder who had left the garden hosepipe there – on closer inspection this proved to be a black mamba which my father got rid of once he had made sure the rest of us were well out of the way.

The windows on the right is where the lounge was – also commanding a beautiful view across the valley. The wooden walls consisted of tongue-in-groove panelling as was the floor and ceiling. It was a lovely room to sit in – the original sash windows were replaced by metal framed ones. The single window on the left is where one of the bedrooms was. This particular one had two sash windows while the one next to it only had one. The back section had been added on with bricks and all of those windows (bedroom, bathroom, dining room, scullery and kitchen) had metal framed-windows.

An enormous white mulberry tree provided shade on the left-hand side of the house. The leaves of an African tulip tree are in the foreground of this photograph. Silky oaks dominated the rondavel outside the kitchen; there were also syringas and an elm tree in the garden. One side of the driveway was lined with poinsettia trees and on the other was a coffee tree, an oak tree and even some pawpaw trees. A very productive vegetable garden was behind the house.


She felt the familiar tightening of her chest as the car began to descend the winding mountain pass which would take them to the enormous valley that stretched out far below them. Even the excited chatter of the children couldn’t intrude upon the private pleasure she always felt when the familiar mountain range was glimpsed for the first time. The hazy smoke hid the familiar landmarks from view, yet she was still able to point out – even from so far away – the short strip of dusty road that led to the farm.

The mountain pass flattened and straightened out, entered the valley and at last they were achingly close to the world of which she had been a part forever. The car sped on under a canopy of acacia trees, crossed the bridge over a river long since hidden by a tangled mass of syringa trees, reeds and some bushes indigenous to the area. She wondered whatever had happened to the muddy river of her youth and to the floods that had drawn them to the river almost every summer to witness the turbulent waves and broken, tossing trees …

The children had been looking out for the dusty road. They chatted excitedly all the way, oblivious to their mother’s inner world where she remembered riding a bicycle that was much too large for her, recognised the place along the road where she had skidded and grazed her arms and legs in the fall: her mother had disliked the idea of her leaving the relative safety of the farm …

And there it was … the water tanks on their tall stand, bright splashes of deep purple and red bougainvillea, the jacaranda trees … one last turn in the driveway and the familiar farmhouse was there. This time there was no welcoming bark, for the dogs hadn’t been replaced as each had found their Elysium in turn. The clean-swept back yard, the bright flowers  nodding merrily around the stone rondavel – even the smoke rising from the chimney of the combustion stove were welcome enough until her mother emerged from the kitchen door, her face wreathed in smiles and her arms outstretched.

The welcome was too bright, their happiness too intense – even the children seemed determined to extract every bit of pleasure and happiness they could before the farm changed hands and was theirs no more. Her eyes darted around the farm house, which looked much the same even though a lot of packing had already been done. The sealed cardboard boxes that lined the wooden-floored passage and spilled into the bedrooms bore mute testimony to the end of more than thirty years of occupation. The family had only two days in which to bid farewell to another way of life.

Sitting on the high veranda, she noted that the view was as breathtakingly beautiful as always, stretching as it did across the whole valley to the small town nestling at the foot of the encircling mountain range. From there too, one was privy to the ceaseless coming and going of a great variety of birds as they bathed, preened, or drank from the stone bird bath half hidden by creepers. The water spraying on the lawn reminded her of the shortage of water that had always been drummed into them as children. Even the vegetable garden had had to be abandoned as one borehole after another had dried up. It was ironic that the lawn her mother had battled to save for so long was now lush – waiting expectantly for the new owners.

Beyond the thick, neatly trimmed hedge of spekboom (she recalled in a flash the short sticks with fleshy leaves that had been planted – when?) were the lands which had once produced a plentiful supply of dryland cotton, and later maize, before giving way to the natural grasses to provide grazing for the cattle. These had been sold a long time ago and so now the tall grass waved in the wind and hid the children from view as they walked around the farm for the last time. They picked up stray guineafowl feathers, interesting looking sticks, and skipped along the narrow road while their mother remembered doing the same in her own childhood and their father recorded their movements and laughter on film.

They measured themselves against familiar landmarks almost lost in the tall grass and picked lemons they didn’t really need. At the clump of bamboo, the children collected fans and old bird nests and sticks, while their mother recalled a time when this had been her only world … the children were getting tired and all were conscious of returning to the farmhouse in time for lunch.

