Although the children of the town did not fully appreciate this as they contemplated how much more exciting the lives of their relatives and friends appeared to be in cities such as Durban, Dundee in the 1950s and 1960s was a wonderful place in which to grow up. There were good schools in the Dundee Junior School, the Dundee High School, and the Holy Rosary Convent. In addition, a number of Dundee's kids went away to boarding schools in their high school years, for example to the girl's schools of Epworth and St. Johns and Girl's College in Pietermaritzburg, or to the boy's schools of Durban High School and Glenwood High School in Durban, St Charles and Pietermaritzburg College and the Technical College in Pietermaritzburg, and Hilton College and Michaelhouse at Hilton Road and Balgowan respectively.

Schooldays Oh Schooldays

As was most of South African society in those days, education in Dundee was racially segregated, so white and Indian and Coloured and African children went to separate schools, and there was little - if any - interaction between young people of different races. Indeed, until the final years of high school white pupils were educated in either English or Afrikaans language classes, so even though they attended the same schools there was a de-facto segregation by language group that limited interaction between the children of the white "tribes" too. As a result, generally the only Afrikaans-speaking children whom we as English speakers really got to know through school were Afrikaners who were in English medium classes, or were the children of our parents' Afrikaans-speaking friends, and Afrikaners who participated in English-speaker-dominated activities such as the swimming club, the hockey club, and other sporting and social activities.

In the early 1950s Maureen Smith and a few others established "Pixiemead" as the town's first kindergarten, in a rondavel in her garden of her Smith Street home. This was the only pre-school in Dundee in those years. However, the convent - a girl's school catering for Class 1 through to Standard 10 - did take a few boys as pre-schoolers in what was known as "Class 0". Among the boys who took advantage of this were the writer (Stuart Clark), "Teenie" McHardy, and Roger Soden - but there were probably up to a half dozen boys at the convent attending that class in any year. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that such was the safety and security of the town in those days that as a five year old I would ride my bicycle (so tiny it was called a "fairy cycle") to school at the convent from our home in Colley Street, up Tatham Street, along McKenzie Street, through what was to become Coronation Park, and then across Victoria Street to school.

In the 1950s and 1960s the junior school was located behind what is now Dundee's municipal offices, bounded by Boundary Road, Beaconsfield Street, and Ann Street. At the time that I started at the Dundee Junior School the headmistress was a Miss Reid, and the staff included such stalwarts as Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Ann De Wet, Mrs. Margaret Wood, Mrs. Hazel Haines, and Mrs. Nell Ritson. Among the younger teachers were Miss Norenius, Miss Eleanor Harbour, and Ms. Nola Stokkeland. These were the immediate post-war years, and initially the school provided food for the pupils during the morning break - normally a glass of milk and a bun or fruit.

At school we entertained ourselves with various games outside of the classroom hours - the boys played marbles and games with spinning tops, and "Red Rover" and "fly" - the latter being a game in which contestants had to follow a designated pattern of steps from a starting mark, e.g. a hop, step and a jump (the pattern being selected by a player crouched at a distance from the mark), and then leapfrog over the crouching player. After each series of "goes" by all participants, the crouching player stepped forward one pace, by stages eliminating those who could not reach and clear the crouching player, and thereby ending up with a winner by process of elimination. "Red Rover" involved having all participants line up in a row on one side of a field, with one participant being selected to stand in the middle of the field facing the line. The single player would nominate one of the boys in the line to attempt to cross the field. If the single player succeeded in preventing the nominated player from crossing (usually by tackling him, rugby style), he would join the player in the middle, and yet another player would be nominated from the line to attempt a crossing. The process was then repeated. If the nominated player succeeded in reaching the other side, then all of the players in the line could run across together - with the player or players in the middle attempting to tackle as many as possible as they crossed. Then the process of nominating another player to attempt a crossing was repeated from the other side, and so on. As will be apparent, eventually there were more boys in the middle than in the line, and those in the line were the strongest and fastest kids - with the end result that the game ended when the strongest and fastest kid of all was eventually pulled down by the sheer mass of the combined onslaught of his fellow players who had by process of elimination ended up in the middle!

"Cops and robbers" and "Cowboys and Indians" were also played during breaks. We also played cricket and pick-up games of soccer. Usually sides for these pick-up games were chosen by having each of two designated team captains alternately select their team members from the prospective players. But sometimes a less politically correct method was used: the circumcised boys would play the uncircumcised boys - the teams being known respectively, and the "Roundheads" and the "Cavaliers"! In the summer "PT" (physical training) involved walking down to the Municipal Swimming Bath on Union Street for swimming training conducted by Miss Harbour, the PT mistress.

The girls had their games too, the most formal of which was netball - girls were never invited to join in any of the "boy's" activities (except swimming). The girl-specific games included hopscotch and skipping - both with individual skipping ropes and with longer ropes (often two at a time, circulated in opposite directions) rotated by girls at each end, which a third person would then enter in order to skip.

For some reason that seemed to be unconnected with any particular time of the year, activities such as tops, marbles, fly and also kites came around in seasons. Thus, suddenly the marbles would be out, then the tops, then kites, or the kids would start playing fly. One of the games with tops involved a circle into which your top was placed as some sort of penalty, and the others could then "peg" the tops in the circle with the points of their tops by spinning them into the circle - which could result in a nicked or even a split top! (The top was spun by winding a piece of string around it, starting at the tip of its conical shape, and winding the string up to near the top of the inverted cone. Then the free end of the string would be tied to the index finger, the top being held on its point with the back of the thumb and above with the index finger - the top would then be launched - almost yo-yo like - to spin and release it.)

