The Life of Carl Labuschagne

4 March 1948 – 16 September 2013

 

By Herman Labuschagne

 

Latest update: 17 February 2014

This is the story of the life of my father, who passed away a few months ago. I will be adding detail as time allows.

 

An article by my father: A Mauser in Africa

 

 

My father was born on the 4th of March 1948. He was named Carl Stephanus, after his maternal grandfather, Karel Stephanus Vermaak. He was the son of Izak Hermanus Labuschagne, a well-known Merino wool farmer, and Johanna Magdelena Vermaak. His ancestors had come to South Africa as French Huguenots in 1711. The founding ancestor had to flee his native home of Bergerac in the southwest of France when he was young, on account of bitter religious persecution. Exactly what transpired is not known, but it did turn out that as far as could be established all the Labuschagnes in the world were exterminated, except for our founding ancestor alone. From him every Labuschagne in the world descends today.

 

The Labuschagne family has always been a family of hunters and frontiersmen. They were early to leave the Cape Colony for the wild frontier beyond the Eastern Cape border. This they did in order to escape an increasingly corrupt and repressive rule of the Dutch administration. Civilization overtook them where they lived in no-mand's land, however. After that, they faced the horrors of eight border wars. All in all, the family knew practically no lasting peace or 120 years. Times must have been hard to the utter extreme. Their ancestor would have been grateful to know that after all that he had had to endure, his descendants never lost their religion. Somehow, even in the darkest hours of the wildest frontier, the Labuschagne family always remained religious, and always remained educated.

 

My father being held by his mother on their farm, Wydgelegen, between Wakkerstroom and Amersfoort. My grandfather established that farm on the open plains. Over the course of a lifetime he and my grandmother built it up to a showpiece.

 

In the wilderness boys grew up fast, and men had to learn to be heroes or perish. All of them were fighters and all of them were hunters. Hunting was in our family's blood. My father was the sixth generation born to what had once been a very wild and savage land. His two great-grandfathers were still alive. They were veterans of the First Boer War and the Eastern Transvaal native wars such as the war against Malaboch, for instance. His great-great-grandfather who had passed away not long before my father was born, had still been on the Great Trek, and must have helped to load rifles or even possibly fight at the Battle of Vegkop in 1836. His grandfathers were Second Anglo-Boer War veterans. And his father had served as an officer in the home guard during World War II. It is no surprise, therefore, that like all both this two brothers, my father's hands somehow held a gun since a very young age.

 

 

My father as a baby, together with his father, his mother and his older brother.

 

It has been a long-standing tradition in our family that each boy gets too hunt his first antelope at the age of six years. It was no different with my father. But before that - probably at the age of five - he had already made his first kill. Our family had always been extremely concerned with ethical hunting, the principles of responsible sportsmanship and conservation in general. Accordingly, there were the strictest rules about what may and what may not be shot. Killing for the sake of killing was frowned upon. The object was always to harvest what was needed. If collecting a specimen was a need, then that was acceptable. But merely shooting to see if you could hit a target was absolutely forbidden. It was logical that some species were therefore strictly off the list of shootable animals. Birds of plumage, birds of prey, and rare animals were such examples. And sunbirds definitely counted among those. My father therefore practically told me in whispered tones about his first kill at the age of five - it was a sunbird, shot with his BB gun. Knowing full well that his first act had already been the almost unpardonable sin, he then proceeded to dispose of the evidence by throwing the bird into a dense hedge where it would not be found.

 

When my father confessed this story to me, I took this as encouragement to make my own confession to me. For I too, had comitted the same shameful act with my first illigitimate trophy at approximately the same age. Only, in my case it had been a little glass-eye bird. My father didn't say much when I told him that. But he smiled in a conspiratorial manner. And so we wordlessly understood that we would keep each other's secret safe until death released onen of us of the responsibility.

 

It was a good time to be born. Our family's farming had prospered during both world wars. His father was still a young man, at the start of what was to become a very successful life, and the country was becoming stable and looking to the future after six years of war in the faraway north. My grandmother always said he was her "soete" kind - her easy one. He did not give her much trouble, except for the fact, she insisted, that had had a bit of a foul mouth as a small boy. This, my father told me, frustrated her so much that oned day she picked a switch from a privit hedge and gave him a sound hiding. Still, he was a by all accounts an easy child to raise. From early on, my father had an unusual attraction to firearms and the sport of hunting. Military matters did not interest him much. It was the thrill of the chase that mattered to him. He always had a gun in his hand. For as long as I knew him, if he left the home to do his rounds on the farm, he had a gun across his shoulder 9 1/2 times out of 10. It was part of what definted him.

 

My father as a young boy of perhaps 3 years old.

 

I heard someone ask my father once what he did for a living.

“I’m a professional hunter,” he explained.

Suddenly the other person’s face lit up.

“You’re so lucky to have such an exciting profession!” he cried.

To which my father answered without a moment’s though, ‘yeah, it beats having to work for a living…”

He had always been quick with a comeback line. 

 

My father did not have an unusually long life, but he had a lucky one. And it was a life that began with the dream of a small boy. He came from a family that enjoyed hunting as a sport and a way of life for generations. In our family, the custom has always been for a boy to shoot his first antelope at the age of six. And so it came that his father took him to the Klaserie at the age of six for his first safari. There he saw what was to him the most beautiful place in the world. Enthralled with this untamed world full of wild animals he firmly announced to his parents that his ambition was to become a "great white hunter" and to own a farm there when he grew up. His family just laughed at him. His father told him said that this was an unlikely dream because he was a sheep farmer's son, and a sheep farmer is what he will be. My father was of a different mind, however. With his little Box Brownie camera he took this picture of the mountains near Mariepskop. And he never forgot his ambition. Meanwhile the years went by. My father did become a sheep farmer like his dad. But he didn't like sheep and he didn't stay with a dream that was not his own. He chose to follow his destiny in stead.  When he was fifty years old he retired. He returned to the Elephants Valley where he had taken that picture - and bought the land he had wanted for 44 years. It was expensive, but he managed it despite all the odds. One day I realized that at the age of fifty he had quietly achieved every one of his dreams that I know of. And some were big dreams. I don’t know anyone else who can say that. He never read motivational books, or wrote down goals and mapped out strategies as we are taught in books and seminars. What he did in stead was to never lose sight of is dreams. He just kept moving persistently towards it, one small step at a time - no matter how long it took. 

 

It took some time to get there, however. First there was the matter of an education.  

His first big game safari in 1954, Portuguese East Africa. My father is the small boy on the right, posing nex to to a lioness trophy.

 

My father in the foreground as a six year old. This eland was mounted and the trophy still hangs in his study.

 

My father in the hunting field.

 

Camp in Portuguese East Africa, 1954.

 

 

The pictures my father took of the land of his dreams when he was 6 years old.

 

 

My father (left) and his brother, Leon. Posing by the Jeep is my father's best friend as a boy, Stephen Woodburn.

 

1951 – 1961 Primary School

 

For a while he attended Piet Retief primary school. But then one day something happened. On a Wednesday night in 1955, unexpectedly and completely without warning his father’s car pulled up. He had somehow had a quarrel with the headmaster and in the heat of his anger, decided that pull my father and his older brother from school. They never found out what the quarrel had been about. After this, however, the two boys were sent to the little town of Goedgegun in Swaziland, which is now called Nhlangano. It was a quaint old country town in those days with a strong colonial character. Jacaranda trees lined the red dust streets of town and turned the town into an explosion of purple when they bloomed in spring. My father was happy at Evelyn Baring School at Goedgegun. His best friend’s name was Stephen Woodburn, and the two boys seemed to have had the best of times together. He also had a teacher whom he not only admired, but grew to love. By all accounts she must have been genuinely caring person for he spoke of her for the rest of his life, and always in the kindest possible terms. She came to visit him when he was already married, so the feeling seemed to be mutual. He used to describe how when someone did something wrong, Mrs. King used to cry: “You w-i-c-k-e-d little boyyyy!”

