Monday, December 31, 2007

2007. Apartheid, late 1950s - early 1970s, Fraser's Durban North Schooling

1958. Elandspruit, New Hanover. Back: Neil Wolhuter & Paul Esslemont. Front: Fraser, Mark, Valmai Esslemont.

Here follows brother Fraser's donkey-wagon song-sheet, with my choruses: While Fraser and I were boys we trekked through Pietermaritzburg many times. Mom had spent four happy varsity years there. Her nephew Dr. John Cosnett lived there, and he devoted his life to doctoring Zulus at Edendale. His son also became a doctor, doctoring Fraser's meningitis in Maritzburg, then emigrating to Ireland. We trekked through Maritzburg whenever we visited aunt Dorothy in Bloemfontein, and whenever we visited the Wolhuters near New Hanover.

Whenever mom invited her lady friends to tea at 22 Chelsea Drive, Durban North, she often compared Fraser with me: "You know Mark got four A certificates at the Speech and Drama festival? Fraser got two... Sugar cubes?"

"Thanks dear," clucked mom's spinster friend.

"You know Mark got three silver cups at the Durban North swimming gala? Fraser got one... Milk?"

"No thanks dear," clucked spinster. Fraser and I resented mom's comparisons. As I got older, I bollocked mom about it. Mom just chuckled. Fraser struggled through early schooling, copying and catching up with me. Although I was two years older than Fraser, he was three years behind me at school. When he started Sunningdale Drive Infants School, he battled, as he could hardly speak. Mom taught him to read - many tears - then got him to repeat class one at Our Lady of Fatima Convent, Northway. Fraser didn't stay long there, and went to Mrs. Jones's Halcyon Days class one, Chelsea Drive, to get him right.

1958. Fraser Esslemont, Sunningdale Drive Infant School, Durban North.

At Fraser's first Durban North Primary day, big boys mocked Fraser's spiky, brown fringe: "Daily News! Daily News!..." called bullies, apeing street-corner Indian newspaper boys. I couldn't stop their bullying. Fraser just grinned while boys chanted, "Daily News!..."

Years afterwards, mocking boys still called Fraser, "Daily News!"

While Fraser and I drifted through primary school, mom had a series of tenants in our Chelsea Drive home. While mom taught at local schools she had nervous breakdowns, and joked about madness: "Neurotics have their feet on the ground and their heads in the sky darlings. Psychotics have their feet off the ground and their heads in the sky darlings."

Mom disliked her fat Jewish boss at Red Hill Primary and called him, "that swine..." Mom befriended Jehovahs Witnesses, who put the fear of hell into mom. One, an artist, made brother Paul's death mask after Paul's cycle accident. Mom taught for many years at Northlands GH, where her old MA varsity friend and bridesmaid Netta Manning was headmistress. Before retiring, mom taught at Durban North Primary, next door to our home.

1959. Fraser Esslemont, Durban.

1967. Durban North. When Fraser joined me at Northlands BH, I was already in standard nine. I excelled as a body-surfer, rugby player, cadet-band bugler, warrant officer, jogger and stage actor.

Due to hard rote-swotting, Fraser came first in his standard six class, getting into A stream standard seven. His standard seven class, bad bunch, mocked teachers, stuffed around, and had competitions to see who could be caned most by headmaster RC.

Fraser and I sang in the Durban North Methodist choir. We joined Trafalgar Sea Scouts, playing wide-games in Old Mill Way bushy valley, and camping at Mr. Russel's Rosetta farm. To aunt Dorothy's chagrin, mom deserted the Methodist church. Mom, Fraser and I were confirmed at Saint Martins Anglican church, down Chelsea Drive. Fraser and I donned cassocks and surplices and sang in the choir.

During Easters, we holidayed at Elandspruit, New Hanover, where Fraser and I learnt to drive. We continued our Somerset East treks, visiting tannie Beattie and tannnie Winnie. Beattie's death preceded Winnie's by some years: both were buried in the dorp cemetery in their Hendrikz family plot.

We regularly trekked to Bloemfontein, visiting aunt Dorothy. After her hubby died, Dorothy sold her cottages, retired to an East London old-age-home, and died.

Fraser found girls during fantasies at Broadway Rex Cinema. He was in Northlands BH cadet drill squad. He played rugby, acted in school plays, became Student Christian Association chairman, and failed standard nine. A Stream academic subjects were too hard.

1972. Fraser Esslemont, Northlands BH, Durban North.

"To pass matric," said headmaster RC, "you must drop to O Stream."

"No way!" said Fraser. "I want to do A Stream matric." Fraser repeated A Stream standard nine. The iniquity about A and O Streams was that white boys had to do all subjects either O Stream or A Stream. Fraser was loath to do O Stream as it was considered dumb. Apartheid Aryanism didn't want whiteys doing kaffir work.

During his 1972 matric, eighteen year old Fraser did Comrades Marathon with me, from Durban to Maritzburg - over 80 kays away. Fraser beat me. But failed matric.

By then, I was teaching at Virginia Primary near home. During my four Virginia years, I was general-science specialist, taught general subjects to standards four and five, coached soccer and cricket, produced plays, and was house-master for galas and athletics.