Marbles were glass balls about three quarters of an inch in diameter which were either clear glass incorporating an attractive swirl insert of colour (called "cats-eyes"), or opaque and in a variety of colours. The game was played in a variety of ways, with the objective being to win the other players' marbles. One version of the game that I remember is that players would stand or kneel behind a line like a bowler's crease in cricket, and in turn throw or roll marbles across a parallel line about 4 to 6 feet away, behind which there was a small hole in the sand. If you rolled your marble (also called an "ab") into the hole you either won something or forfeited it (I can't now remember which). Once the marbles were laid out by all the players, players took turns to shoot at them with a "goen" (phonetic) or an "iornie" - respectively a larger glass marble of at least an inch in diameter or a similarly sized steel ballbearing. The goen would be quite tightly held between the thumb and index finger in an inverted left hand, and using the middle finger of the right hand (or vice-versa for left handed players) increasing pressure was placed on the goen until it catapulted towards the cluster of marbles. I can't recall if one won an opponent's marble by hitting it, or quite what happened then.

In kite season we would make our kites from thin strips of bamboo reeds tied to form a cross, and then lightweight string would be attached to each point of the cross to form a perimeter support for the paper that would then be attached to form the surface of the kite. More string would be attached to the point at the bottom of the cross, and them some pieces of cloth would be attached to that string, to form a tail. Then strings attached, pyramid style, to the upper points of the cross would meet at the summit of the pyramid, and to that the tether string would be attached. Then the kite was ready to fly!

Another self-made toy was a "tractor" made with a cotton reel, sucker stick, rubber band, and slice of a candle. The rubber band was passed through the centre hole of the cotton reel, and prevented from being pulled back through the hole by using a piece of matchstick. The sucker stick was threaded through the other end of the rubber band, with the slice of a candle forming a "washer" between the stick and the side of the cotton reel. After the construction was complete one would rotate the sucker stick to twist the rubber band within the cotton reel, after which, when the toy was placed on a level surface the reel would be driven forward as the rubber band unwound!

In 1958 my age group of kids - i.e. those born in 1946 - moved up to the high school, in Standard 5. Mr. Burger was the headmaster in that first high school year. Other staff members at around that time included Messrs. Tait (Geography), Reusch, Kirkness, van Leeuwen (Woodwork), Goedeke (Science), Snyman (Biology), Klingenberg, Rowe-Rowe, Nixon, Orwin, and Mesdames McFarquhar, Osborn (Music), and Penrose. The Standard 5 English-speaking students were mainly assigned to the class of Mrs. "Sticky" (presumably so named because she was so thin) McFarquhar. At that time rock and roll was in its ascendancy, and American singers Bill Haley, Pat Boone, Tab Hunter, Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson and Little Richard were becoming very much a part of our lives. So too were British singers Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard, and Mickey Most. Pat Boone was the clean cut kid that our parents encouraged us to be "fans" of, rather than the rebellious, sideburned, hip-swinging Elvis Presley. I recall that Rosemary Humphries was the chief Pat Boone fan in our class. I gravitated to Elvis Presley, and would buy the weekly fan magazine about Elvis while he was serving in the U.S. military in Germany. From information in this magazine I hand wrote my own weekly "newspaper" - devoted to Elvis and his doings - on a folded piece of exercise book paper, and circulated it around the class. Something else that circulated around the class as one of our fads was a "poo poo cushion" - a flat balloon-like air bladder with its air contained by a valve, which if you placed on someone's seat (e.g. under a seat cushion) would make the sound of passing gas when sat on. One day the poo poo cushion was being surreptitiously passed around in Mrs. McFarquhar's class, and breaking wind was constantly in the air. Alert to catch a culprit, Mrs. McFarquhar eventually did so, confiscating the offending device and throwing on the fire in the fireplace in our classroom. And with an enormous farting sound (which we students loved!) the poo poo cushion was no more.

Being at the high school exposed us to formal, organized school sport for the first time. The boys played rugby and cricket, and participated in swimming and athletics. Instead of rugby and cricket the girls participated in hockey and netball. The junior boys rugby field was the land on which the High School girl's hostel now stands, which was in those days an open field. Unauthorized sporting activity was provided by the practice of boys who had disagreements settling their differences by fighting behind the shooting range in the Coronation street and Oxborrow Street corner of the school grounds. I was involved in one such fight, with Mickey Heslop. Given that we were among the smallest guys in our class, and certainly not the most aggressive, it is rather strange that we ended up fighting each other. As I recall the fight escalated from a minor argument we had when we accidentally bumped into each other while playing in different games of "fly" along the Oxborrow Street side of the school, and encouraged by other boys our minor argument became a date to meet behind the shooting range after school. As usual the word got around, at the end of the school day two very reluctant combatants arrived to find almost the whole school lined up to watch two skinny 12 year olds beat each other up. In a "bout" which probably lasted no more than two or three minutes before a teacher was seen approaching and everyone (including the combatants) ran for their lives, we had about two or three flurries of exchanged blows lasting no more than about ten seconds each. But that was sufficient to give us bloody noses - and when I got home I got a hiding from my mother for fighting at school! But at least we got away in time to avoid getting caned by the headmaster on top of it all!