 

My grandfather had a Zulu driver by the name of Flip who was a genuine man of character. It was often his task to fetch the boys from school on Friday afternoons. At other times my grandmother would pick them up in her blue Cortina. One day she had an accident on the gravel road home and overturned the car. Nobody got hurt, fortunately. With her she had Zulu boy named Kiewiet. Grandmother often used to say that when she had to climb out the top window as the car was lying on its side, Kiewiet was gentleman enough to avert his eyes in stead of looking up at his madam’s exposed legs on her way up. This would indeed have made an impression on Grandmother, considering what a lady she was.

 

Teachers at Evelyn Baring school, Goedgegun.

 

 

Mrs. King with her pupils at Evelyn Baring School. My father is third from the right, back row. This was approximately St. 1 in 1956.

 

My dad on his pony called Boesman.

 

I was told that he was an outstanding horeseman. Horses were part of regular farming. Our family has maintained our own distinct bloodline of the SA Boerperd since at least 1879 to date. My father told a story of how as a young lad, he was on a jackal hunt one day. They were chasing a fleet-footed jackal across a burnt plain, when his horse suddenly stepped into a hole and fell. My dad hit the ground with his face, neck and chest firest, and with arms out-spread like a landing aircraft. He skidded across the burnt grass until he came to a halt in a loud of dust. The pieces of charcoal had imbedded themselves below his skin and he was bleeding all over. When asked "are you hurt?" however, he just shook his head and ran off to go and catch his horse. The hunt had to continue. Strangely, though, I never saw my father on the back of a horse in my life. Those were adventures of his younger years. He always said that he didn't like horses much himself, and much preferred a motorbike that wouldn't run away from you, or kick and bite you or no reason.

 

1961  - 1966 High School

 

When my father finished his primary school education at Evelyn Baring, his parents decided that he should go to a private school. Accordingly he was sent to Kersney College, near Pietermaritzburg in Natal. This proved in many ways to be an unfortunate decision. He was never happy at Kersney, although somehow or other he never clearly communicated how he felt to his parents. Kersney was an extremely English-orientated school, and being one of the only two Afrikaans boys in the school, he was often given a hard time. My father told me that in those days school masters still wore black togas and certainly did not attempt to spare the rod very much. When they were given a hiding, my father said, custom demanded that they had to respond with a solemn, “thank you sir!”

 

Years later I think I managed to figure out what an impact Kersney had made on my father’s life. To his adolescent mind, even if it was only subconsciously, I suspect that it must have felt like a sophisticated form of abandonment. My father told us many times how the steam train ride to Botha’s Hill used to take two days.  Young as he was, he had to make the trip alone, with all his belongings packed into a big old school trunk with his name stencilled on the lid. This same trunk, incidentally, became my school trunk when I was first sent to boarding school in 1980. My father only came home four times a year, and he told me several times that it was very wrong because as he put it, “you become a stranger to your own parents that way.” Still, his father and mother believed it was an investment in their son’s career, and fully believed that only the best could come from sending a son to such an expensive school.

 

At his school my father became a discreet rebel. He somehow smuggled a .22 rifle into the school. In the afternoons and his friend Rory used to lie on their beds in the top floor room that they shared in the residence. With the French doors of their balcony open they used to shoot at a spot on the chimney across the courtyard. In time they succeeded in gradually shooting a hole right through the bricks in that chimney. Many years later when he took us to go and see his old school, he pointed out his room and the same chimney – still looking very much as it did during the early sixties.

 

One of the naughty things my father got into trouble for, was throwing wet toilet paper against the ceiling of the bathrooms. For this he and his friend were punished in front of the entire school. Already disenfranchised with the school system, he had moments when he apparently enjoyed irritating his school masters in unusual ways. One example was when a major conflict in Israel was announced at school assembly in the main hall one day. My father had nothing at all against Jews, but knowing that there were many Jewish boys in his school, he felt like upsetting them by shouting “Jay for the Arabs!” Again, this resulted in punishment for the naughty farm boy. During these years he also developed the habit of smoking. One day when his father came to collect him for the holidays at school, his dad said to him: “En toe seun, het jy die pyp gerook?” – or “So on, did you smoke the pipe?” In Afrikaans this expression means “did you pass the exams?” My father, by this time somewhat out of touch with Afrikaans culture, shyly replied: “Nee pa, ek het hom net saamgevat” – “no dad, I only took it along with me…”

 

My father took part in school sports and apparently displayed the same marked talent as a rugby player that his father had. My grandfather used to say that “Carl plays with his head.” He figured the game out mentally first. He was also in the school’s riflery team, and learned the skill of sailing small boats at Durban harbour during this time. He so enjoyed sailing that he ordered an entire sailing boat through mail order one day. In due course  crate full of planks and pieces arrived at the train station. These he sanded, planed, glued and screwed together until he had a very respectable sailing boat. He called his boat “The Ark.” We went sailing in it on the Heyshope dam once or twice when I was a child. He and his brother in law restored the boat the year before he died, and it is currently in good working condition again.

 

Kersney College, Standard 6, 1961. My dad is 5th from the left, back row.

 

Kersney College group photo. My father is 7th from the right, back row.

 

 

Kersney College names and signatures of my father's classmates, 1966.

 

1966 - 1968

 

After his schooling my father might have been eligible or conscription into the South African Defence Force for mandatory military training. He was not conscripted, however. He thereupon took it upon himself to join up as a volunteer. Since he always showed little interest in military matters, I somehow believed that he did not enjoy this time. A few days  before he passed away, however, I asked him about it, and he told me that he actually thoroughly enjoyed these times. He spoke of how at Kimberley the nights were so cold that when they got wet their hair used to freeze solid at night as they lay beneath the stars in their sleeping bags. He became a marksman in the army, and attainted the rank of sergeant.

 

After this he took a two year diploma in agriculture at the Potchefstroom agricultural college. This was the same college where his father had completed the same course in 1934-35. His father came from a generation where the only form of transportation that students knew was the bicycle. Accordingly, he kitted his son out with a brand new bicycle. If anyone knew my father well, they would have understood that whatever he did in life, riding the bicycle was not part of his activities. He rode the bike once and then promptly sold it. He then pooled the proceeds with his savings and bought himself a decrepit old Ford Anglia. Whilst driving down the main street of Potchefstroom one day, the carburettor fell off and rolled away. Not knowing much about engines he then set about finding a replacement carburettor at a scrap yard. There the sales attendant took him into a room that had shelves full of carburettors of every size and description.

“Which one do you need?” the salesman asked.

My father did not want to reveal his ignorance, and therefore pointed at a random carburettor and said: “That one!”

It proved to be an Opel carburettor, but fortunately, with the aid of a file to enlarge the holes for the mounting bolts he was able to not only fit it, but also make his car run again. His father was very surprised when he showed up for the holidays in his own car. Later during his college time, he somehow managed to pool more cash and one way or another, succeeded in buying a beautiful white 3.8l Mark II Jaguar. This very fast car he enjoyed driving at the highest possible speed until the cost of maintenance slowly revealed to him the sad fact that high performance cars and student budgets do not compliment one another.

 

During his college days he continued to play rugby for the college. Of these times he once told me that playing against Carletonville was always traumatic “as those guys did not have teeth, yet they bit in the scrum.” He also met my mother during this time. He first dated her older sister, and one day when he came to her home to drop his date off, he noticed the younger sister who was still a school girl at the time. I don’t know how he engineered the delicate matter of switching from one sister to the other without creating conflict, but he somehow pulled it off. When he first told his parents about her, their first question was: “What is the politics of her parents?” When he told them that they were SAPs his parents were immediately satisfied. The most important criterium had been met!

 

Starting out as a farmer

Hard but happy times on his very own first property.

