Sunday 25 August 2013

Those Were The Days

By Joe Holmes

Here’s a little tale from my youth about the Lowveld. Looking at the photographs of the Lundi in flood brings back memories of travelling around in the lowveld with my folks in 1956 in a Morris Oxford sedan. Travel around the lowveld in those days was a leisurely affair for my old man who was keen to see all the remote corners of it, and he had four weeks leave to indulge in his passion for exploring the road less travelled. Natural wild game still abounded everywhere, and it was a memorable journey just from the wildlife that we saw every single day. I don’t think that these days on a good day In Kruger park one sees as much wildlife as we saw then just running around wild! There were six of us, four of us kids, ranging from my elder sister at eight years old to my little boet (brother) who was two, and my folks. Our trip began in Umtali, and slowly headed southwards towards the lowveld, pausing here and there and camping overnight under the tall trees on various riverbanks as we progressed. Back in those days our camping equipment did not consist of much – apiece of canvas to sleep on at night next to the car, two brightly coloured canvas deckchairs for my folks to sit on, a pump-up Coleman paraffin pressure lamp, a wooden camp-box that held kettle, tea-pot, cups plates and cutlery, the scoff-box (food box) that held the food, and a blanket each. At night my two sisters and little brother slept on the car-seats inside, and my folks and I slept outside on the canvas between a fire and the car. After all, being five years old and a boy I was nearly grown up! My dad had a trusty old Smith and Wesson .38 revolver to scare off anything that came too close at night, not that he ever fired it though as he was an old hand in the bush and knew his way around. We had driven down towards Beit Bridge along the main strip road and stopped in at the Lion and Elephant for tea one day, and after being banished from the company of the adults on the stoep we kids cleared off to play in the dry sandy river bed of the Bubi river. While there we heard a strange hissing sound coming from upstream, and wondered what it could be. A minute or two later someone from the hotel ran out shouting to us to get out of the river bed, as coming down the river was the beginnings of what would become quite a torrent of water from a flash flood after rain had fallen upstream. It actually came surprisingly slowly, swirling along a few inches deep at first, carrying all manner of debris, insects, chameleons, cow dung in its van. The hissing was the sound of the air escaping from the dry sand as the water made first contact and seeped into it expelling the hot air in the process, and within about ten minutes or so the flow going by had become deeper, probably two feet or so and the flood gained momentum quickly thereafter until it was flowing strongly a metre or so deep. But the event was surprisingly short-lived, and before we left the spot and resumed our travels the flow had already subsided noticeably and become very shallow, to the point that we could wade through it to look for exciting water-borne objects while splashing around in the mud and pools left behind.

 Later on in the trip, after having driven down to Malvernia we were following a rough track that headed back up towards the Lundi river towards a point just west of Chipinda Pools. The new road at that stage was no more than a surveyors cutline, running as straight as a die through the thick bush, and we eventually met up with the Roads Dept Surveyor and his team who had a nice camp on the banks of the Lundi river next to where the about-to-be-built low-level concrete bridge was going to be sited. In those days the Lundi was still a beautiful river, not yet choked with sand, and it flowed deeply and smoothly past the camp in a clear green swirl of water, so cool and languid in the hot dry bush.

 This caused my dad some consternation, as it was immediately obvious that the water was much too deep for our Morris to drive through, and it seemed, much to his dismay, as though we might have to retrace our steps on a long and hot and dusty drive back around where we had come from. However the surveyor, over a cup of tea in his camp, explained to my folks how one would cross, and they seemed to relax. To us kids however this was clearly an impossibility and we wondered what could be done to prevent us having to turn around. Back in those days however, kids were seen and not heard and were not allowed anywhere near where the adults were sitting under the tall riverline trees drinking tea on their canvas deck chairs, so we just played around near the river bank under the watchful eyes of the camp cook unaware of how our predicament would be solved. The cook had been detailed to make sure we stayed away from the water’s edge as the river teemed with crocs and had eaten several of the unwary cut-line gang taking ablutions in the river.

 Tea here in the bush was a relaxed affair, as all caught up on news and travel information; where to buy petrol and where the best places were up ahead to visit and so on. For the surveyor and his team news from the outside world was scarce, so the unexpected dropping in of passing travelers in this still-remote bit of old Rhodesia was a very welcome and he was eager to hear what had been going on around and about . Once this had been enjoyed and dispensed with the cook was yelled for and told to call the cut-line chopping gang. A few loud shouts in the quite of the bush soon had a horde of scruffily dressed men swarming around, dragging long stout mopane poles behind them and gathered on the water’s edge. My dad drove the Morris down to the edge of the river, and under the expert instruction of the surveyor the poles were placed crossways under the car, one tied with strong rope to the front bumper, and another to the back bumper. Now you know why cars were built so tough in those days, with strong steel bits in their appendages. My mother carried my little brother on her shoulders, my little sister on my dads, and I and my older sister were lifted onto the shoulders of two of the cut-line men.

 Then, on a cue from the cook, with a huge shout, the entire gang gripped the poles protruding out from either side of the car and bodily heaved them up to shoulder height, bearing the car aloft. We kids gasped in amazement - it had never occurred to us that mere men could pick up an entire car! The mass advanced with a number of the men flanking this phalanx of carriers either side, armed with long thin poles to strike the water loudly and scare the crocs, and our entire party set off to wade through the Lundi river. The surveyor carried a rifle and kept his beady eyes on the water from submerged saurians and we kept in very close to the back of the car where it was deemed to be the safest place. It was hugely exciting, and from our shoulder borne perches swept our gaze constantly across the water’s surface for any sight of marauding crocodiles sweeping in to the attack, but alas there were none, and we were disappointed not to see the surveyor blasting them with his rifle! But the crossing in itself was exciting enough, with our carriers soon chest deep in the water, then shoulder deep and we thought they would drop the car and drown it, much to our horror. At five years old this seemed like a most terrible calamity to potentially befall one, after all my favourite toy, a red wooden tractor was in the boot of the car, and horror of horrors it could well be lost if the car was dropped. I held onto the head of my porter with a tight grip as we crossed this deepest section in what seemed like an eternity of time and willed the carriers on.

 I would guess now on reflection that the river was probably only about a hundred metres wide, but back then it seemed like miles as we slowly made our way past big clumps of feathery phragmites reeds breaking the current in places and eventually the depth lessened to waist deep then knees then ankle, and we wriggled off our shoulder mounts to leap into the shallows and run alongside the procession yelling in joyful glee at the successful fording of the river. Once on the sand the car was put back onto terra firmer, started up and driven and pushed across the sandbank and up onto the hard ground under the trees where the track continued. We were all sopping wet so dried out in the sun for a while as the adults continued their news-swopping, then we bade our farewells to the surveyor man, climbed into the Morris once again with the Lundi crossing behind us and drove off down the winding dusty track towards Chipinda Pools and more adventure.

Morris Oxford (from Google)

What a wonderful tale. please keep your pencil sharp, and share more of your early stories with ORAFs.

Comments are always welcome, please mail them to Eddy Norris at 

(Please visit our previous posts and archives)

Ref. Rhodesia

Labels: , ,


At 25 August 2013 at 12:44 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Rex Taylor (RhAF) Writes:-

Thanks, Eddy and Joe, Those were the days! I wonder if any "modern" family of four would even think of a trip like that?
(Whilst recompiling Joe's article, I saw it all, Land Rovers, GPS, back up Hummer vehicles - the whole shooting tottie Rex.)
Yikes - all forgot, CNN,BBC and Sky would also be there telling everyone how how it should be done!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home