A TV aerial perched right on top of the Hella Hella mountain. The tall pole had two aerials, one aiming off towards distant civilisation, the other aimed straight at the Porters of Game Valley Estates’ TV aerial on the roof of their lovely homestead down in the Umkomaas river valley below.
Now, living in splendid isolation is all very well and the Porters loved the wild, but the nights were long and the boys were often away at boarding school, so TV was a necessity. And not provided by SABC. There was no signal in the valley. So Barry had to ‘maak a plan’, like others before him.
He got a long gumpole, two aerials, a repeater and a tractor battery and rigged it up. Soon ‘The A Team’ was showing on their screen in the lounge. B.A. Baracus, as played by Mr.T, became a favourite of 4yr-old McDuff’s and he would walk around with a rifle in cut-off shirts with huge chains round his neck on the farm growling “FOOL!!”.
The A Team, The Bob Newhart Show, Baywatch, The Villagers, The Dingleys, ‘Sgudi ‘Snayisi,
Bonanza, the theme song:
Then there was Police File, which we called Check Your Mate, in which the cops would ask for help finding wanted suspects. So-called ‘friends’ would point out with glee whenever a Swanepoel was wanted. Their story was there was always a wanted Swanepoel at large. Once we watched and not one Swanie was wanted, but it ended with “If you have any information please contact the Brixton Murder and Robbery Squad. Ask for Sergeant Swanepoel.”
Of course, the repeater atop the Hella Hella needed power, which was supplied by that big tractor battery. Despite rigging up a solar panel, which helped, the battery would still need changing from time to time and Barry would head up to the top of the Hella Hella most days with a shifting spanner. The crow-flies distance from the aerial on Hella Hella to the aerial on the homestead roof was 907m. The drive was a 14km round-trip!
maak n plan – jury-rig a transmitter (see what Jaap said here)
There are rules to how you name things. Plants and animals and things. The rules are something like this: The first one keeps its name, all others after have to fit in. So if a tree is named ‘acacia’ and another thousand acacias are found after it, it remains the type specimen for acacias and will always be an acacia. If changes happen, tough luck to the others, THEY have to change.
Unless you bend the rules.
And the Aussies bent the rules! Gasp! Who’d have thought that!? Aussies! But – they’re so law-abiding . .
So back in 1753 a tree was discovered in Africa and named Acacia scorpoides. Its name changed to Acacia nilotica, the well-known and beautiful tree we got to know as the Scented-pod Thorn when Trish and I first started identifying trees ca. 1985 using Eugene Moll’s unpretentious-looking but wonderful book with its leaf-identification system, under the guidance of good friend Barry Porter. The Scented-pod Thorn Tree was one of the easier acacias to ‘ID’, with its distinctive-looking and sweet-smelling pod.
So it would forever be an acacia. Unless a dastardly plot was hatched by people (whose continent shall remain temporarily nameless; anyway, they had co-conspirators from other continents) determined to steal yet another of Africa’s assets. Why? ‘Cos Money, Prestige, Laziness, Not liking the name Racosperma; and because they could. So what did they do? They got some sandpaper and started roughing up the ball. They got 250 people to email the oke who was in charge of the committee, ‘supporting’ this unusual name change which went against the established rules. How Australian. Yes, 244 of those emailers were Australians, just saying. Sandpaper.
So in Vienna in 2005 the committee said ‘Let’s bend the rules’ and put it to the vote. So 54.9% voted to retain the current African type for the name Acacia. 54.9% said let’s NOT bend the rules. So they bent the rules cos another rule said you need 60% to overrule the committee. They sandpaper’d the rules cos Money, Prestige, Laziness, Not liking the name Racosperma.
How do you explain that? Well, its like if one’s ancestors were convicts and you didn’t want them to be convicts, you wanted people to nod when you said ‘I come from Royal blood,’ but the ancestral name (say Dinkum) was listed in the jail rolls; and you wanted to be a surname not on the jail rolls so you said ‘I know: Windsor!’ so you call yourself Windsor from that day on. Something like that.
And, like politicians, here’s how this was sold to the public: ‘The International Botanical Congress at Vienna in 2005 ratified this decision,’ sandpaper-talk, instead of a truthful ‘The International Botanical Congress at Vienna in 2005 failed to overturn this decision as, although 54.9% voted against it, a 60% vote is needed to overturn it.’
