the journey of a budding author

Memories of Childhood


There was something irresistible about that summer dawn. It pulled us from our beds and into the pristine morning before the two younger ones could discover our plan and beg to tag along. As we slipped out of the sleeping house, there was a sense of expectancy in the very air we breathed, that spoke of Christmas soon to come and delicious adventures waiting around the next corner. The mist-wreathed world was ours, with no one stirring. We stood at the gate. Which way? To the left, the road led to the Koppies. They could wait for another day. We turned right, our faces kissed by the rising sun, our feet taking us wherever they would.

When we were growing up in Melville in the 50’s, we experienced a freedom unimaginable to children nowadays. We ranged far and wide, without parental supervision, nor were there questions asked when we came home.  We would disappear for the whole day with a picnic lunch to sustain us. We wandered over the Koppies, or trekked to the Zoo, or the swimming baths; we even investigated the echoing caverns of storm water drains, amongst other fascinating places.

This morning we were drawn to an open rock-lined storm water ‘sloot’ that ran at the bottom of the greengrocer’s vegetable gardens. We turned down Carlow   Road and climbed over the wooden railings that separated us from the tamed stream that trickled down towards a waterfall. This was not very high, but to my nine-year old eyes it was a precipice. However, there was scarcely any water flowing and we clambered down unscathed. This was the first and only time I ever went to this waterfall.

Below the waterfall, the stream was no longer a ‘sloot’ but a real stream full of dull brown rocks with sharp edges. We gingerly picked our barefooted way over these obstacles until we realised that we were entering a green tunnel of willows and the banks of the stream had risen to tower over us. Wondering where we were, we climbed cautiously to the top of the bank and peered over.

An amazing sight met our eyes. We had emerged in the middle of the golf course and there before us were acres of newly mown lawn, white with virgin dew. The sun was still slanting at a low angle through the trees, dappling the grass with golden rays, which turned the dewdrops into a scintillating carpet. It was fairyland!

You know that delicious feeling on opening a brand new exercise book on the first day of school, when you pause for a moment and then begin to write the first word on the first line of the first page? Well, this was like that. We paused for just a moment and then with whoops, we ran leaping and twirling and dancing heedlessly on the chill grass, making footprints where no one had walked before.

We had no thought of where we were, no thought that this great joyful space belonged to anyone but us. We were oblivious to the frantic barking of dogs nearby, until an angry voice halted us in our tracks. The golf course keeper. We had emerged from the stream not far from his house and our wild dance had taken place in full view of his windows. He called us over and gave us a dressing down. Not only were we trespassing on private property, he said, but also there was a real possibility of being killed by a flying golf ball. I hung back while Barbie and John, being older, took the brunt of the tirade. I couldn’t imagine that grown ups would even be up at this time, let alone out playing golf!

What an ignominious end to our adventure. Of course we could not go back the way we had come. We were escorted to the gate and banished, feeling some of what Adam and Eve must have felt being cast out of Eden. However it was not enough to tarnish the remembered delight of that perfect morning one summer long ago.

Memories of Melville: an addendum to this story

While I was writing this story I was reminded of what the area looked like.

When we first moved to 50 8th   Avenue, things looked very different to what they look like today. On the corner of 8th   street there was an old wood and iron house that had been abandoned. We thought it was a ghost house. We took some of the plants from the garden to put into ours.  Shortly after that the present neat little face brick house was built.

Further down 8th avenue, on the right-hand side was Mrs Lust’s house, also a wood and iron house with a big veranda. A huge loquat tree overshadowed it. Mrs Lust was an old German lady, a dead ringer for a witch if ever there was one. She had wild grey hair that mostly was pulled back into a bun, with a chin that seemed to meet her nose. I suppose that she didn’t like wearing her false teeth!  She was my friend Marie Haas’ grandmother.