My was enthusiastic about becoming a farmer. He had just finished his education at the Agricultural College in Potchefstroom and he was full of ideas and dreams. Behind him stood a history of at least 250 years of agriculturalists, and for him it was a matter of tradition, of culture and of passion to continue.

 

Unlike most other farm boys, my father did not have the gradual spin-off experience where a boy would work with his own dad until he was experienced and financially strong enough to continue on his own. In his case, he was either thrown into deep end, or jumped himself. I suspect it was a combination of both, although probably more of the latter.

 

As his first farm, he was given an old sheep property that belonged to his father. The property was called Madola. It lay in the triangular-shaped stretch of land that cuts a jagged notch out of the otherwise more or less round-shaped border line of Swaziland. This is where, during the 1800’s, a small number of farmers had their own sovereign republic, which they called “Het Nieuwe Republiek” or simply “The New Republic.” My father often told us how the property that became their republic had been bought from the Swazi king for a wagon, a span of oxen and a crate of whiskey. The New Republic did not last very long as a sovereign state, however. When finally faced with the burdens of make fiscal ends meet in such a small country, the triumvirate who comprised the entire government of the small state elected to hand it over for peaceful incorporation into the Transvaal Republic.

 

By the time my dad moved in the land had already been farmed for generations. It was a beautiful, gentle country of rolling landscapes, low- to medium-sized hills, and many streams and small rivers. The rainfall was high, the climate was mild and the soil was fertile. Everywhere, that is, besides at Madola. There was something peculiar about this property for nestled as it was, against the mountains that formed the Swaziland border, even the geology itself was of a kind that was strangely out of character with the entire district. There were beautiful clear quartz crystals in the hills and strangely-shaped minerals which had big smooth knobs that looked like suction pads on an octopus. And elsewhere there were slate deposits which also, were unheard-of in the entire region.

 

Unlike the deep red granitic soil of the surrounding area, Madola’s soil was white like chalk and exceedingly poor so that the grazing yielded little and the fields yielded even less. Nevertheless, my father was a young man who possessed that valuable combination of youth: energy and dreams. He quickly set to work.

 

One of the first things he did was to start ploughing his fields. In this he had a problem because he only had one ancient old tractor. It was a McCormack International of the vintage era where tractors did not have hydraulic lifts yet, and came with a pully next to the engine for powering belt-driven equipment. This old tractor had an interesting history. It had originally belonged to a farmer in Tanzania. When the whites were kicked out of the country it was the only thing that he could keep. He therefore drove it all the way to South Africa. There my grandfather’s neighbour near Wakkerstroom, Wim Rabe, bought it and used it for years. After that my grandfather bought it and used it. When his eldest son started farming it was given to him, and when my father started out, it was to be his first tractor. This tractor could only pull. Without lifts you could not use modern implements that had to be periodically raised. But this did not matter, because my father did not have modern implements anyway. He had two or three ancient mouldboard ox-ploughs which he drew behind the tractor. The ploughs were designed to be drawn by a team of 12 or 16 oxen, which was stronger than even this powerful old tractor was, so the going was difficult. His planter was also one of the ride-on types which dated back to the second world war or even before that. But living that near the land was a pleasure, and my father always knew that hard work was the fertilizer of dreams.

 

There was another problem, however. Having practically no money at all, my father had been forced to plant without fertilizer. When his maize crop sprouted, it soon became apparent that they just would not grow beyond knee-height. Fortunately his older brother eventually took pity on him and one day showed up with a truck load full of leftover fertilizer from his own planting. After that it went somewhat better, but there never was much of a crop on that land.

 

In the meantime my father spent his days fixing up the ancient old house that was now his. It was actually a very romantic old place. It had precious yellow wood floors and ceilings from the nearby escarpment, which lent a very stately atmosphere to the old place. There as a staircase that lead down into a sunken lounge, which had a big window that provided sweeping views. Against one wall there was an imposing fireplace built from the strange local geological specimens, and as a roof column, my dad somehow fitted an enormous blue gum tree stump. This gave the house rather an exotic look and feel which certainly must have fitted in perfectly with the alternative styles of the late 60’sand early 70’s.

 

In this reasonably big old house the young boy lived all a lone. His only companion was one old Zulu servant who lived in a hut nearby. My dad knew nothing at all about cooking, and neither did the old Zulu. But the Zulu, at least, could prepare one single dish – and that was dry maize meal porridge. And so that is what the two of them ate, three times a day. In the mornings, my dad said, they ate porridge milk and sugar. For lunch they ate milk, porridge and sugar. And for supper they ate sugar, porridge and milk. And he always insisted that that was the healthiest time of his life.

 

Meanwhile the farm continued to do poorly. But for the time being times were good and his needs were small so it did not matter that much. My dad had a pack of fox hounds and he enjoyed keeping them exercised by going jackal hunting on horseback. And besides, there was the matter of his growing relationship with the pretty young girl he’d met in Potchefstroom. He had to wait for her to finish school first, obviously, but once that happened she succeeded in obtaining a job at Barclays Bank in the nearest town of Piet Retief. That enabled him to see her more.

 

And so the time eventually came that the two of them were married. The two families immediately liked each other. Politics were big in those days and my dad often told us that when he announced his new girlfriend to his parents their first question was: “What politics do heir parents subscribe to?” When he told them they were SAPs, there were no more anxieties at all.

 

After their marriage in Potchefstroom, my mother moved into Madola as well. They always spoke happily of their times there. My dad’s other companion had been a female baboon called Jack. Jack made life interesting in many ways. She used to catch little puppies and take them high into a tree where she would fleece them for flees. When she grew bored she simply let them drop to their deaths. Or she would catch a ridge on the back of a pig while holding on to the tail as the pigs went screaming across the yard. Or she would rush into the house, rip open the old paraffin refrigerator door, scoop everything out and such an egg or two before running away before anyone could catch her.

 

My father's female pet babaoon, whose name was Jack.

 

My mother made peace with Jack and started to exercise the roll of a very young housewife. They had a battery-operated record player, and the songs they played were always lots of Neil Diamond, with ABBA, and Pussycat, the Beetles and the Rolling Stones, and sometimes – just to scare his old aunt when she came to visit – the horrible screaming of Little Richard. He was a baby boomer after all.

 

It eventually became patently clear that my parents would be making no life at all at Madola. Things turned better, though, when his grandfather finally felt sorry for him and gave him an enormously precious gift: the old family farm Wagendrift of which my father would become the fourth-generation owner. This farm was one of the jewels of the district, and contained a comfortable old house that would be warmer and more practical for raising an imminent family. And so my father gave Madola back to his dad and moved to Wagendrift.

 

The move itself was painful. Firstly, my father’s Afrikaner cattle were so mineral-starved that they ate barbed wire and stones and died. The transition from poor to rich grazing was also too quick for their constitution and so more of them died. Still, it was the start of what would become exceedingly good times in the near future.

My father's first home, c. 1969 where he lived alone as a young man before he got married to my mother. This was on the farm Madola in the Little Free State, against the border of Swaziland, Piet Retief district.

 

My parents on their wedding day.

His grandfather later gave him the family farm, Wagendrift, where I grew up. This was how the house looked until 1979. The house had been built by my great-great grandfather as a winter home in the warmer middle veld.

Farming at Wagendrift

Life became very good when my father moved to Wagendrift. Every district had a few choice farms - Wagendrift was one of them. Its history was interesting. There were no indications of stone age settlements on Wagendrift. There were, however, a large number of very unusual stone circles on the farm which could often only be seen clearly on aerial photographs. These were clearly the remains of ancient stockades and settlements of a people long vanished. Our Zulus shrugged when we asked them and declared that these structurers were there before their history started. Zulus don't build with stone, they said. It appeared to us that these might have been settlements of the peoples who can be identified with today's north-Sothos. Whatever the case, by the time that that our ancestors settled there the land was uninhabited.

