Pulling Frontwards


FRIDAY 31st JULY – 18H00 Meet Ken in the Conference Room, below the Games Room, for a talk, “Zulu Military Systems”.

SATURDAY 1st AUGUST – 09H00 Depart for the Kaalvoetvrou (barefoot woman) Monument at Retief’s Pass and the Kerkenberg, to see where Piet Retief’s daughter wrote her father’s name on the rock. From this magnificent vantage point on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment, you’ll be told the story of the arrival of the Voortrekker parties, Retief’s visit to King Dingane and the tragedy that unfolded in the valleys below.

Return to The Cavern in time for lunch

Ken makes it all come to life. But no thanks. I had enough of “the arrival of the voortrekker parties” back in the sixties and early seventies to last me a few more decades, thank you. “The Great Pull” was an oft-repeated, always mocked theme throughout my long Free State school years.

Before we had Boy Scouts in Harrismith my good mate Leon Crawley joined the FrontPullers as we used to call them. Later he told me they were going on a camp and made it sound so good I asked if I could join. Only if I “sluited aan” said the Kommandant and Koporaal and Hoofleier and all those other menacing military-sounding mense that ran it. With their berets and badges and khaki uniforms.

So I swallowed my pride and sluited aan and went to a pre-camp session, then joined them for that camp in winter in a wattle plantation on a farm outside Swinburne. Where we sang lying songs and listened to lies.

I did have fun, but I resigned the next week. So yes, I abused the Voortrekkers, I’m afraid. Used them, rather.

I remember the tents: Canvas with sloping roof and vertical walls, wooden poles, rough hessian rope guys, some metal pegs some wooden pegs. No groundsheet, just bare dusty ground (no grass in a wattle plantation). We didn’t pitch them, they were ready-pitched (wonder by whom?!). We didn’t dig trenches on the uphill side, though best practice said you had to do that (very little chance of rain in a Vrystaat winter though). The FrontPullers weren’t big on actual camping lore though, I didn’t think. Not like I’d read the Boy Scouts were. I thought their focus was more on brainwashing than on outdoor life.

A few years later we started Scouts: 1st Harrismith Troop.
Now that was fun. Sure, the uniform was also military-like, but it felt more . . . anti-establishment. Somehow.


50 Mile hike. A blind-folded trip to Nondela and a compass-guided walk back. Being a Patrol Leader, choosing our name as Cheetah patrol with brown and burnt orange tabs. Fishing. Canoeing. Cooking meals. Camping out. Sleeping out a full night alone. Killing my first chicken and cooking it (character-building, those two). Building rafts and platforms. Watching a sheep being slaughtered (can’t have mutton without death, right?). Father Sam of the Anglican church, Dick Clarke municipal electrician, Charlie Ryder, electrician and Dusi canoeist. Robbie and Wally Sharratt letting us use their farms. Good times, good people.

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