Getting caned was one of the routine risks for a male student in those days. I had the distinction (?) of getting my last caning at Dundee High School after the school had closed for the year! In those days speech day was on the final day of the last term, and during the event I went off to use the toilet. The empty toilet and my last day at the school (since I was due to start boarding school in Durban the following year) were too much of a temptation, so I decided to “decorate” the stalls and general toilet area with toilet paper. While the “decorating” was taking place a prefect, Jannie Beukes, happened to walk in. He caught me, and next thing I was standing outside Vice Principal Sol Levinsohn’s office waiting to be punished (since I wasn’t coming back to the school I still can’t understand why I stayed there!). So after everyone else had left for the holidays, I was bending down getting “four of the best.” And when he was done, Mr. Levinsohn said “you’ll get a lot more of that at Durban High School.” So my tenure at Dundee High School ended on a less than high note. But there were no hard feelings on either side, however – 13 years later Mr. Levinsohn proposed the toast to the bride and groom when I married Convent pupil Rene’ van Vuuren!

Annual Events

Outside of school, those early years were spent enjoying the activities of a typical small town. Each Ascension Day the local Sunday Schools would hold picnics on farms in the district - because I attended those picnics I know that the Anglicans went to Talana Hill (now the site of the Talana Museum) and the Presbyterians went to Doug and Justine Smith's farm "Balgray" on the Ngisana road. The Methodist, Catholic and Dutch Reformed youngsters also had picnics, but I cannot recall what the venues were. In the early years picnic-goers were transported by ox wagons, but later the farm trucks of Basil Osborn and Doug Smith, and the construction vehicles of Johnston & Keith, were used for transportation. In addition to the food and cool drinks made available, picnic-goers entertained themselves with a variety of games. These included wheelbarrow races (with one contestant holding another by the ankles while the latter "walked" on his or her hands towards the finish line), three-legged races (in which the inside legs of a pair standing next to each other were bound together, and the contestants engaged in a footrace), egg-and-spoon races (in which contestants ran with a spoon holding a hard-boiled egg, and had to ensure it was not lost), tug-of-war, and rounders (like American softball, but using a tennis ball, in which a player would also be out if struck by a thrown ball while running between bases). In addition it was quite safe (assuming precautions to be wary of snakes) to climb the nearby mountains - at Talana we would typically climb up to look at the Boer fort on top of the hill.

Another annual event was the United Party fete, held in the Town Hall on King Edward Street (later the town library). In addition to the home made goodies such as fudge and coconut ice and koeksusters that were on sale, there was usually a fancy dress parade and - one year - a decorated bicycle contest. Despite the political nature of the event most of the town participated in the fete - after all, the town was predominantly English-speaking in those days, and the English-speakers were overwhelmingly supporters of the United Party. Yet another annual event was the soap box cart derby, held on the hill on Commercial Road with the start near the Bulwer Street intersection. "Soap boxes" were typically simple vehicles, based on a "T" shape created from two planks of about 4" by 2", with the top of the "T" forming the base for the back axle and the front axle being attached to the point of the "T" - by a single bolt, so that it could rotate for steering purposes. The wheels were normally pram or small bicycle wheels - though Bevin Shirley and I had much less efficient steel wheels on our cart, which is shown in the photo gallery! The basic soap box cart was steered - horse bridle style - by a loop of rope attached to each end of the front axle. The "driver" would sit on a makeshift seat - or in a box - located at the intersection of the "T". In later years some of the entries in the derby were a lot more sophisticated, however, as carts with chassis and steering wheels and enclosed cockpits started to appear.

The stop over at the Dundee Aerodrome of pilots and planes participating in the Governor General's Air Race was another regular event, as was the Caltex "Economy Run." The air race created a great deal of excitement in the town, and involved a good deal of organisation setting up refueling and repair facilities, as well as food and other conveniences. Participants stayed overnight in the town, and there was always an impressive collection of aircraft of various types and sizes - from the lowly Piper Cub to historical aircraft such as Tiger Moths, plus more common aircraft such as Piper Tripacers, Cessnas, and Beechcrafts (e.g. the "Bonanza"). As best I can recall there might have been as many as 40 or 50 planes were on display - all competing in different classes. The scouts would volunteer to perform various tasks during the event, often getting free "flips" in the planes as a "thank you." Normally Ladysmith was the next stop after Dundee, and having got to know some of the participants we tended to study the progress of the race after the participants left Dundee. One year there was a terrific wind blowing over the Drakensberg, and we heard stories of planes flying out of Ladysmith en route to a destination in the Free State taking 60 to 90 minutes to get close to the top of the Drakensberg - and then getting back to Ladysmith in 10 to 15 minutes once they gave up the attempt to cross the mountains and headed back with a powerful tail wind!

The Economy Run was a type of car rally sponsored by the Caltex petrol company and involved drivers who competed to determine who could get the best petrol consumption. As best I can recall the event was national, in the sense that the participants traveled throughout South Africa. They drove current model regular cars, demonstrating how fuel efficient cars could be if carefully driven. The event was always a big draw card, focused in the vicinity of the Corner Service Station, where the participants would stop for petrol. One of the favourite promotional items that accompanied the event was that Caltex would give out free kite-making kits, so in the days after the event there were lots of Caltex logos in the skies of Dundee. One year there was an old, open roof vintage vehicle participating, which did not have a fuel pump and relied on a gravity fuel feed. We were all very amused that this car had to be reversed up the notorious Griffin's Hill outside of Estcourt because fuel could not flow to the engine when it went uphill forward.