She longed to break free and lose herself in the land stretching away from them and to follow the watercourse which occasionally oozed to the surface in spongy damp areas. She ached to smell again that strong odour of wet clay, to pick her way through the thorn scrub along half-forgotten footpaths. She needed to commune silently with her childhood. Instead, she hoisted her daughter to her shoulders and listened to her sons complain about the pepper ticks and the prickles caused by the fine hairs of the bamboo.

The early morning mist hid the valley and the mountains from view, revealing them only once the sun had warmed sufficiently to disperse it. In the front garden, the elm tree shed its delicate leaves in beautiful shades of yellow, orange, red, and brown; the sunbirds stood out clearly each afternoon as they fed on the nectar in the bright orange flowers of the spathodia tree or flitted in and out of the yellow tecomaria blooms. The rhythm of nature pulsed on, oblivious to the encroaching sorrow of the people who loved it so.

The day of the final parting was tinged with a sense of loss from the beginning, even though everyone made an effort to behave normally. It reminded her of the time her father had died – everyone being cheerful when together, but grieving quietly and alone, just as she wished to do then: quietly and alone. Her outward calm was dented further each time she passed her daughter on her way to and from packing the car. The little girl sat glumly on the step separating the lounge and dining room, her head held between her hands: the five years the farm had been part of her was a lifetime. Earlier, the boys had been determined to prove for the last time their ability to climb the swaying chain ladder leading the way to the wooden base of the tank stand so very high above the ground.

Her reserve finally broke when she set out to find her younger son, missing from the group gathered for the final farewell. He was sobbing with his face pressed against the rough stone of the rondavel wall. She pulled him away gently, not daring to speak as she guided him towards the tall syringa tree. Together they looked at the mango orchard and to the mountains beyond. He reached out to touch the rusty barbed wire fence. Memories crowded in while the tall Indian cane rustled its mournful farewells in the autumn breeze. It was time to leave.

As the car left the dusty road for the last time to join the tar, all eyes turned to the mountains. Those mountains which were always there, and yet were always changing. She saw them in her memory emerging from the early morning mist; slashed with ribbons of flame at night during the fire season; and once even mysteriously covered with snow.

Sorrow hung heavily about the family as they drove on in silence. All too soon it was time to turn away from those softly beckoning mountains and begin the long winding ascent out of the valley to the highveld beyond. Her husband looked at her tear-stained face, filled with grief at the final parting from her childhood. Acting from years of experience, he automatically slowed down at the last corner from which the receding valley could be seen below them.

She never looked back.

Note: It was in 1988 that I bid farewell to our family farm.


Look what happens when you look at old photographs … you get transported right back to your childhood and a host of memories come rushing in, blowing away the cobwebs of time … not that I date back to 1924 or thereabouts! This McCormick-Deering tractor was my eldest brother’s pride and joy for he lovingly restored it, and garaged it alongside the more modern ones my Dad used for the farm.

That is him driving it with me standing between my other brothers on our farm in the Lowveld. These tractors were manufactured by the International Harvester Company.

Several things strike me when I look at this photograph: the water tank on the high tank stand in the background was probably still fairly new then. It was filled from a borehole and provided the water we needed for the farm house. It was a real challenge to climb to the top of this tank, which had a marker to show when the water level was reaching the point when it would have to be filled again. A bulk fuel tank is in the background. A sharp eye will help you pick out the Pegasus logo of the Mobil Company stencilled on it.

The productive vegetable garden in in the background.  Here my Mother is watering the cabbage patch.

Behind her are beans – we always had a variety of fresh vegetables from that garden: tomatoes, carrots, beetroot, leeks, turnips as well as pumpkins and spinach. I loved being sent to pull carrots from the garden for a meal and rinsing them under the tap of the rainwater tank outside the kitchen. I remember the crisp snap of fresh green beans – and still prefer eating them raw so that the juice ‘explodes’ in my mouth as I bite into one. I prefer raw tomatoes for the same reason: imagine finding a shady place to sit in the Lowveld heat with several freshly picked tomatoes and a salt cellar … sheer bliss!

This must be a later photograph for here you can see two bulk fuel tanks for the farm vehicles and just glimpse one section of our farmhouse.

Looking at these pictures reminds me of the heat, the ants that scurried about on the gravel as well as the smell of diesel. It brings home to me how comforting it was to be part of such a wonderful family and how blessed we children were to have the freedom to climb trees, roam the veld and to just ‘be’.