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)
Barry Porter and Aitch got on famously and spent many a happy hour ‘botanising’ on Game Valley Estates (GVE), Barry and Lyn’s game farm in the Umkomaas river valley. GVE encompassed a lovely tract of land on both banks of the river valley below the Hella Hella kop, and a beautiful, special, rare patch of highland grasslands above.
Barry loved having an interested and knowledgeable companion who didn’t think him weird when he spoke Latin! Aitch was fascinated by plants and her tuition by Ian Whitton the cardio-thoracic surgeon botanist; Geoff Nichols, indigenous plant guru; Enver Buchus at Silverton Nursery; and her part-time work at Geoff Caruth’s Geoff’s Jungle indigenous nursery (“Bring elephants back into your garden, plant a marula”), all paid off on her trips to Hella Hella. She drank in all the new stuff she learnt from Barry on his very special natural heritage site in the valley and on the high grasslands on top of the Hella Hella mountain.
Just as she’d do with me and birds, Aitch was always an investigative reporter-type of learner: “Are you sure? How do you know? What are the points that make it that? What else could it be?” Jeeesh! Of course every now and then her questioning would wake you to the fact that, actually, you had it wrong, and then together you’d come up with the correct identification. Oh boy, and she loved that: “See!? Better watch it, boy!” she’d say triumphantly. To me or Barry.
Lots of bum-in-the-air photography (frogs in this case):
Years later Barry gave her a CD and penned this little note with it.
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 but don’t let that worry you. Love, Barry
We’d see Blue Swallows, Grass Owls and Broad-tailed Warblers (now Fan-tailed Grassbird) in that Highover grassland! And Oribi. These rare swallows nest in aardvark holes and Barry monitored them every year.
Also beautiful Red-necked Spurfowl:
On the farm we met Barry’s brother Roger Porter, an ecologist with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and his wife Ingrid Weiersbye, an amazing bird artist. On the quiet and as a (big) surprise, Aitch bought me two of her paintings: A Natal Robin (now Red-capped Robin-Chat) and a Wood Owl. Stunning.
Between 28 and 30 September 1987, the central and southern part of Natal were ravaged by floods that were amongst the most devastating to have occurred in South Africa. The main cause was an intense “cut-off” low pressure system off-shore which co-incided with a Spring high tide. Destruction of property was catastrophic, nearly 400 people died and about 50 000 were left homeless. Damage to agriculture, communications, infrastructure and property amounted to R400 million (report: De Villiers et al, 1994).
The Mgeni and Mvoti rivers had flood duration periods of up to 24 hours and this caused dramatic erosion. In the Mgeni the island near the mouth was totally removed and scour of generally about 2m took place. In the Mvoti the river channel, normally 35m, widened to about 900m. Large quantities of sediment were deposited over the flood plain. Many bridges were washed away. The greatest disruption to humans was caused by the destruction of the Mdloti and Tugela river bridges on the N2 highway (report: Badenhorst et al. 1989).
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.