So then African acacias got one more African name, Senegalia (from Senegal and meaning, maybe, water or boat), which was nice; and one more Pommy name Vachellia, after Rev. John Harvey Vachell (1798-1839), chaplain to the British East India Company in Macao from 1825-1836 and a plant collector in China, which wasn’t so lekker; But the Acacia name was undoubtedly more prestigious, long-established and well-known. More desirable, y’know (imagine that said in an Aussie accent). It was derived from Ancient Greek with THORN in the meaning – ἀκακία (‘shittah tree’). Also ‘thorny Egyptian tree.’ Greek ‘kaktos’ also has been compared. A word of uncertain – but ancient – origin.
So I thought Oh Well, We’ll Get Used To It. You get used to anything except a big thorn sticking into your shoe – which reminded me that Aussie acacias are wimpily thornless – but some Africa tree people were less accommodating and determined to fight this rule-bending. Maybe they might have accepted Senegalia, but that other Pommy dominee name? Aikona!
The next gathering of the International Botanical Congress was in Melbourne in 2011! And there the decision to ratify the decision to bend the rules ‘was ratified by a large majority’ (I haven’t been able to find the actual vote yet). So strict scientific priority lost out to a more convenient and pragmatic solution. For Aussies. Desperate to keep their 900 species as Acacias. And willing to do anything to force it through.
So Vachellia xanthophloeait is. Our Fever Tree. umkhanyakude in isiZulu. Seen here at Nyamithi Pan in Ndumo Game Reserve in Zululand.
And Senegalia nigrescens with its distinctive leaves and knobbly bark. The knobthorn.
So I’ll mostly be using Senegalia and Vachellia now, just as I use the new bird names as they change. Adapt or dye. In the veld I just say thorn trees.
Anyway, they have thorns, our thorn trees.
lekker – nice; not so lekker: yuck;
dominee – vicar; shady man of the cloth
aikona! – No Way!
umkhanyakude – means ‘shines from afar’ and in the feature pic you can see how the fever trees on the far side of Nyamithi Pan show up against the other, ‘more anonymous’ trees;
I don’t do DIY. I was going to say except for our wedding, but on reflection, I also did that the way I do everything: Stand back and watch as others do it all, encouraging and applauding while trying to save money.
What I did do was buy the booze and fill Mike Lello’s Isuzu Trooper and trailer with it and drive it out to Barry and Lyn’s farm Game Valley Estates at the foot of the well-known Hella Hella on the Friday. Lots of rain, muddy roads. It had been a wet summer following the huge September 1987 flood.
Like most bachelors when they do fall, I headed off cheerfully to meet my fate, all my own advice forgotten, marching singing to the gallows!
Luckily Saturday cleared up. I always sing ‘The robots change when I go thru, the clouds dissolve and the skies turn blue, and EVERYBODY loves me baby – – – what’s the matter with you!?
And the clouds did dissolve . . It got Sunny. Then Hot. Then Scorching, Humid, Sultry. It felt like all the rain of the big flood was trying to get back up into the clouds.
Barry’s big old 4X4 Ford F150 gave people a tug up slippery Hella Hella Pass so they could get to their lodgings at the nearby Qunu Falls Lodge. The Brauers, the du Plessis, the Reeds, the Schoemans, the Stoutes, the Stewarts. The Hills live nearby. Family stayed in the concrete A-frame lodge on the farm.
The sauna was pitched on the lawn under the Hella Hella mountain.
The Porters were linked up to ESKOM but just because ESKOM has arrived does not mean that when you throw a switch with a flourish that anything will happen. And so it was on our wedding day that ESKOM was feeling a bit off that day and we were without krag, power, lights and fridges.
Enter David Hurle Hill !! He roared off in his bakkie and fetched a huge diesel generator on a trailer. David is a Drrrillerr and will drill you a borehole. In fact his company motto is ‘On The Hole Our Work Is Boring.’ He linked up and threw a switch with a flourish and nothing happened.
She was not wekking, as David Hurle Hill would say.