On older maps it was always noticeable that there was a long, thin sliver of the Transvaal province that sliced in-between the southern hills of Swaziland and the northern valleys of Zululand, which of which the Pongola river was the boundary. This, anciently, was no-man's land. Whether by agreement or whether incidentally so is not clear, but since times immemorial this had been a buffer zone between the Swazils and the Zulus. Whoever lingered here did so at the risk of their lives, and whoever passed here only did so to raid cattle or make war.

I am standing in front of my great-great-great grandfather's summer house, which is where we lived until I was about 8 years old. There was freedom in those days. Not only could you get by without having to wear pants if you didn't feel like it, but life just felt simple and uncomplicated. People worked, but not like slaves. Nobody I knew had any idea what it was like to go hungry. People laughed a lot on those days.

My father told me many times what his own grandfather had originally told him about the time when he discovered the beautiful valley that was to become our home. His name was George Augustus Kolbe, and he was the grandson of the founding ancestor of the Kolbes who came to South Africa in 1820. Grandpa George said when he came to Wagendrift the tamboekie grass was so high that it came to he brim of a man's hat when seated on a horse. This seems unthinkable today, unless one understands that the veld type is what is known as a "fire disclamax" - in other words, a composition of pasture which requires periodic burning to be healthy. When pasture is not burnt for very long periods of time, as is the case in the absence of human settlement, tamboekie grass becomes dominant. This is a grass which is unpalatable to game and domestic animals, except in the young stages after veld fires.

To this land, George Kolbe came when it was still new. He immediately recognized the region's potential on account of its limitless water supplies, fertile soil and almost uniquely mild climate. My grandmother, in turn, described to me how he went home and told his friend who would later become his son's father-in-law, "Izak, I have found us some splendid winter grazing. You have to come and get some for yourself." It would appear that the two families chose the central part of the Wagendrift valley and more or less divided it in two amongst themselves. I think they must have used it as winter grazing for a long time before they formally bought the land from whoever the first registered owner was.

Wagendrift bordered on a farm that belonged to the government of the Transvaal Republic. On the banks of the White River, which formed the backbone of the entire valley, there were some hot mineral springs. "Warmbad" or "Warm bath" as it was known, was very famous in those days for its therapeutic qualities. President Paul Kruger himself used to come to this pleasant spot to soak himself in the 37 degree C water and soothe his arthritis. It was widely known that the water was indeed, astonishingly effective in soothing athritis and also skin wounds that would not heal. Wounds obtained outside the water healed extremely rapidly when soaked in the sulphur-laden baths, but wounds obtained inside them were slow to heal. Over time, many families built their own holiday cottages at Warmbath and it was said that in peak season as many as 300 people would be camping there. Our two families, naturally, also had cottages there. The Labuschgne cottage was, as I was told, the biggest one, first on the right as you entered the grounds.

My sister, my dad and I on the patio at Wagendrift. The old house is well over a century old now.

Wagendrift was unusual in several ways. The climate as so mild that you could pick mangoes, bananas and peaches from the same garden on the same day. Our family made a conscious point of always selecting farms which contained large reed marshes or "vleis," and farms that had some mountainous parts which were the primary water catchment areas. The result of this was that we were never dependent on upstream water usage of neighours. The vleis were unique grazing spots which were valuable as reserves during drought. On the whole, we were never effected by droughts at all. Not one significant fountain ever stopped delivering and not one stream ever dried up on Wagendrift. Even in 1983/4 which were record drought years for the entire country, when for the first time in human memory, boreholes dried up across the district and water had to be tanked in to cattle stations, I rememer my father telling me that we have had our best year ever.

The area was famous for supposedly having the second highest lightning activity in the world. Winders were dry and balmy, but summers were sub-tropical. It was very typical to regularly have 1 - 3 severe thunder storms every day, except for a short mid-summer drought period around mid-December/January. The lightning was so harsh sometimes that it would strike the threes around our house so that you could clearly smell the fumes of the strike.

My great-grandfather Kolbe built himself a house on Wagendrift, while my great-grandfather Labuschagne first inhabited the old settler's cottage (which still exists on Mattis Bodenstein's land) on White River at the other end. Later he built a bigger house near the main road, which has now disappeared completely. The Kolbe house on Wagendrift was built with raw bricks on dressed stone of a kind which we called black granite. My father used to joke that it is so hard that you could not shoot through a wall even with a tank. This old house became the home of my father and mother when they moved to Wagendrift.

People always said it was a happy home. You could feel it. It was light and airy, and the rooms were sunny. From the front veranda you could see across the valley towards White River and the old waggon road which snaked down the long incline towards the bridge. From the back veranda you looked out upon the old Wagendrift mountain that frowned down only a mile or so away. The house never had electricity, but my great-grandmother did buy my father a good Lister generator which served the home very well indeed and for all I know is probably still standing there, ready to be cranked.

My father was ahead of his time in many ways, and the older I became, the more I realized it. As is frequently the case with men who are forward thinking, that also meant that he was often misunderstood. For one thing, he told me that during the very early years, he once declared at the local farmer's union meeting that the Nguni cattle race would be a race of the future. He said all the proud cattle breeders laughed him to scorn that day. And yet, today the Nguni race is very highly tought of and carries very considerable presitage value, let alone commercial value.

My father and I at Wagendrift. I was a happy child because I lived in a happy home.

In those days, organic farming was also relatively unknown to many farmers. It was sometimes considered to be an exotic fad that had vaguely blown over from America. But it was not a fad to my father. It was something he really believed in. At the time he corresponded with Ambassador College's Brickett Wood campus in England, and became very inspired to implement the principles of wholistic farming. Unfortunately, as he often told me in later years, it was too soon. The world was not quite ready yet and the necessary knowledge and technology that was required for farming conditions where were lived was not fully available. His experiments were met with partial success and partial disaster.

He began by building dams that were gravity fed. In time he made sure that every house and every drinking point and dam was gravity fed. Nothing was pumped. You simply opened a valve and the sprayers started working. The dams he converted to fish farms, only to find that while he could produce pickup-loads of the most succulent tilapia and bass with their superior taste in our clean water - nobody would buy them. People were accustomed to ocean fish only. Fresh water fish was what little boys caught in their spare time and obtained for free. Still, he maintained an interest in fish which he never lost. Ever since he was a little boy, when the family went to a restaurant and asked what he wanted, he would answer, "fish." Shortly before he died, he still mentioned to me that he hoped to visit the Sea Gypsey restaurant in Mosselbay with me once more - to enjoy some east cost sole.

Organic farming seemed more successful with this maize and wheat crops. I remember him raising maize plants that grew stupendously high with cobs that were unusually large.  I remember this year or the year after, he ordered some new wonder fertilizer of marine origin. It arrived in big glass jars containing something that looked like thin avocado paste. It had to be diluted and then sprayed onto the maize plants as a foliar feed. Perhaps my dad didn't read the instructions closely enough or maybe the stuff was just wrong. Whatever the cause, the rows that he sprayed all turned black as night and died. He never tried foliar feeding again after that experiment.

I was was only a wee lad of perhaps five or so when this photo was taken. I remember it well, however. I think it was the last or second last year that my father planted maize. The crop grew fantastically well that year, as can be seen by the length of the plants, compared to my mother. We still did things the old-fashioned way back then. The maize cobs were harvested by hand and stuffed into hessian bags, which were then taken to the old "SA Wonder" threshing machine, which was powered by a pully on the side of our old McCormack International B6 tractor. The maize was then bagged again and loaded onto my dad's old c. 1940/50's Chevrolet truck. He loaded it high and then drove slowly to the silos near Moolman where the bags were inspected and the batch was weighed in. There was no end to that old truck. It only had three gears that would make a sing-song sound as you geared up and down, and changed with healthy grate every time. Something was lost to farming when machines started making everything happen so fast.

My mother holding my very young little sister next to dad's maize crop.