Mention of Griffin's Hill reminds me that in the 1950's there were no freeways between Dundee and the major centres of the country. The usual route to Durban was via the "One Tree Hill" Road, to meet the Ladysmith/Newcastle road, then on to Ladysmith. The dirt road through Wasbank past the Dundee aerodrome was rarely used. At Ladysmith it was customary to stop for tea and maybe a koeksuster at the "Guinea Fowl" service station and café' - especially after Ben van Tubbergh - who formerly ran the Corner Service Station - took over that business (in later years John and Paddy Davies moved from Dundee and took over the "Teds Tea Room" and filling station on the other side of Ladysmith, and that became a regular stop too). Then from Ladysmith to Estcourt we followed the old main road through Howick and alongside the railway lines past Chieveley (where Winston Churchill was captured by the Boers in the Anglo-Boer War). Estcourt was another favourite tea stop - there were a few tea rooms on the main street - one of which, I believe, was the "Grand". Then it was over the Bushmen's River bridge and past the Eskort Sausage factory up Griffin's Hill, and on through Mooi River and the old main line towns of Rosetta, etc. to Pietermaritzburg - entering via the Town Hill road that was always so dangerous for runaway vehicles (hard to imagine nowadays!). After Pietermaritzburg we continued on the old main road through Ashburton, Camperdown, Cato Ridge, Drummond, Botha's Hill, Hillcrest, and Pinetown to enter Durban at 45th Cutting. The nose to tail traffic on busy travel days such as the Easter weekend was horrendous and dangerous on those often narrow and winding and pedestrian-dotted single-lane roads - especially when it was dark and raining. As a result there were some horrible accidents, an many pedestrian casualties. This was often an up to six hour journey - though Denis Smith earned the admiration of all of us kids (and the "tut-tuts" of the more serious residents!) by regularly getting to Durban in under four hours in his 1948 Ford V8 - and with one eye too!!

The arrival of circuses in town always caused great excitement. There were three circus groups in those days - Pagels, Boswells and W. H. Wilkies - a circus that moved to South Africa from England sometime in the 50s. Eventually Pagels went out of business (probably in the 50s) and the other two amalgamated to become Boswell-Wilkies Circus. The circus tents would be pitched in what was then an open field (it may even have been known as "Market Square" or "Town Square") bounded by Victoria, Willson, Beaconsfield and Smith streets. I seem to recall that in the early days the circuses traveled by train, and that there would be a procession of animals and performers and equipment. While we were thrilled by the lions and acrobats and other acts, what we as kids liked best were the clowns - especially the midgets "Tickey" and "Sixpence" who were, I believe, associated with Boswell's circus. The same venue was also used by traveling amusement parks, which would show up with their carousels, big wheels, roller coasters, dodgem cars, the "whip", and the "dive bomber," as well as a variety of sideshow attractions such as coconut shies (where you won a prize by knocking down one or more coconuts), shooting galleries (also for prizes), etc. The whip was a ride which had "cars" seating three people looking inwards which were attached to a central, rotating shaft - rather like a huge record turntable. The cars ran on wheels, faster and faster as the ride progressed. And at one point in each rotation of the ride the cars were pulled out of a symmetrical circuit, inwards and outwards, giving riders a good shaking - hence the analogy to a whip. The dive bomber was a devilish contraption which only the bravest of the brave (which excluded me!) would risk riding. This consisted of two aircraft-cockpit style compartments for two riders each, attached back-to-back and affixed to the ends of what was like a single propeller mounted on a crane- like derrick. The "propeller" would commence turning as the ride began, building up with increasing speed. The effect was that occupants of the front cabin would have the sensation of plunging to the ground as the "propeller" rotated, while those in the other half of the cockpit were traveling backwards! Then, to add to the fear factor, the cockpits actually rotated also, so that riders would alternately be the right side up or upside down - or in between. The ride would alternately rotate clockwise and anti-clockwise, for about five minutes - a gut-wrenching experience which often had as its result that some very ill riders emerged at the end of the ride.

Each November 5th Guy Fawkes Night - the centuries-old commemoration of Fawkes' attempt to blow up the English Parliament in 1605 - would be celebrated by letting off fireworks. Because individual fireworks shows were necessarily likely to be short and sweet, families would get together and pool their fireworks for a joint display. Our family used to join the Simpson family at their home on the corner of Victoria Street and Tatham Street for a fireworks display. This included a "guy" who would be burned in effigy - normally made of straw in clothing of hessian (or actual old clothes), with a face and hat. Fireworks might be used to provide the guy's physical features such as eyes, ears, nose, etc. - normally "squibs" (small exploding firecrackers, often in strings of up to a hundred that would explode successively, machine-gun like) and "big-bangs (bigger squibs). We would also have sparklers (a wire about ten inches long with combustible material covering about half of it, which material put out sparks as it burned), catherine wheels (a coiled paper tube filled with combustible materials, which if pinned through its middle would rotate as it spewed fire - jet engine like - from the burning end of the coil), Roman candles, and - of course - rockets (a bottle rocket in American parlance). We greatly looked forward to these events. However, they did lead to some delinquency - especially when it was discovered that using a catapult and a big bang with properly timed ignition of the fuse could be used to take out a street light! Guy Fawkes night also saw groups of kids roaming the streets looking for fireworks displays to watch, which had the unfortunate result that more "roof music" was played that night than on any other. ("Roof music" was the activity of throwing a rock - or rocks - onto the corrugated iron roofs which were used on most houses in the town in those days: there would be a solid clunk as the stone initially hit the roof, followed by a series of lesser clunks as it rolled down the roof.) And - because for some reason he had become a favourite target of "roof musicians" - Mr. Les Archbell, who lived on the corner of Victoria Street and Coronation Street, was probably the most frequent victim (perhaps because he made it a contest by trying to catch the miscreants!).