Enter Enea Spaggiari !! All the way from Italy via Kenya and Petit outside Benoni. He climbed up onto and over and under the trailer and fiddled with wires and threw a switch with a flourish and Let There Be Light! Music! and Cold Beers!
Iona coaches her daughter: Make all the big decisions, but make him think he made them . . . Aitch: Ha Ha I already do that . . .
Then the usual stuff, the ominous music from Jaws: Tun Tun Ta Da!;Tun Tun Ta Da! What? Oh, the wedding march. The father of the bride looks like he’s having having second thoughts; Guys are thinking hm hm hm who’d a thunk this day would arrive?; Ladies are smiling – they seem to enjoy weddings; Aitch saying – ‘Honour? OK; – Obey? Are you mad!?’ and so on. The usual kak.
Then the cake, made by Lyn’s talented friend with a green frog couple in tux and wedding dress – probly a strongylopus and an arthtroleptis. In the heat they keeled over. We should have got a pic, but something like this, just green frogs and not from alcohol:
Then The Lies! You just can’t trust some people. Ten years prior to this I had done a very good job being his best man and if he had paid attention he’d have learned something. Like, to stick to the flattering truth and not tell scurrilous alternative truths that nobody wants to hear. At least nobody called the object of your attentions wants to hear them . . .
Followed by The Truth!, plain and unvarnished:
At last, we could change into shorts and relax and party.
Later came The Getaway:
Which took a while, handicapped as we were. We wore getaway kit appropriate for our intrepid honeymoon. We were headed for Deepest Darkest America.
On the Monday friend Allie Peter flew over Hella Hella in a helicopter and took pics of Rapid No.5&6 looking downstream and then back upstream:
Twenty Five Years Later – 28 Feb 2013 – I wrote to friends:
Crazy, innit! 25yrs ago today Aitch and I got hitched down in the Hella Hella valley in a fun DIY game farm wedding. She made it to 23yrs of married bliss (OK, she might have had something to say at this point . . ) and one month short of 26yrs together. We celebrated that 25yrs-together milestone in August 2010.
Thinking of all you good peeps that made our wedding so memorable – that’s the bachelor days before, the day itself, and the 25yrs since!
Lotsa love – Pete – and now Jessica & Tommy!
BTW, Lyn and Barry Porter of Hella Hella also died in 2011: Lyn in January – also breast cancer; Barry in April – hospital infection; And then Aitch in July.
Dave Hill: I remember it well – I ‘nipped’ home to fetch my generator when the power went off.
Pete Stoute:Remember the week-end like yesterday! Struggling up the other side of Hella Hella to the Qunu Falls hotel in the mud and rain – Dave Hill saving the day with a BIG generator.Will have an extra glass of vino this evening – great mates and good times.
Sheila Swanepoel:Those pics are great. What a wonderful record of a very special day. I remember the incredible heat and how you, Pierre and Pete sneaked off and changed into shorts straight after the ceremony. And how the phone kept ringing in the middle of the ceremony in the house. Linda was flower girl, Robbie was so proud of his brand new red “tight”
. . and Jeff kept putting off going to change, saying that he was charge of the antelope on the spit – he dithered for so long that there was no time to change and that pleased him no end. Bess & I sneaked down to the pool for a kaalgat swim and found Iona had beaten us to it!
Steve Reed: Will always remember the weekend; a great occasion. I think it was thanks to Mike and Yvonne in the 4×4 that we traveled safely back through the mud to our lodgings. Fond memories – raising a glass tonight to all of you!
I remember Brauer chasing a tight deadline speech writing – wise.
Pete Brauer:Damn. Been holding my breath during this stroll thru memory lane hoping that no-one noticed at the time or that no-one would still remember that poor last-minute effort.
Terry Brauer: Steve nothing has changed! PB has his own website called lastminute.com
Steve Reed:Speech was excellent. Not many can compose a wedding speech while putting on a tie with the other hand. Besides, Swannie probably tasked Brauer with the job as he was getting dressed himself.
Terry Brauer:Yip Brauer remains an orator of note and Swanepoel continues to notify me he is coming to stay usually on the day when he lands in Pretoria – 😀 Those old dogs ain’t gonna learn new tricks but love them both! T
Pete Swanie:I had prepared well in advance.