Unfortunately crop farming did not treat my father so well in the long run. We have very good lands but even though our family cultivated crops on a meaningful scale, we had always been primarily livestock farmers. Crops were there to feed animals. Our land was best-suited for livestock farming, and the cultivatable protions were just not big enough to be truly sustainable. My father learned four hard lessons in quick succession. Firstly he planted a crop of peas which yielded with overwhelming abundance. When he sent the harvest off to the market, 400km distant, a note returned to inform him that the prices were down and they had to dispose of is stock. In stead of receiving a cheque he received a small bill to pay for market costs. He produced a bumper crop and made a nett loss. That broke his heart for a while, but not his spirit.

He started concentrating more on maize. He was still using that old McCormack Internationa tractor which already had the life worked out of it, plus a small Ferguson tractor that wasn't strong enough for breaking ground. He needed something bigger. When he applied for a loan from the bank to buy a new Landini tractor the bank manager shook his hands. Not enough hectacres, the bank declared, to justify the purchase. My dad was disappointed, but not defeated. He used his old tractor and planted his fields. That year was a drought year and when what he could harvest was brought in, he had hardly covered costs.

He also grew weat one or two seasons. I still remember how glad the birds of the heavens were that finally one lone farmer had decided to create a feeding spot for them. My dad shot at them, put op scare crows, paid a genuinely mad old Zulu to scare birds full time, and still they robbed him of the best of his profits. I remember, though, when my uncle sent his beautiful big new combine harvester and my dad let me ride with him during the harvest. The wheat rolled in like dunes of gold, and riding high on that beautiful International Harvester, I felt like king of the world. I think my dad did too. I don't know if he made any money on that harvest, but I think so. Enough to go on, at least.

At this point he realized that the land disctates what kind of farming should be practiced. Livestock farming had made our family very successful for generations, and my grandfather had always said that my father had the "gift" when it came to livestock. It wasn't his first choice, but it wasn't a bad second choice either.

Afrikaner cattler is a very old cattle race that dates back to the earliest settler times. In 1895/6 the runderpest epedemic almost wiped out the country's stock, so that only small isolated herds were left. Fortunately a few patriotic breeders kept these herds pure and gradually built up their numbers again. These were the animals that built South Africa, drawing ox waggons without number across mountains, deserts and valleys. My family also farmed with red Afrikaners. My father later switched to Bonsmaras and Simmentallers, but when I was little he still had his beautiful Afrikaner herd with their long, sweeping horns. Afrikaner cattle produce good beef and the cows make excellent mothers that will defend their calves aggressively.

An Afrikaner bull - beautiful sweeping horns and powerful as a draught animal, yet relatively peacable to work with if they are kept tame. Let them go wild, though, and you have a ferocious beast that will chase you and help you discover you easy it is to clear barbed wire fences without evening wondering whether you can make it or not.

Cattle farming treated my father well. He had a way with animals, which showed. He had a way with the people who worked for him and that also showed. The Zulus who worked for us had been in our employ since the time of my great-grandfather when he allowed them to stay on our land on account of being refugees from the tribal wars. Zulus planted crops, but first and foremost, they had always been herdsmen. And so a natural balance was achieved that worked well. This was the time when my father started making money. Life had never been hard. We simply hadn't had cash. I never heard my parents complain about money, though, and although we had to go without many nice things, I did not have the sense to know that it was because we could not afford them. I thought we lived like the kings of the world - and today I firmly believe that we did. Those were the happiest years we ever knew.

You can take it from someone who knows that farming is a nice way to live in most ways, but it only becomes a real pleasure when it is profitable. For once we were able to go on holiday and stay in nice hotels. And when my parents saw nice things they were able to buy them. We weren't wealthy, but at least it felt like it for a while.

Catching cattle always used to be a team job: When the animals are old enough they have to be roped and brought down so that they could be dehorned, castrated and branded. There were often major laughs during such episodes. Typically when a bullock ran away and dragged a man by the rope through a big pile of fresh cow dung. Many a farmer limped home after such a day with bruise on the shin, the size of a soup bowl.

In Zululand my father had a cattle farm called Verlies ("The Loss") which he had to visit every Wednesday to work with the animals and get them de-horned, branded, dosed, or weaned. At Verlies there was no house, only a tin shack. Verlies wasn't far from our home as the crow flies, but there were only two bridges across the Pongola river and to cross one had to make a very long circuit. I'd guess at least an hour and a half's drive. Every Wednesday he went down to Verlies to work with the cattle, and he often stayed over in the shack. When we joined him, it was my task to fetch water. I was just a young boy, and to tap water at a fountain down the hill and carry it back in a 20l plastic container was hard work. I jealously watched how water was utilized in camp.

In this stockade, a big ox broke out one day. As he ran out into the longish grash a very big black mamba struck him on the neck. It must have struck a significant vein for the ox did not run too many paces before it hit the ground in a cloud of dust. There it lay thrashing for a while until its eyezed glazed over, stone dead. As I recall we lost cattle to snake bite on that farm every where. Up in the mountains, on the other hand, we lost a few to lighting strike every year too. Farming has its losses.

After a while my father started speculating with cattle. He would buy some, keep them for a while until they had gained enough mass, and would then try to sell them at a price peak. In this he was quite successful. But then one day disaster struck. He unknowingly bought a herd of stolen cattle. It wasn't a shady deal with native cattle. It was, in stead, a solid-looking purchase from a reputable-looking businessman. But one day the politice showed up and presented him with papers, proving the cattle's real ownership. At this, he lost his herd and never succeeded in recovering his money. As I recall it was R30,000 which in those days was a great deal of money. I never asked my father about it outright, but small as I was, I can still remember his body language and his expression. I think he felt to some extent that his faith in humanity had been betrayed. From that day onwards he never speculated with cattle again - and it was as if from that moment on, he lost his heart for cattle farming in general. He was already turning his gaze towards his original dream, and perhaps this incident just helped him to make his decision faster.

Around 1979 and 1980 my father's grandfather and also his own father died in fairly rapid succession. Their combine holdings were vast, and unwinding their estates proved to be a protracted and severely traumatic affair. My father was a tough person on the outside, but he always had a more gentle soul and a more tender heart that most. The experience must have shaken him more than any of us realized. I didn't understand it at the time, but even I could notice that he withdrew from his community to some extent, and started building a more private live that was orientated primariliy towards his immediately family.

This was the time when he started the process of slowly winding down his cattle and sheep farming. He had waited long enough. It would be a risk, but he was a man who had never been afraid of taking a calculated risk if circumstances demanded that.

Converting to game ranching

Even though my father still enjoyed conventional farming, he never let go of his ambition to make a career out of hunting. He gradually started converted from livestock farming to game farming. Those were the early days of the 1970’s and early 80’s when very little was known about game farming and the capture and handling of wildlife. Most of the knowledge that was available came from the Natal Parks Board. However, it was a never-ending struggle against officialdom to get a game farm established in those days. The Transvaal authorities, in particular, were often exceedingly unhelpful and indeed often went out of their way to obstruct his efforts. They were, in some instances, downright rude and hostile to his ambitions.

 

Every three years we captured game to sell live. One or two years we used the Natal Parks Board, and they were always very professional and effective.

 

 

We tried many different methods of game capturing, including darting with tranquilizers, driving animals into nets by means of motorbike and vehicle and horse and on foot, but helicopters still worked best. One pilot was in a class of his own. In stead of driving animals wildly into the funnels with swooping dives and howling siren, Jerry du Plessis guided them so gently that they were often inside before they even knew they were being herded. This incredible man was an artist with a helicopter. He used to be a pilot in the South African Airforce. During the Falkland War he flew for the Argentinians. Since they lacked proper equipment to engage British warships, he had to fly over British military vessels while a companion shoveled bombs out the door. Jerry was the only man I ever knew who would land his chopper directly on it's transport trailer. First one corner of his skids, and then gently he would lower the rest without a bump or a jolt. Sadly this good man died during a game capturing job near Pongola when he did not see the power lines.