At Christmas time there were a multiplicity of events called "Christmas Trees" held in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day. These were held by the Moths (known as the "Moth Christmas Tree"), the Sunday Schools, and other organizations such as the golf club. They involved a party at which cakes and sweets and cold drinks were served, followed by some local father appearing in a Father Christmas costume and giving presents to the assembled children. Local service organizations such as Toc-H would also provide such Christmas Trees at the Coloured and Indian and African schools. On Christmas day it was usual to attend the morning service, and then most people would get together with friends and family for a Christmas lunch. Our family normally spent Christmas Day with Dr. Mervyn and Mrs. Peggy Lloyd, at their home on the corner of Boundary Road and Union Street. After a good meal my father and Dr. Lloyd would retire for a cigar and a glass of port - a practice that, in later years, I was also allowed to participate in. Then it was time to listen to the Queen's Christmas message to the Commonwealth on the radio - this was before the National Party government took South Africa out of the Commonwealth, of course. The following day - Boxing Day - would see many of the local service-providers (mainly non-white) calling on residents asking for a cash donation known as a "Christmas Box". This was the day on which people such a municipal garbage and sewage and street cleaning workers, store delivery men, milk delivery men, etc. would pay a visit and seek tangible recognition for their service during the year.

Other Activities Outside Of School

The Boy Scouts and Cubs were very active in the 1950's and 1960s, as were the Girl Guides and Brownies, and most of the English-speaking children belonged to these organizations. A number of Afrikaans-speaking children also participated, and generally they were the children of United Party supporters. The other Afrikaans-speaking children - mainly the children of supporters of the National Party, who held anything "English" in contempt - belonged to the Voortrekkers, which was effectively an Afrikaans language equivalent of the Boy Scouts. As Cubs we would earn badges by learning skills ranging from woodworking, knotting, tracking and campfire-making to cooking and sewing. The Cubs held an annual "Bob-a-Job" fundraising campaign, in which Cubs sought out tasks for which they would be paid a "bob", i.e. a shilling. In my Bob-a-Job years I had some regular "customers" on whom I could rely - Mrs. Mary McAlister would always hire me to wash her car (a little Fiat Cub), and Mrs. Aitken on Ryley's Hill would always find something for me to do around the garden. One year I weighed and bagged brown sugar for John Sparks for his general dealers' store - a sweet and sticky assignment, but one that earned me substantially more than a "bob"!

The swimming bath was also a centre of our lives, as a regular after school hangout and as the venue for Swimming Club held every Sunday morning after Sunday School. There was a kiosk in the corner of the premises where cool drinks and ice cream and snacks could be purchased. Unless you had been awarded a certificate of proficiency in swimming you were restricted to the shallow end of the pool, in which even the youngest children could stand. If you wanted to venture beyond the shallow end you had to obtain at least a "Third Class" certificate, which required swimming a width without stopping, or a "Second Class", which required swimming two widths without swimming. The tests for these certificates were supervised by pool superintendent "Fatty" Alborough, who would clear swimmers from the lane with great fanfare, to permit the test! Although this provided no more additional privileges (except maybe the right to dive from the high board), a "First Class" was also available for anyone who could swim three lengths of the 33 yard pool, i.e. 100 yards. Who can forget the delights (and sometimes the burning heat) of coming out of the pool shivering, and then lying on the sun-warmed brick surrounding wall, or on the brick paved pool surround, to be baked warm! And who can forget the variety of dives that we boys engaged in from the high (3 metre) board to wet and thereby impress (??) the girls as they walked alongside the pool! These included the "bomb" - which involved jumping into the water with legs contracted and held by the arms (the American "cannonball"). Then there was the "suicide", which involved dropping from the high board parallel to the water surface, then contracting into a ball at the last moment before impact with the surface. But the biggest and best splash was obtained by the "half moon" dive, which comprised a regular head first dive, but immediately before impact with the water the diver would roll forward so that the impact was on the shoulders and upper back. This seems to have trapped air under the body, with the result that the dive would create something like the water equivalent of an engine backfiring, which produced a higher and more directed plume of water. Thus, with a half moon one's splash might even reach a sunbather on the grass beyond the pool's brick paved perimeter! (Perfect for "impressing" those out of town girls who in ignorance lay sunbathing too close to the edge of the pool!) In addition, in later years, it was a popular prank to jump the fence at night a have a "midnight swim" - but one had to be quick, because ever-vigilant neighbours would call the police, which meant that one had five to ten minutes at most in the water before prudence dictated that it was time to leave, or face an angry policeman!