At the end of the road, on the corner of what was then called Rustenburg road (maybe it still is) on the right was a huge field and in the middle of it was a low building that looked like a farm shed with a white gabled front. This was King’s Dairy. I remember the first time I was sent down there for milk, soon after we moved in to the new house, I thought that it said King’s Diary and so I didn’t go in. I didn’t have the courage to look in the door and make sure. I rather think I walked all the way up to <<<<<the top of the stairs to the dairy in Seventh   Street so that I would not look foolish. Later of course I got to know the dear old Zulu who worked in the dairy quite well. He used to call me Futi (short for Mafuta!!) Within a few years, this field became a petrol station with the workshops built with their entrance in 7th street. Facing on to the petrol station area was a Spar supermarket, probably one of the first ever in Johannesburg. This has also disappeared to be replaced by a modern block of offices with glass frontage that overhangs the road. It is so totally out of place in quaint Melville that someone described it ‘like giving an eighty-year old a boob job’

Across the road from the dairy was a small simple building that was a greengrocer run by a Portuguese. Behind this was an old abandoned flower Nursery that ran down to the stream. This whole area was flattened a few years later and buildings for Chamber of Mines Laboratories were erected there, as well as huge Keep Out fences. No possibility of wandering there anymore.

Years later, say in the mid-seventies or there about, mom and I went for a walk and we walked into the Chamber of Mines property which didn’t have a proper fence yet; it still had the simple wooden  rails on posts that it had always had.(Easy just to put a leg over) (me sitting on these railings) We were admiring the gardens. We even walked up the steps of the building, when a guard with a gun stopped us in our tracks and told us to move off. Some time later mom met a man who was somehow connected with the C O M and he told her that it was as well we didn’t try the door (as if we would!) because the guard had orders to shoot any intruders and that could have been perceived as intruding!!!

Across Carlow road was a similar building obviously the competition, a greengrocer also run by a Portuguese! This shop however had their market garden right there. It stretched down to the above-mentioned sloot. Afterwards, this little building was taken over by a Scout Troop and tennis courts were built and the gardens became a sports field.

The sloot is still there, running uncovered next to the ‘new’ section of Barry   Hertzog Avenue. Of course there was no need for the CarlowRoadBridge yet, and Carlow road was a narrow road that sloped down to the sloot that became a stream. There was a small bridge that spanned this. We used to go that way when we walked to the Zoo in Parkview The stream often smelled terrible. In those days, near the Gasworks there was a commercial Laundry that spewed its wastewater into the drains that fed the stream. Some things never change. If you look over the bridge you can still see vestiges of the old road.

The waterfall is below Oom Paul se Kop. I read recently that this was called Oom Paul’s se Kop because when said Oom Paul came to Johannesburg by ox wagon he used to water his cattle at this very waterfall!   It really wasn’t a beauty spot by the time we went on our adventure. It is not visible from the busy Barry Hertzog road just as it sweeps around to the first traffic light in Emmerentia. Mom said that squatters had moved in some time ago so it can only look a lot worse than it did then. This waterfall is not to be confused with the lovely fountain waterfall that courses over a rocky outcrop on the opposite side of the road. This was created by the Parks Dept. in more recent times.

Just a thought about Barry Hertzog (BH) Avenue. I think that before the new road was built, the road around the Koppies from Richmond, through Melpark and through Emmerentia was called Rustenburg Road. Then they built the section that went up to Empire Road from, I think it is Tana Road, and called the whole thing from the bottom of First Avenue Linden,  B H Road and left the section through Melpark still as Rustenburg Road.


Author: booksdefineme

I have always been surrounded by books. My parents had books, books and more books. I haunted the library as a child and when I grew up I worked in books shops. When I had children and they went to school I ran the school library. And my husband keeps on telling me there are too many books in the house. They somehow seem to pile up on every available surface almost of their own volition. I fight back and donate mounds of them to the local library but somehow it is a losing battle. I just find more taking their place! For the last eight years or so I have been wrestling with writing a novel and what a fierce tussle it is. I am about to publish this magnum opus in a few weeks time. I feel as I did when I gave birth to my children; nervous but excited!

4 thoughts on “Memories of Childhood

  1. What lovely memories. Johannesburg in the old peaceful days, when kids could be kids and discover the wonders of their surroundings in safety.I can go back to before Barry Hertzog was connected to Empire Road., and the bus went round the bends to get to Roosevelt Park,where building of houses has just started

  2. I have written in a very similar vein on the waterfall and memories of a childhood, growing up in Rustenburg Road. These memories appear in the Johannesburg Heritage Journal. The weir below the old nursey has been damaged, and the resultant change in the watercourse has undercut at leat one building on the CSIR site – and the City is embarking on repairs. As a result, I was asked to write a heritage report on the site.

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