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).
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, 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 – or just 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.
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 Tun Tun Ta Da!; The father of the bride having second thoughts; Guys thinking hm hm hm; Ladies smiling; Aitch saying – ‘Honour? OK; – Obey? Are you mad!?’ and so on:
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, except 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 5&6 looking downstream and then back upstream:
Twenty Five Years Later – 28 Feb 2013
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.
On 2014/06/23 Crispin Hemson – Pigeon Valley Patriarch and Monarch – wrote: Conditions in Pigeon Valley are very dry, giving great visibility into the undergrowth. We are suddenly seeing Buff-spotted Flufftails on the main track, or just next to it. Yesterday I saw two adults and a sub-adult. These are very unobtrusive birds, so do not expect rustling. I suspect that while in summer the undergrowth is dim and the main track bright, the Flufftails stay under cover. In winter the undergrowth is as bright as the area just outside it, so the pressure to stay there is less. Spotted Ground-Thrushes are also very visible, often just on the edge of the main track, digging into leaf litter that accumulates there. There are more than I originally thought – I saw them in four places up the track yesterday.
I have heard a thousand bufftails – particularly at Hella Hella where we weekend-ed monthly for ten to fifteen years, and on the Mkombaan river in Westville where we lived for fifteen years; and although I searched and stalked and lay in wait, and saw two dead ones – next-door-cat-got-it in River Drive, and flew-into-plate-glass at Hella Hella – a sighting has evaded me till now. One would hoot right outside my bedroom window, metres away, but I never caught a glimpse.
Thanks to Pigeon Valley’s tireless champion, Crispin Hemson reporting on his birding regularly, I went on Sunday to Pigeon Valley and saw a spotted thrush at the entrance, and then that flufftail up at the fence line along King George V avenue. At last! Two seconds after forty years!
A male bird, who ducked into low dense thicket just outside the fence.
This was a big bogey bird as far as a sighting goes! Must be close to forty years of thinking “soon I’ll see one”.
Can a pitta in my garden be far behind?
Here’s a Sheryl Halstead Spotted Ground Thrush pic
We left Bernie’s white Ford Escort at Hella Hella with the Porters, and drove round to Deepdale in my white Ford Cortina. Linda Grewar (who became a notable paddler herself – she later won the Fish river marathon mixed doubles with Bernie!) then drove my car back to Durban. ‘Seconds’! ‘Helpers’ ‘Chauffeurs’! What would we do without those wonderful volunteers? It was winter on a low, clear Umkomaas and we set off happy as larks. Or otters. In our Perception plastic kayaks imported by Greg Bennett in his Paddlers Paradise daze.
We put in at the Deepdale railway bridge and drifted downstream, portaged around the waterfall – Well, you’d have heard a dull thud if you tried to shoot it at that level! It was a glorious afternoon, warm and clear with hardly a breeze. We paddled at my pace which meant this was a two-day trip, lots of drifting, lots of chat with my mate Bernie ‘The Jet’ Garcin, frequent stops, carrying back and shooting the bigger drops again. We stopped early, to camp while there was still light to cook by.
How low can you go!
The night was as cold as a banker’s heart and I was in my sleeping bag straight after grub. Not so The Jet who first had to go through an elaborate foot-washing ritual in the freezing dark. A long night on the hard ground, and off early next morning. We didn’t know how far we had to go. We knew some guys had done it in a day, so we weren’t too worried and kept to my usual blistering (!) pace. Bernie had stood on the podium in mixed doubles results in his day, so was no slouch. But he knew me and was resigned to (hopefully quite enjoyed?) my drift-and-gaze-in-awesome-wonder pace.
The rock gardens we’d heard about in Longdrop Rapid were wonderful. You’d drop into a little ‘room’ and find the outlet and then drop down into another, huge boulders all around you. We decided this would be very hairy in high water!
Dropping into a ‘room’:
Bernie got wedged here. I made to rush back to free him, but he shouted “No! Wait! First take a picture!”
We paddled that whole sunny day with a leisurely lunch stop. As it started to get dark we quickened the pace, Bernie deciding we needed to get a move on. But night started falling before we got anywhere we recognised. Then we shot a weir we knew was not far upstream of the Hella Hella bridge and a nasty piece of rusty iron sticking out flashed past at eye height. We decided Whoa! time to call a halt. Bernie is not really a runner, and I knew the Porters well, so we decided I’d run to the farmhouse and drive back as close as I could get in his off-road Escort.
At the Porter farmhouse Barry & Lyn gave me a beer (‘forced a beer on me’ I explained to Bernie when he said “What took you so long?”). Driving back along the track down into the valley, a couple guys on horseback kicked their mounts into acceleration, just beating me onto the narrow path down to the river, so they had the benefit of my headlights to light up the way. Halfway down into the valley a fella on foot leaned in my window (it was slow going) and asked if HE could hitch a ride. “Sure” I said and THEY hopped in: Two guys, two dogs and a huge sack of maize meal in the Jet’s two-door Escort! Ahem, I’m sure Bernie won’t mind chaps, I said to no-one in particular.
I stopped with the headlights on the two kayaks, lying cockpit to cockpit. No sign of Bernie. I got out and a head popped up, yellow helmet still firmly on his head. He had wedged himself between the boats. As he blinked in the headlights I saw his eyes widen as a guy in a trench coat got out of the passenger door. Then another. Then a mangy dog. Then another rangy dog with a curled tail. His mouth dropped when the two guys reached back into the car and hauled out a heavy sack. He said nothing. That’s Bernie.
We loaded and set off for Durban. After a while Bernie had to talk: Did I know he was surrounded by dogs growling the whole time I was gone? and what took me so long? and was I aware his car smelt of dog?
But he forgave me. He always did. He was a really good mate Bernie and I was very sorry when he buggered off to Aussie (not because of the dogs or anything, mind).