 

As a boy I can remember my father often engaged in lengthy correspondence with the authorities who themselves did not always know much. For instance, his application for permits to re-introduce blue wildebeest was stubbornly denied on the grounds that they did not suit the habitant and “would all die out.” My father’s persistence eventually carried the day and blue wildebeest became the most successful specie out of the 17 hunting species that he carried.

 

Still, a lot of knowledge had to be obtained by trial and error – and the error part was significant. In the early days he had to devise ways of weaving his own game capturing nets as the commercial product was either unavailable or too expensive. Similarly, game fencing had to be laboriously woven by hand. And losses were substantial. The very first animal to be re-introduced was impala – and they slipped through the fences as soon as they were off-loaded. When a few of them were captured, they were carried upside-down and died as a consequence.

 

A consignment of reedbuck came from False Bay, more or less dead upon arrival. The first four rhino were off-loaded and one pregnant cow did within a week. A big consignment of red hartebeest was off-loaded at the start of an unseasonable cold spell with driving rain, in which half of them died. And in-between there were endless experiments with trapping methods, darting and tranquilizer doses.

 

This picture is from the very early years, probably around 1981 or 82, with a good trophy common reedbuck that my father had to shoot for some reason.

 

Still, those times were years of constant adventure and never ending learning. My father seemed genuinely happy. He sold some of the land that he had inherited and used the money to build his game farming operation up. In those years pre-woven game fencing did not exist. He had to replace all the fences on his properties with higher poles, and then weave all the wire squares by hand. The old Zulus who worked for us worked so hard at this, yet they all seemed to be happy and excited. They did not fully understand what was being done, but they enjoyed the newness of it all - and they were hunters by way of long-standing tradition. If this all meant more hunting, then they were delighted.

 

We also had to do a lot of our own game capturing. Many species had become extinct in our area over the years and had to be re-introduced. Game capture nets were hard to obtain and hugely expensive, so my father devised a method of weaving his own nets. He then boldly set out to capture what he could. Sometimes things did not work out as planned and there were expensive losses. Most of the time, however, it was well worth the effort.

 

For some strange reason, my father had never shot a kudu before until he bagged this one on his cattle farm, Verlies, in Zululand. I was probably 12 years old at the time.

 

Not long after we received our first white rhino, my father's older brother phoned him - evidently in much distress. He said he had just been informed that the rhino had broken out and had gone down the valley to demolish the German neighbours' cabbage fields. He said the Germans were furious and that they had announced they would be suing him for damages. My father had already been so anxious about the unfamiliar project. And there was the cost. He had paid R4,000 for them, and it was a loss that he would find hard to recover. This news on top of all the other worries really shook him. And then my uncle phoned back later to tell him it had all just been a joke. My father was not amused. The fingers of his biological clock had been advanced by five minutes, and he was sure to repay his brother for the fright that he had been given. And that's a story that I will tell a little later on.

Life as a professional hunter

Professional hunting, as a profession, was hardly a profession at all in the South Africa of those years. I don't know when the first rules were actually formalized but it must have been around that time. What rules there weren't written down, it appeared the officials made up as they went along. Nobody seemed entirely sure of how the system was going to work, but for now the important thing was that all professional hunters that operated international safaris had to become registered. That meant hitting the books and learning.

My dad had always been a bit of a lazy scholar, but he had a gifted mind. He absorbed knowledge quickly, and when it was knowledge that appealed to him in any event, he absorbed it very readily indeed. I remember him swotting up books containing the names of grasses and trees, books about animals and anatomy, books about rifles and ballistics - and most of all - an ugly green book that was the bible containing South Africa's game laws. There were theoretical tests and then there were practical tests. As I recall he had to shoot a blesbuck on his own land, with a nature conservation official in attendance. It all went well and he was awareded his registration with compliments on how well he had scored, and a note which said that the only area where he might have done better, was on the matter of the botanical names of plants. I smiled when I heard that. My dad and Latin? I could have predicted it.

My father and Cal Tiption in the Zambezi Valley, 1983.

The first step was to attend an international hunting convention to obtain some clients. These were sanction years and South Africans were not particularly welcome around the world. And nobody in the family had ever been to America before, so this turned out to be quite an adventure. The Safari Club International convenation that year was held in Las Vegas. There he and my mother set p a booth and soon signed up their first clients.

My father could not have asked for a more pleasant introductioin into the safari busienss. The very first to arrive was a man who would play a hugely important part in our lives and who would, in fact, come to be one of the family so to speak. Cal and Aurdyce Tipton were two of the nicest people we would ever have the honour of knowing. Cal would ultimately hunt with my father for 27 consecutive years - sometimes more than once per year. He became my father's best friend, his mentor and one of those hunting companions that many men would never be privileged to have an an entire lifetime. They hit it off right from the start.

His second set of clients were a couple that woudl equally become lifelong friends. Jim and Sharlene Bell - owner of the very well known BELL factory, or Brass Extrusion Laboratories Limited, was an American manufacturer of ammunition, as he continues to be to this day. But first and foremost, he was a gentleman of the first order, and Sharlene was a lady that exhibited a rare sense of nobility.

After those two safaris my father must have known that he had made the right choice in life. From then on, he had a career that was built out of years and years of adventure. Somehow, I never knew him down on safari. The hunting field was his world. That was where he belonged. That's where you saw him smile most of all.

As a host, I knew my father to be a true gentleman in every way. Over the years I have known, and accompanied very many professional hunters. I often found it discomforting that so many of them may have been skilled at killing animals, but they were certainly limited in their abilities to deal with sophisticated people. In some cases, it shocked me to see how mere youngsters talked to men clients that were vastly older and more accomplished than they, or simply know very little about the world beyond a campfire. My father also remarked on this and on a few occasions expressed to me his astonishment at how professional hunters would take out men who were bankers and millionaires - men of refined taste who had seen the world and understood its complexities - yet were so ignorant and so lacking in social graces.

People appreciated the sense of refinement that my father had. He was an engaging host that could speak all night about politics and world affairs, who held well-thought out views about the economy and history, and who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of plants, animals, rifles, ballistics and the hunting world. My father was a man who did not tolerate silliness in children. But he as also someone who did not deny them the opportunity of contributing to advanced conversation if they would make an effort to say something intelligent. My memories are filled to the bring of many winter nights around the campfire, or around the dinner table, or in front of the fireplace in the trophy room, listening to my dad's conversations. I only realize it now, in writing this, how utterly absorbed I must have been in the stories that he told and and the conversations that passed. Unbeknown to me this would turn out to be a major chapter in my education and development as a child. My father demanded absolute respect and dignified conduct, so I had to learn to listen much and speak little. And when I spoke, I had to carefully plan what I was going to say and then try to deliver it in a compelling manner which would result in men who were beyond my class by far, to pause and listen for a minute. I am grateful for that experience for it has served me well in business and in life for the rest of my years.

In the hunting field, of course, my father excelled. There was many a time when we went out with hunters whom we knew to be unreliable shots. In most cases, when it came to dangerous game, they asked my father to be a backup shot. There really is such a thing as buck fever, and I have seen even old and experienced hunters who have hunted around the world suddenly be gripped by it in Africa. Strangely, I never doubted my father's ability to be a deadly shot that would eliminate all possibility of things going wrong. And indeed, my faith in him was more than adequately borne out. There were many incidents where he provided the killing shot - and sometimes the only shot - that brought a big game animal down. He did have the social grace, however, to always stand back and let the hunter either believe, or claim, that the successful shot had been his. It was a silent agreement that existed between men in such a situation and I'm sure it happens far more than is ever admitted to in the safari world. But it also did not matter that much. Hunting is a shared experience, and in the end it is a combined effort. It is a game of skill and chance, an endeavour that requires courage and opportunity to be present in varying quantities. And besides all of that, my father and I always agreed that hunting is a spritual experience. It is more than simply slaying some beast that was minding its own business in nature. It is part of a deeply-engrained sense of heritage in man - an expression of a culture that is as old as mankind itself.