Brauer procrastinated and ignored my two rules: Keep it short; and NO LIES.
Pete Brauer:If I stuck to the latter rule the first would have fallen into place quite easily.
Tanza Crouch: Thinking of you, Aitch, Tommy and Jessy at this time. My spider days at Hella Hella are very special to me and Aitch, Barry and Lyn were very special people.
I was an Umkomaas Canoe Marathon Official once. Kakhuis Field Marshall for the start of one Umko. Appointed by the uber-command of KCC, it was my job to reduce the toilet-paper-in-the-bush syndrome around the start near the Hella Hella bridge. I had relayed farmer Barry Porter’s unhappiness at the phenomenon to the heavies, they were of course aware of the issue, so they roped me in to help solve it!
Lines of green mobile flush toilets were stationed at the start, and for kilometres before the bridge, starting up at the bend that drops you down into the valley proper, I lined the road with large neat signs exhorting paddlers to “Go Now”, “Use the toilets as soon as you get to the start,” “Avoid the rush,” “Don’t do it in the bush,” and other thoughtful and helpful suggestions.
Mindful of Umko Master Charlie Mason’s wise and thoughtful maxim, “There’s no better laxative than a full Umkomaas” my signs got more urgent the nearer you got to the bridge.
But I was handicapped. – Firstly, my request for a suitable uniform and hat befitting my high station had been turned down. – Secondly, my request to have full access to the public address system was denied. Would Billie-Boy Barron hand me the microphone? No.
I was going to thoughtfully say: “Attention please! Aandag asseblief! Especially you Vaalies and Dabulamanzi ous: KAK NOU!!” I know for a fact that Meyer Steyn – most Umko finishes of anyone ever, while based inland – would have appreciated the reminder . .
Barry said to me later, he thought that year was the least mess he had seen in recent times! Making the local farmers happy is a big part of the success of river races, so I was very chuffed! Of course, if they’d given me free reign to wear the right uniform and exercise my full powers it would have been even better . .
My potted history of the two farms on opposite banks of the Umkomaas below the Hella Hella:
About fifty years ago when The Beatles were still The Quarrymen, a Pom family Wimbury hopped on to the mail ship in Pomerania to boldly go forth and do work in the colonies for the Great White Queen.
On board that ship was an 18yr old nubile South African on her way back from a gap year before they were called gap years, in Europe. Especially Italy where she learned some Italian, some Italian cooking, and did you know Lyn had a magnificent opera singing voice?
The Pom family and the Seffrican lass hit it off on board ship and soon the Wimbury family of England met the Payn family of Hella Hella on the banks of the mighty Mkomazi.
Meantime elsewhere a Jo’burg architect called Porter was making a good living and buying farms as a hobby. One of them became the Harold Porter Nature Reserve in Betty’s Bay. He sent his son Barry off to PMB varsity to get a BSc agric and then bought him a farm on the right bank of the Mkomazi opposite the Payns. This magnificent 5000 acre farm had the imposing Hella Hella mountain on it.
They called it Game Valley Estates and stocked it with nyala, impala, zebra, wildebeest and blesbok to add to the bushbuck, duiker, warthog, reedbuck and oribi that were there. That was the only time they ever stocked it. ca 1970.
Well, Barry had a Landrover cabriolet and wore short pants and long socks, and Lyn wore dresses so it was inevitable. They spotted each other across the mighty Mkomazi, their eyes locked and the two families were united in a river dynasty, solving the problem of parts of Barry’s farm being cut off from him and him having to traverse the Payn land to get to ‘Ottos.’
Except not really, as Barry and the Payn parents had quite a prickly relationship, kinda like porcupines meeting and sniffing but not embracing. So the farms were never united, Barry would grumble about how they didn’t appreciate the value of game fencing and when Mrs Payn put the farm up for sale and Barry could have negotiated they never got round to discussing a price and Trevor English bought it for a good price and Barry STILL had the prickly feeling of having to traverse someone else’s land to get to the other half of his farm! And English didn’t appreciate the value of game fencing.
Barry stayed at Otto’s at first, so his and Lyn’s eyes actually probly locked while he drove his Landie across their lawn, not trans-river. Once they got wedlocked they moved up to Highover.