The Dundee Theatre was another social centre of the town. There were occasional musicals and other live shows presented, but most entertainment was in the form of movies. These were shown on Friday and Saturday evenings, and there was also a matinee on Saturday afternoons. It was quite an event for our parents' generation to go to the theatre (i.e. cinema), and having tea and refreshments at intermission was one of the highlights of the evening. Tables in the tea room had to be reserved for intermission, and the taking of tea was rather more formal than the current self service and check out style that is common in cinemas. The tea room section adjoined the cinema auditorium and was decorated with the pictures of the stars of the day – Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, etc. It was rare for us youngsters to be allowed to see an evening show, but one of the common birthday treats was to take out a group of friends to an evening film. Given that World War 2 had recently ended it is not surprising that we saw a lot of wartime and cowboy movies – Audie Murphy’s “To Hell and Back” is one that comes to mind. As one might expect of loyal members of the British Commonwealth, before the feature film we all watched the British Pathe news as part of the pre-intermission show! And every film presentation ended with a clip showing the King, and later the Queen, on the screen while the audience stood as “God Save the King/Queen” was played (anti-monarchists, typically members of the National Party would remain seated during the anthem, or leave noisily!). With regard to musical variety shows, I remember one which focused on famous show tunes – this featured Henry Papenfus singing to someone (was it Hazel Durham?) as she swung on a swing on the stage!

Another common birthday treat was to take a day trip for a picnic on the sands of either the Buffalo or Tugela rivers. Picnics on the Buffalo River were held at Vants Drift, which is where the road to Nqutu crosses the river. Our point of entry was always the farm of Bob Matheson, just over the bridge on the right hand side of the road. At Tugela Ferry – on the road to Greytown – we would also cross the bridge and have our picnic on the far side of the river, which always seemed to have a more beach-like sandy area to play on. Rounders was the favourite game at these picnics. In those days the road through Tugela Ferry was often used as a short cut to Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The whole area around Tugela was still very traditional in those days, and it was commonplace to see the men and women dressed only in traditional garb – with the women often sporting the clay-supported, cylindrical hair/headdresses of a “makoti,” i.e. a married woman.

In the school holidays Brian Tomes, who was a junior teacher at the Estcourt High School and the son of the Vicar of St. James Church, would return home and organize hikes for the local youngsters. Popular venues were the local hills of 'nDumeni, Mpati, and Talana. We would all ride out on bicycles to the DuBois farm near the foot of nDumeni, or the Smith farm (Balgray) at the foot of Mpati, or to the Elliott farm at Talana Hill, and from there would climb the hill.

With rare exceptions, bicycles were the transportation form of choice for Dundee's kids of the 1950s, and into the 1960s as well. As is noted above, these were the immediate post-war years, and the economy (and especially the finances of the returning soldiers who made up most of the parents of our generation) had yet to boom. For example, my parents did not acquire a car until about 1952, after I had already started school. So we rode our bikes to school (quite a challenge on winter's mornings, given that even the winter uniforms consisted of short pants). In addition to being essential transport, bikes were also recreational toys - especially after "Buddy Fuller and his Hell-Riders" came to town, and put on a show at the King Edward Park rugby field of ramp-to-ramp jumps by cars, synchronized driving, and eventually a "demolition derby" stock car race. Shortly afterwards Stuart Wood, Peter Smith, Peter Turnbull and I formed our bicycle-based "hell riders" - which we called "Steters," an amalgamation of our first names of Stuart and Peter. We built ramps in our Colley Street backyard, and then challenged the upstart group of younger kids formed by Archie Henderson to try out on our track! Because we were older and bigger, we could jump further on the ramp to ramp - which Archie found out to his discomfort when he fell short and ended up losing all of his front teeth! Thereafter the parents put a stop to it all! Eventually a few fortunate souls upgraded to mopeds - or "buzz-bikes", as we called them. The first owners of such buzz-bikes that I can recall were David "Moose" Marais and Jonathan "Jasco" Dinkelman who - I believe - had Italian "Mosquito" bikes.

Dinky Toys - die cast model cars - were a great source of entertainment for boys of the 1950s. As children we built elaborate roads and towns in the sandpits and on paths of our homes. Maurice Williamson, who lived a couple of blocks away from my home, had a collection which included Dinky Toys that his father had played with as a child – which we considered to be antiques compared with the newer versions we played with. Maurice Henderson, who lived about a block away from my home, built a racetrack for us to play with our Dinky Toy racing cars on (Maurice’s Dad was a model railway buff, and had a great railroad track set up in an outside room for his beloved Fleischmann trains.) I had a green HWM race car, my brother Murray had a blue Ferrari (yes, blue, not red), and Maurice Henderson (also known as “Hedgehog”) had a Cooper Bristol or Maserati (this recollection is not unaided – I have “Collecting Dinky Toys” by Mike Richardson open in front of me as I write, and it has photographs in it of every Dinky Toy model ever made!) Our interest in these toys was so great that getting the latest model was always a coup – we were regular callers at Bert Walters’ shop in Victoria Street (next door to the Royal Hotel) to check on, and hopefully buy, the “hot new thing” as the new models came in and were put in display. In the 1950’s Dinky was bringing out toy replicas of the exciting car designs of those days, and our collection included such models as the MGA, Triumph TR2, Austin Healey, Austin Atlantic, Packard convertible, Cunningham race car, Jaguar D Type, 1959 Plymouth and DeSoto (both with tailfins!), and many others. My favourite toys turned out to be military vehicles, and I still have more than thirty of them. In addition, during the 1950s Corgi toy cars also became available - they were similar in size and design to Dinkys, but with cutting edge features not yet seen in Dinkys such as plastic windows and suspensions. I also still have the last Dinky Toy I was ever given (and its box!) – a BBC TV Mobile Control Room vehicle which was given to me by Phyl Batchelor! A photograph of some of these Dinky and Corgi toys - including the BBC van - appears in the photo gallery of this website.