My father always held the strongest of ethics about hunting.

 

My father with his friend, Danie Brink. This was probably at Vatnikaki near Hoedspruit.

 

Tigerfishing in the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe.

My father had his khaki hunting shirts tailored to his exact specifications. The cartridge loops were specifically made to hold cartridges for his big bore rifles. This was especially valuable when having to reload a double rifle fast.  c. 1980.

My father with his friend of many years, Roy Slabber.

Posing with a blesbuck ram at Wagendrift.

Zambezi Valley, "D Camp" 1990 - Carl Labuschagne and his friend of many years, Cal Tipton. I think I took this photo. 

My father always seemed to have a rifle in his hands. He had soft, small hands for a man, unlike one would have expected. Even when he worked hard, his hands were always soft and they did not grow hard and scaly with age as it the case with many men. His hands were not the hands of a farmer. They were the hands of a hunter. Hands that were made to hold a weapon, and hands that required the companionship of a good steady eye at all times.

There comes a moment in many big projects when you sometimes have to stand back and say, "OK guys, I think we need to call for help." Ever tried loading a full-grown buffalo onto a pickup with 5 men and a boy? It can be done. But with some difficulty.

What professional hunters do during idle moments - Boney M on a walkman while cleaning the rifle. That little green trunk on the floor housed rifle spares and bits and bobs. It belonged to my grandpa and then to my dad and went on every hunting trip that I can remember. 

A very tense moment in about 1983 - hunting elephant in the Zambezi valley. One shift of the wind and you might be trampled into the ancient dust like a butter pad below the foot of a professional wrestler. 

These pics are of my dad's best friend, Cal Tipton, when they were on a safari together in Botswana. The bow and arrows are genuine Bushmen items from the Kalahari and the shell is of a giant land snail from behind my house.

The annual bird shoots were part of our family culture. Once or twice every winter our friends would come from all over the country, Mr. Bartholomew and Mr. Demont were regulars. Sometimes Dr. McCarthy, Petri Burger and John Carter. We'd sweep the fields and each night prepare a king's feast with the bag. There never lived any happier gun dogs than these. 

 

 

My father the gun collector and master stock maker

I heard that my father used to be known for a while as the last professional hunter who still used a .577 Holland and Holland nitro express double rifle as a working gun in his career. He had a lifelong passion for British big game rifles - especially double rifles. His passion for double rifles was specifically inspired by the books of John "Pondoro" Taylor, which he devoured as a boy. Taylor, more than any other of the famous old great white hunters was his roll model and inspiration. His second most favourite was probably Karamojo Bell.

 

My father spent much of his time during his latter years, making miniature rifles out of African hardwoods.

 

Scale replica miniature rifle, usually made out of tamboti, red ivory, French or Turkish wallnut, combretum ("rooibos"), and ebony.

 

 

 

My father built this shotgun from scratch. The barrel had been sawn off shorter than the fore-end by someone who then gave it away. It lay on a shelf in a shed on our farm for years until my father decided to restore it. He had new barrels fitted by Danie Joubert in Pretoria, and made a brand new wallnut stock from a block of virgin wood. He also made the accessories and fitted them with handles from bushveld hardwood. The case is not original.

 

Some of his customized rifles. The engraving and gold inlay work was done by Armin Winckler in Paarl. My father made all the stocks.

 

Various objects that my father made. The lion claws were from some old family trophies plus some of his own. The large tooth is of unknown original. It had always been part of a collection of memorabilia that we had in a box that came from our ancestors. It was believed to be a huge lion's tooth, but I later wondered whether it could be a whale tooth. The blade was made by Paul Kenning from a bearing of a Soviet tank that was captured during the Six Day War. The screw driver set was made with ivory and ebony handles and the oil bottle and snap caps, as far as I know, are from Holland & Holland in England. The display cases were made by Keith Hobbs.

 

Small guns or small people. My dad loved it when little children handled these objects of art and were thrilled by them. Many people asked him to buy some of his miniature guns. He always said: "Would you sell your children? No? Well I won't sell my guns either." He actually did sell a small number of them, but only to people who for whatever reason, he really felt like selling them to. It was never for the money as money couldn't purchase he number of hours that went into each one. He also gave away two or three. I suspect that in time they will become treasured collector's items. I remember that the widely-known firearms expert, Dr. Lucas Potgieter, was one of the few who asked my dad to buy one and who eventually got one. The last one he gave away was a miniature Martini-Henry which he promised to his neighbour and good friend, Wynand Brits. A few days he died he took me into his study and told me that when he dies, that rifle must go to Wynand. He knew he was going to die but he gave no other last instructions. Only this one about the Martini-Henry.

 

 

My dad inherited a set of ivory tusks when his neighbour passed away. It came from an elephant that died upon the river bank in front of the neighbour's house one day. The ivory was subsequently legally registered and numbered. For some reason or other, transferring ownership to my dad's name presented some bureaucratic nightmare. Finally my dad asked the official involved whether all the drama would be required if the tusks were cut up? The official said "no." In that case, no further paperwork would be required. My dad went home and solved the bureaucrat's problem my turning the tusks into useful objects. He replaced the revolver grip on his .38 special and fitted a handle to this Damascus steel tanto. The blade still has to be acid-etched again to bring out the Damascus steel's beautiful patterns.

 

 

Doing the chequering on the grip of a miniature rifle. I remember when he first started teaching himself the art of chequering. It was approximately 1980/81 and he debated with himself endlessly on how the minute lines should be laid out so that each could be laboriously filed out with a micro file so that they made a flawless diamond pattern. He later become so good at it that it was practically second nature.

 

My father's sense of humour

 

My father had a really good sense of humour. It came down the family, I suppose. Both sides of his family enjoyed sharing a good joke, and delighted in seeking out the lighter side of life. That was something people often used to remark about when they spoke about my father to me, saying, "your father is such a funny man."

 

He was not so much a teller of jokes, as he was an occasional actor or prankster - even if it slightly offended overly sensible souls. I have already shared how he had upset his entire school by shouting "yay for the Arabs," which did not go down so well. On the farm too, he could be funny. In the army, I was told, he once soaked porous rocks in water and then buried them beneath a cooking fire. At a certain point the rocks, of course, exploded - scattering the cooking fire into all directions and sending his fellow-soldiers to wherever they could take cover against the attack. Later, on his father's farm, he buried what we called a "thunder flash" or shock grenade, beneath the cooking fire of the farm labourers. As far as I know nobody was inside when it eventually went off. The damage was exceedingly significant, though. Of the very cast-iron three-legged pot of porridge on the fire, no porridge and only a few pieces could of the pot could be found. The cooking shack itself - made out of corrugated iron sheets was also blown apart.

 

He always used to joke with his labourers, and they loved him for it. One old Zulu by the name of Jeremiah had long, very pointed whiskers, which my father often used to tug with a joke or two. Jeremiah never failed to beam at this attention. One day they were making fire breaks and Jeremiah came to work badly hung over. It often happened that small animals would scurry before the approaching fire. On this occasion a legless lizard came past my dad, who then proceeded scoop it up and hide it behind his back. Legless lizards are basically snakes with only one set of diminutive hind legs which fulfil no purpose at all. At a casual glance nobody would ever thing that they are not real snakes. In this case all the labourers were piled on the back of his four wheel drive Toyota with a cattle frame on top. They were densely-packed and Jeremiah was leaning against the frame at the side. As he passed, my dad casually dropped something into the pocket of Jeremiah's old khaki jacket.

"Nangu ipansela," (here's a gift for you) he smiled before pretending to open the door to the cabin.