Where they had a little porcupine – rescued when a Ford F150 did a caesarian section on its Mom at 65mph. It used to scurry around in the walls of their house between the corrugated iron and the rhino board inner walls. They also had Warren there and we bumped into him by chance a couple years ago and together we checked out the ruins of the house where he was born forty years prior.
Meantime Barry and Lyn built a lovely new home at the foot of the Hella Hella, and the little Wimbury baby girl was growing shapelier and shapelier and she went nursing at Addington where the Weermag had sentenced a newly-knighted luitenant in the Medical Corps to hard labour: “You arre herreby sentenced to live in Doctorrs’ Quarrterrs and test eyeballs, including those of the 600 nurses ensconced in the Addington Nurses Res”.
What could I do? I obeyed. One of them was called Richenda Wimbury and she said you must come with me to a farm called Hella Hella. I took a peek at her legs and said OK. And so I met Lyn and Barry. It was 1980.
Later Richenda did audiology and moved to Wentworth hospital where she met a cardiovascular perfusionist called Humphrey in 1985, arranged a Sunday braai and introduced her new friend to me and my friend Bernie the Jet. That was Aitch and the rest of that part of this tale was history.
Barry now had two young girlfriends, and this latest one would botanise with him! They would spend hours with their bums in the air and their noses in the grass. He wrote a love note to his Botanising Buddy:
Dear Trish , In memory of past pleasant hours spent botanising on Game Valley ; and in appreciation of your enthusiastic company and assistance on numerous trips up to Highover . I hope you enjoy the CD ROM , it’s unfortunate that my scanner can’t scan 35mm slides , I have a far larger collection of slides and many are of better quality than the photos used in this presentation . Just enjoy ! Some of the identifications may be a little off the mark so don’t let that worry you . Love , Barry
In 1988 Aitch and I got married at Hella Hella. We had been frequent guests and would continue to visit often for years to come. The farm meantime had been declared a Natural Heritage site. It was going to be the first marriage on the farm, but a Pee Aitch (professional hunter) and his chick got excited one night around the braai fire and suddenly got married. Technically, you could call theirs a shotgun marriage, right?
Here you can see the Natural Heritage plaque and certificate on the wall behind the bride-to-be:
KCC mate Andre Hawarden made our wedding invites, complete with named rapids on the Dusi, Umgeni and Umko in case any guest wanted a quick paddle on the way!
We started raising kids around 1998 and that led to less visits. Later Barry & Lyn sold the farm to a consortium led by a local estate agent who – finally – united the two Hella Hella farms into one logical unit, doing what I wished Barry could have done decades earlier. Of course it’s always easy with someone else’s money! Oscar Wilde said “Advice is wonderful stuff – in the giving”.
They bought a lovely unit in a complex in Umzumbe and Barry hit the trail, traveling far and wide on birding trips. Their son Warren was selling big trucks nearby; Barry’s brother’s Litchi Farm was close – outside Port Shepstone; McDuff, the younger son did heavy duty diving (oil rigs n stuff) all over the world; Lyn got busily involved in the local orchid society – ‘The Akward Society’ we joked – and other affairs.
After Aitch’s first chemo in 2007 we went to Hella Hella for the first time since those days, staying in the lovely new cottages next to The Approaches. We woke up one morning and there was a big furry creature on Aitch’s pillow. It was her hair!
Then in 2011 Lyn died of breast cancer, Barry got a leg infection and died, and Aitch died – also breast cancer. February, April and July. Annus horribilis.
Recently a vulture hide in Oribi Gorge was unveiled: Barry would be delighted that it’s not just called “Barry’s Hide”. It’s called
The Barry Porter Memorial Vulture Viewing Hide.
You’ll understand why he would have loved the full formal title when I tell you he made us a tool to dig up plants. It had a handle like a motorbike, footsteps to step on to dig deep and the blade was made of the high-tensile steel of a cultivator blade. A Plant-Digger you might think? No. It had a neat label on it:
Porter’s Powerful Patented Plant-Pincher.