I was a reluctant Commando conscript, doing army camps during holidays against swart gevaar.

I read my part-time BA at Natal University for whites. One evening, Fraser switched on our lounge radiogram, while I swotted for varsity exams. I ended up on the carpet throttling Fraser, while he banged my head on the floor. As we both did Kudokwai karate, we were capable of killing each other. We never fought again.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.


Mark JS Esslemont said...

Exchanged emails with a SA expat, living near NY, who used to live in Gainsborough Drive, Ellis Park, near DHSOB Club, Durban North. About Sunningdale Drive he said:

"I was in the 1st class 1 group at Sunningdale Drive, the school opened in 1960, I was there class 1 and class 2. Miss Meyer was the principal and Mrs Sharett was my class 1 teacher and Mrs O'Callagher (spelling?) class 2.

Since next year 2010 will be the 50th anniversary of our class 1 year, I thought of reaching out to all those classmen who might be interested in catching up.

I visited the school about a year or so ago during a visit to Durban, it's still there, and there is a sign up on the wall listing principals, sure enough Miss Meyer 1960-1961 is at the top of the list. I asked the receptionist if I could meet the current principal and was told that she was on leave checking out Australia!

I see you are in NZ. Christchurch looks terrific from the pics on your blog..."

Anonymous said...

I was at the same school at the same time. I remember those teachers. Then i went to Northway infants school to standard 1

Roger Beall

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Thanks for your input Roger. One of my mom's teacher friends was Elva Warmington, VP at Northway Infants in that era. Go well.

Gabriel Pollen said...

Dear Mark, this is me writing in desperation, as I wish to know a bit more about my own family's history. This is probably tangential to your own discussion here, but I was intrigued by your reference to Chelsea Drive, Durban North, in the 1970s.

My grandfather may have lived there (in the late 1960s until his death around then), as did his wife (in the 1970s), my father's stepmother. She lived on Number 1, Chelsea Drive, Durban North: her name was Mrs 'Poilly' or 'Pouilly' (not sure of the exact spelling).

I sent the following email to the French embassy in South Africa:

"I am a Zambian male aged 33, currently resident in the UK.

My father, of mixed race descent, has shared with me stories of his father, my grandfather. He told me he was of French origin, but lost all documents, photos etc. to prove his relationship. I wondered whether the French embassy in Lusaka or South Africa had a record of its French citizens visiting Zambia from before Zambia's 1964 independence, or slightly after. I understand he may have come from Lyon.

My grandfather later migrated to South Africa en route to Mauritius around the mid to late 1960s. During his sojourn in South Africa, he lived on Chelsea Drive, Durban North.

Although I maintain a surname of 'Pollen', I quite understand that my original surname was 'Poily' or 'Poilly' or 'Pouilly' - I am not sure what the correct spelling is. I have been told my grandfather was named Gabriel Poilly or something like that.

Would have have any information on this? Or would you direct me to somebody who could help?

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Hi Gabriel. I don't remember the Chelsea Drive surnames you mention. Sorry, I left 22 Chelsea Dr at the end of 1977 & have lived in NZ for the last 20 years. 1 Chelsea Dr was on the corner of Old Mill Way, a busy Durban North bus route then. I don't know anything about French embassies.

Leads: 1. Website: St Martins Church (Anglican) Chelsea Dr. The church may have records of your family. It was close to 1 Chelsea Dr. Families at the time living on Chelsea Dr near St Martins were Wettergreen, Chapel & Porteous families. I don't know if they still live there.
2. Website: Chelsea Drive Preparatory School (old name Durban North Primary). The school may have records of your family. Our family home was next door to the school.
Most Durban North kids went to Durban North Primary at the time.
3. Mrs Jones's Halcyon Days nursery school, opposite Dbn Nth Primary. Website?
4. Other Dbn Nth Primary feeder schools were Northway Infants & Sunningdale Drive Infants. Websites?
5. Northlands Girls High was for Durban North teenage girls. Website?
6. Northlands Boys High & Beachwood Boys High were for Durban North teenage boys at the time. Later the 2 boys high schools joined to form Northwood Boys High (Check Northwood website, Oliver Tambo Dr, used to be Kensington Dr at the time).
7. Broadway intersected with Chelsea Dr & was the main shopping precinct for Durban North, several shops.
8. Durban North Methodist Church on Broadway. Website?
9. Lady of Fatima Convent, Northway on top of Broadway. The convent had a private school where my younger bro started school. Website?
Hope these leads help your family search. Regards.

Gabriel Pollen said...

Hi Mark, thanks for the prompt reply - I appreciate this! Sorry to have had to ask in the manner I did. I am grateful for the leads. I am now looking to hire a private investigator in Durban; they'll probably do a better job than I can ever do.
Best wishes,

Philippe la Hausse de Lalouviere said...

Hi Gabriel, I suspect your immediate ancestry is Mauritian - contact me on if you want more info, cheers, Philippe la Hausse

Philippe la Hausse de Lalouviere said...

Hi Gabriel, I strongly suspect your grandfather is Mauritian, contact me on if you want more info, regards, Philippe