During the war years and before those years, cigarette packs came with cards of various kinds e.g. depicting cars, navy ships, sportsmen, etc. This practice found its way in the "sweet cigarettes" that were a treat for the children of our day. These sweet cigarettes were about the same length and white colour as real unfiltered cigarettes, but somewhat thinner, and were made from a sugary substance that was a bit like the hard icing on a Christmas cake. And they had a red coloured tip to represent the lighted end! The sweet cigarettes came in boxes that mimicked the real thing, using the brand names of the day like "C to C" (from "Cape to Cairo"), Westminster 85, Craven A, Max, Flag, and Springbok - brands of "real" cigarettes that mostly did not survive the 50s. The trick with the sweet cigarettes was to suck them into as sharp a point as possible, then use that point to terrorize other kids! Another favourite sweet was the politically incorrectly named "nigger ball" - a hard, black sweet of about an inch and a half in diameter. These black sweets could always be found prominently displayed on the counters of the "tea rooms" where we bought our sweets - normally stored in large glass jars, alongside the coloured versions which came in red, green blue and white. You could buy two or three for a penny - very cheap by today's standards, but not that cheap on pocket money of a "tickey" or sixpence a week! And chewing gum was of course also a favourite - Chappies and Wicks being the principal brands.

Mention of the currency prompts me to talk about the pre-decimalization money that we used in those days. Our money followed the English system of currency, with most of the coins actually being of the same size and composition and denomination as the English coins. The least valuable coin was the farthing - a quarter of a penny. Next came the halfpenny (or "ha'penny" - pronounced "hay-penny"), and the penny. All of those coins were copper. Then came the silver coins, starting with the threepenny bit - known as a "tickey" - and the sixpence. Next was the shilling coin, worth twelve pennies, and the two shilling coin (also sometimes known as a "florin"). After that was probably our favourite coin, the "half crown," i.e. two shillings and sixpence. I call it a favourite because a half crown was often given as a gift, e.g. on a birthday. And it was probably enough to buy a small Dinky Toy! There was also a crown, i.e. five shillings, but these coins were not in common use, and were typically only seen on special occasions, e.g. also as a birthday gift. After that came the ten shilling note (which became a Rand on decimalization in the early 1960s), and one, five and ten pound notes. And finally, just for the record, one pound and one shilling (i.e. 21 shillings) was known as a "guinea" - still commonly used by advocates in billing their fees as late as the 1970's (though converted to Rands!).

Our coming of age into the pre-teenage years, coupled with the rock and roll phenomenon, got us interested in music and dancing and, of course, the opposite sex. What were called "hops" were arranged, where rock and roll music would be played on the gramophone (often the wind up variety that played only one shellac 78 rpm record), and we all stood around shyly trying to pluck up the courage to ask someone to dance. I remember one such "hop" which, for some reason was held at what was then the High School girl's hostel on the corner of McKenzie and Cornhill streets. I got all dressed up for the occasion, wearing my short pants and my very cool, cutting edge fashion items of luminous yellow long socks and moccasins. My coolness quickly evaporated when I got there and discovered that everyone else was in their junior school uniforms, so I had to be taken home to change. But yellow socks and moccasins continued to be cool! As did the music - especially Elvis with his "Hard Headed Woman," "Blue Suede Shoes," and "Jailhouse Rock," Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti," "Be Bop A Lula," "Rip it Up," and "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," and Bill Haley's "Rocking Through the Rye."

Distinctive Town Characteristics

Dundee in the 1950s had a number of quaint characteristics. One was that the grocery stores (primarily Boswells and Wellworths) had delivery "boys" who would call at the homes of customers on their delivery bicycles to take orders, which would then be delivered later in the day. Another feature is that milk deliveries were made by horse drawn carts - the horses were so well trained that they would stop at each house to let the milkman make his delivery, then automatically walk to the next stop. (Orange Grove Diary continued to use horse drawn carts until the 1970s!) Yet another feature was that the brickworks hooter would sound at noon (or maybe it was 1.00 p.m.) and at 5.00 p.m. each day, thereby providing a town-wide warning of lunchtime and the end of the business day. As the 5 o'clock hooter went one could often hear African workers shouting out "shayile" - i.e. it has struck! Another feature was the 10.00 p.m. curfew, which required that kids be off the streets by that time. Yet another feature was that after closing at the usual 5.00 p.m. the shops re-opened on Friday nights at 7.00 p.m., and remained open until 9.00 p.m. It was always a treat to go shopping on a Friday night!

Yet another characteristic of the town was that Williams Bakery – at the intersection of Boundary Road and Gladstone and Beaconsfield Streets – would sell bread directly from the bakery, through the courtyard in the back of the premises, every Sunday. Except for the Victoria and Central and Cosy tea rooms, no shops were open on Sundays (or even after 12.30 p.m. on Saturdays), so getting fresh bread was a treat. How good that warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven bread tasted – I can almost taste it as I write this! As a result, the bakery was a regular stopping place for those returning from Sunday swimming club or religious services.

Then, as now, Dundee was notorious for its thunderstorms. One such storm struck around 1950 (or maybe just before). I stood with my Dad on the front verandah of our Colley Street home and watched this dark black and green mass of storm clouds approaching through the nek between ‘Ndumeni and Little ‘Ndumeni. As the storm reached the houses below us the sound of hail on the corrugated iron roofs provided a cacophony of metallic thuds, and soon the first hailstones struck our own corrugated iron roof. The hailstones were bigger than golf balls, and they smashed almost all of the windows of the house on the ‘Ndumeni side. My mother was so concerned that they would come through the roof that she cleared the top shelf of the linen cupboard (which had a concrete top) and placed my infant brother up there for his safety. The hailstones dented the town’s corrugated iron roofs of the day, to the extent that someone with a keen eye could probably still identify the roofs that were built before 1950 from the dents!