Jeremiah, of course, felt inside his pocket and immediately recognized the shape and cold body of a live snake. At this he recoiled and made a fist, the bulge of which promptly prevented him from extracting his hand. His yells and screams were echoing across the landscape as he danced in horror before leaping across the grid and landing on the ground in a cloud of dust. If you know anything about the Zulu sense of humour, you would know already that this kind of practical joke is their most favourite sort. His fellow-workers were screeching with laughter. As for Jeremiah, my dad said when he finally got the snake out of his pocket and stood before his howling audience, he was white as a sheet and stone cold sober.

 

Another time my dad and his team were skinning some animals on the farm. The work continued in its boringly routine manner until my father suddenly took it into his head to make everybody laugh. There was at the time, working for him a fairly dim-witted young Zulu was had a nice enough nature, but who was really a lamp without a wick. The wind was blowing that day. All of a sudden my dad leap up, grabbed an old hessian bag that was lying on the ground and shoved it into the boy's hands.

"Quickly! Quickly! he cried. Run to where the wind is coming from and plug the hole! Quickly now, run, run, RUN!"

Much alarmed at this sudden drama, the lad grabbed hold of the bag and dashed off madly into the direction my dad was pointing. He ran or a few steps more and then gradually slowed down before looking across his shoulder. At that moment the entire group burst out with helpless laughter. In these ways, he always succeeded in bringing a smile into a day.

 

In sophisticated company he could be just as humorous. During quiet times we often had meat hunters who were, in many cases, a different breed to the polished and sophisticated trophy hunters. My father often shrunk before the chore of having to guide meat hunters who did not understand hunting ethics, who bragged a lot and drank too much - and somehow had the habit of often making the same kind of jokes that were in bad taste. One of them invariably arose whenever they saw our white rhino in the hunting field.

One day exactly this happened and a young man said to him: "Oom, what would happen if I accidentally shot one of your rhino?"

To which my dad replied: "One day your grandchildren will ask of you - 'grandpa why are you such a poor man?' You will then be able to answer them and say: 'You know, once upon a time, many years ago, I hunted with a guy who had a white rhino that I had an accident with...'"

 

He experienced many very funny accidents in the hunting field, of course. There was one time when he was hunting with a very successful American businessman at Mkuze Falls near Pongola. Understandably so, I'll refrain from mentioning the hunter's name. He was a most affable man, however, and one of the most entertaining guests we ever had. They were after white rhino that day, and the hunter was in a particularly jovial frame of mind. He kept on telling jokes and making such a noise that my exasperated dad found it impossible to get near the animals. Eventually, after much trouble, he finally succeeded in getting his hunting party to within shooting distance. The hunter lifted his exceedingly fine Holland & Holland double rifle and took aim. Everybody held their breath. The barrel wobbled slightly. "Now! Take the shot now!" my father hissed beneath this breath. But there was no shot. The shooter held his aim for just a minute longer - and then came the explosive report. Not the shot from his rifle, though. It was, in stead, the loudest burst of flatulence since the Tyrannous rex became extinct. It was so loud that the entire heard of rhino heard it and went tearing off into the distance.

 

In front of him the hunter was beside himself with laughter. The humour of the incident far exceeded the please he would have had from shooting his quarry. My father said he felt exasperated. When he looked about him he saw the rhinos running across the ridge in one direction, and a whole range of animals leaving the valley in the opposite direction. His client did get a very fine rhino trophy in the end, but only after much hard work. I can still hear my father announcing one day: "I was ready to start the day and what does he say to me? 'Auw man do we have to go? Can't we just stay here and tell more jokes...!'"

 

As my father grew older and his health declined, he acquired a more ironic sense of humour. I often thought that he had adopted an attitude of: "I'm going to die anyway so whatcha gonna do? Shoot me or sue me?'" One of his pet peeves was telemarketers. They would call, and then he would speak in Zulu. They would beg him to speak English and he would refuse. And that would end the call. At other times he played the roll of a very deaf and very stupid old man who had no idea what they were talking about. The funniest time, however, was one day when someone called and started the pitch as they usually do by formally informing him that the conversation would be recorded for quality and for reference purposes.

To this my dad replied: "Oh, oh no problem at all. That reminds me, I also have to record this. One moment please, let me get my recorded."

Long silence.

"Sir, are you there?"

"Yes hang on please, I'm just... getting this damned thing to... what were you saying again - oh never mind, here, now it's working..."

The telemarketer proceeded with her message.

A little while later he stopped her by crying: "Oh wait! Wait! I should have pressed play and record simultaneously. I'm so sorry. Could you please start again...?"

She started again.

A minute later he interrupted once more: "Oh now what? Oh man...! now the tape is full. Wait let me just turn the tape around. Don't go away please..."

A minute later he was back, asking her to continue.

It wasn't long before there came the next objection: "I don't believe this! The damned thing had no batteries in it...! Auw no. Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh now... now I'll have to go and find new batteries first. Please will you not go away until I'm back...?"

On the other side the line went "click."

 

He also played the daring game sometimes. One day he phoned is older brother who farmed behind the mountain from us. His brother had rented out his fields to a black man that year, which was in the apartheid years, still something that society wasn't always exactly accustomed to yet. Knowing the sensitivity of the matter my father recognized a perfect opportunity to play a practical joke. When his brother picked up the phone, my dad began in fluent Zulu. He was pretending to be the tenant who had rented my uncle's fields. My uncle asked how things were, to which my dad replied that things were not going so well. There had been a wind storm which had knocked all his maize flat. To this my uncle replied hat he was sorry to hear that.

"Yes," my father said, "so I'm phoning you to hear what you're going to do about it?"

For a moment my uncle was speechless. "What to do about it?" It was not his problem if the wind blew the tenant's mealies over, and he politely said so. My father persisted, however, which slowly began to wear his brother's patience out. The more so when my father slowly started adopting a challenging and sassy tone. Again, in the apartheid years, politeness was the key to making such new arrangements work. He had steered the conversation into predictably rough waters, and he was not to be disappointed when my uncle finally blew up. He was so angry when he finally overcame his self-restraint and started telling his tenant just what he thought of his impertinent attitude. When my father chuckled and said: "Relax it's me, Carl" my uncle hesitated for a moment. And then the phone went "click."

My uncle was such a dignified and respected man in he community. I don't think there was another person in the world who would have dared to pull a trick like that on him.

 

The hunt on which they laughed so much that all the animals left the valley.

 

 

My father the artist

I'm not sure where my father developed his love for art. Most likely during his high school years. He certainly had more than average talent as an artist. Unfortunately he did not produce as many works as he might have. Many people continually begged him to produce more, and had he done so, I'm sure he would have sold a good many. As it was, he only produced during a few relatively short-lived bursts in his lifetime. His work included sculpting, drawing with crayons and pastels, and dot-art, at which he excelled. I once asked him why he stopped doing dot art. He told me his eyes don't see so well anymore so it had become hard for him. To friends who always nagged him to produce more, he usually just smiled and said: "I'll start again, as soon as I have collected enough dots!"

He actually did collect dots. I had a series of his dot artwork framed when I lived in Johannesburg, and I really treasured my collection. When I moved to George, however, my shipping container was robbed. Among the R140,000 worth of possessions stolen were my century old inherited oil paintings, all my framed family photographs - and all my father's dot art. He was so moved by compassion for my loss that he then sat down and in a burst of creativity produced his very last series of dot art. Of these, he carefully made copies and presented me with the set so that I could frame them again. I am proud to have them on my walls today.

Charcoal sketch of a young girl. My father must have produced this one before I was born.

Black wildebeest bull

 

Elephant bull

 

Fighting blue wildebeest.

Later years

My dad and I at Balule, probably around 2001.

My father and his beloved Jack Russel terrier, Sparkplug. This old veteran of many hunts and battles was he only dog that ever became old. He finally lost his life when the banks of the Olifants River caved in during a flood, carrying him down the river to Mozambique while my father had to sadly watch.

My dad and his neighbour, Wynand Britz, listening to old 78 rpm recordings of Dr. DF Malan's address at the opening of the Voortrekker monument in 1938. This was just a few months before his death.

The Last Mile