He also made us an intricate bird feeder labeled:
Barry’s Bizarre Balancing Bird Bistro. I found a photo with a bit of the bird bistro in the background behind Kiza Cele holding Jessie in the garden at 7 River Drive Westville. Note the dead branch for photography so you didn’t get artificial metal in your pic; the platform for seed; the various arms had spikes for oranges, cradles for bananas and pawpaws and small holders for suet and nuts. A full-buffet Barry bistro indeed!
BARRY PORTER 18th September 1946 to 27th April 2011
Barry as we’ll all remember him, soaking up the wonders of the big outdoors:
A memorial service was held for Barry at the Port Shepstone Country Club.
Dress attire casual – as Barry would’ve liked.
A request for no flowers has come from his family. His son feels it fitting that donations be made to Birdlife Trogons Bird Club in lieu of flowers.
A TRIBUTE TO BARRY PORTER FROM BIRDLIFE TROGONS BIRD CLUB
Friend Colleague Confidant Gentleman
Born in Johannesburg into a family steeped in South Coast history.
Educated at St Andrew’s College, Grahamstown and immensely proud of it.
Reserved, scientific and tempered with technical ability.
Concluded his education at Natal University PMB with a BSc Agri Degree and commenced a farming career at Hella Hella.
His knowledge of environmental issues was unsurpassed and covered everything from birds to frogs to trees to grasses to game – from common names to scientific names to even Zulu names in which language he was fluent.
The use of this language in regard to Zulu tree names often led to very interesting and vigorous debates between ourselves and our Zulu speaking compatriots. To disagree with him was a complete waste of time, he would just quietly walk away, leaving one to wonder why did we even try and realising that we had not obtained an ‘A’ in that subject.
His knowledge of birds was unsurpassed and he studied avian issues with an undisclosed passion. He was a dedicated member of the Bird Rarity Committee and was always ready to give a fair judgement on all requests. As Chairman of Trogons Bird Club for a numbers of years (under duress) he never appreciated his ability being noticed and he led the club to be one of the most active and productive in Natal (if not the country) and he had the ability to motivate his committee to perform above expectations to the benefit of its members. He served on many Avian orientated committees where his knowledge was highly regarded.
Apart from his scientific knowledge, his technical ability was quite fascinating and he was adept at repairing and studying all aspects of modern engineering.
He was very computer literate and enjoyed all the advantages of its intricacies to the extreme .
The loss of his wife, Lyn, some six months ago left him tragically scarred – a scar that he bore bravely and undisclosed and no doubt had a bearing on his tragic demise.
His passing will leave a void that will be difficult to fill as there are very few people with his reserved manner and willingness to impart their knowledge to others available in this world today.
May he rest in peace.
Your civility and reservedness which endeared you to so many will not be forgotten.
TRIBUTE POSTED ON SABAP2 WEBSITE
I have sad news to report. One of the stalwarts of SABAP2, Barry Porter, passed away on Wednesday after a short spell in hospital. Barry’s contribution to the BirdLife Trogons Bird Club was legendary. An email sent to me by one of his friends, Carol Bosman, includes this paragraph which helps to sum up all our feelings: “Barry lived for birds and whenever I stayed with him he would take me out to record the various pentads for the Bird Atlas Project. His wife Lyn passed away only five months ago. What saddens me the most, I guess, is the loss of a ‘fountain’ of information as Barry was so well read in so many subjects. Your project has lost an incredibly knowledgeable observer and participant.” Barry submitted a total of 261 checklists for 77 pentads, mostly in southern KwaZulu-Natal, but extending further afield as well. His first checklist was made on 19 August 2007, right at the outset of SABAP2, and the most recent was on 27 March this year, a month ago. Over this whole period there were very few months in which Barry did not submit a checklist.
He was a regular contributor of interesting comments on fora such as SABirdnet. On 14 June last year during the World Cup he wrote this email, with the subject line “Soccer Birds”: “I went birding yesterday in the normally tranquil rural tribal lands inland from Hibberdene. I struggled to fill my atlas card, very difficult to hear birds voices – ‘the hills are alive with the sound of vuvuzelas!'”
The birding community and SABAP2 are poorer with the passing away of this passionate citizen scientist.
Here’s a pic by Barry of the Trogons at his brother’s litchi farm. Lyn is in the picture, second from left:
The vulture hide at Oribi Gorge – in the feature pic – was named in Barry’s honour. He would secretly have loved that.