Sunday afternoon drives were quite a big event in the 50s – certainly in my family, and also in many other families. Typically these involved heading somewhere for afternoon tea. Probably the most popular destination was the “Singing Kettle,” on a farm just off the Ladysmith-Newcastle road, almost directly opposite Fort Mistake. The main attraction was what accompanied the tea – cakes and scones and home made biscuits, and the ever-popular koeksusters. Later Andrew Swart – just back from a visit to the United States – established his “Andrew’s Motel” a short distance closer to Ladysmith along the road from the Singing Kettle. This was reputed to be one of the first – if not the first – American style motel in South Africa. Another later entrant in the Sunday afternoon tea stakes was the “Sunset Rest Motel,” built by the Shardelow family at the intersection of the One Tree Hill Road and the Ladysmith-Newcastle road.

“Miss Ryley” – actually Mrs. Ryley – had a riding school in the late 50s and early 60s. It operated from an open lot with huge eucalyptus trees around its perimeter. This lot was situated at the corner of Ann Street and Bulwer Road – on the McKenzie Street side, not far from the old creamery. The school probably had between 10 and 20 participants ranging from about ten to 15 years of age. Miss Ryley would show us the proper way to approach a horse, how to saddle and mount the horse, the correct posture when riding (including how the bridal should be held), proper trotting procedure, cantering, etc. More advanced riders would do jumping and other show events. After training sessions on the open lot the group would typically all saddle up and ride the streets of Dundee in a “posse” led by Miss Ryley or some of the better riders. And good riders there were: among them were Jean Simpson and Kathleen Reid, both of whom regularly won awards at Dundee’s agricultural show.

The agricultural show – held annually each June for a week at the show grounds on Union Street – was another big attraction for Dundee’s kids. The schools (particularly the Convent) encouraged their pupils to exhibit art and handicrafts – including paintings, sewing, crochet, embroidery, and handwriting. The First Prize winning painting of Convent pupil Rene’ van Vuuren at the 1959 show is reproduced in the photo gallery of this website. (Interestingly the Steward is shown on the First Prize certificate as “D. Adams” – presumably Dot Adams, wife of Town Clerk Jimmy Adams and mother of Michelle, Sandra and Jill.) There were equestrian events such as dressage and jumping in the show arena in which school pupils participated– and also the more difficult equestrian events such as tent pegging, lancing the ring, etc., which were primarily for the adults. The Scottish dancers trained by Albert Roffey were regular performers in the late 50’s and early 60s. Other regular features were the high school bugle band, drum majorettes, trampoline jumping displays, gymnasts, police dogs, and special features such as helicopter rides. There were also agricultural exhibits in departments such as dairy, poultry, and produce – all of which were judged and awarded first, second, third and “highly commended” prizes! In addition there were numerous commercial exhibits in the grounds. These included all the local car dealers, and us small boys would go from display to display collecting brochures advertising the new models. And what a variety of models there were – Chevrolets and Opels at the Dundee Motors display; American and British Fords, Mercury and Taunus at the B.J. Motors display; Wolseley, Riley, MG, Austin, Morris and Triumph at the GL Motors display; Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, GMC and Standard Vanguard at the Shardelows Garage display; and Peugeot at the Dumain Motors display. Then there were Massey-Ferguson and Nuffield tractors and International Harvester farm implements, industrial and mining equipment displays such as those of Illings & Norths and Hubert Davies. The highlight of the week was the Show Ball and the election of the Show Queen – but of course us youngsters did not see any of that!

Unfortunately, life was not all peaches and cream in Dundee of the 50s. Most of the fathers of our generation (and some of the mothers) had served up to five or six years in the armed forces in World War 2, so they were late in establishing their careers and were often financially pressed. As a result, most of our families lived simple and unextravagent lives, in quite ordinary homes. In fact it is interesting that there were no upper income or lower income or middle income suburbs in the town – people of all economic classes (at least those of the privileged white group) lived in the same neighbourhoods.

In the mid-50s South Africa – in common with much of the rest of the world – was struck with the scourge of polio. A number of Dundee children were stricken, the most prominent in our group of kids being Billy Craven, son of the local magistrate and nephew of the famous Springbok rugby scrum half and later President of the SA Rugby Federation, Danie Craven. But to his enormous credit that affliction did not inhibit Billy’s love of life and warm, outgoing personality. Bruce Craithorne was also afflicted with the disease, as was John Trollip.  Also in those years the increasing repression by the National Party government led to growing resistance from those who were repressed, principally the African community. As a result, security in the town was stepped up, and many of our fathers (including mine) were for a time formed into a voluntary militia that patrolled the residential suburbs every night. But generally the relationships between the races were a great deal better in the 50’s than they were in later years – for example, as an eight-year old I would ride my bike from our Colley Street home to visit the Sithole family in Farm Doctor, and I was always welcomed by the inhabitants of that town and never felt threatened or unsafe.

Given all of the above, and despite the occasional hard times, we kids of the 1950's managed pretty well in our small town, enjoying a simple but fun-filled lifestyle that modern kids might well find to be more appealing than their sheltered and electronic-gadget filled lives!