Saturday, January 26, 2008

2008. Post Apartheid: Fraser Esslemont's 1997 SA Town Hill Dispatches

Fraser's undated Town Hill dispatch, received February 1997: "My apologies for not writing sooner, but ive been getting up to date with industrial therapy. This involves a backlog of undone rejected roof washers. Used under corrugated roofing. [Unpaid slave labour]. Ill be thinking of you and your family in 1997. Hope you all have a pleasant year and everything of the best in 1997.

Thank you for the pamphlets about NZ South Isle. They let me know what to expect when I visit you early next century. What's 'Ess's Tour' stand for? The botanical gardens in NZ must be impressive. You must have taught botany in schools in SA. What kind of meat part makes good biltong? [Lean topside]. I'm pleased your boys are doing well at school.

Are the new hearing aids making you hear spoken conversation clearly and distinctly? [My new digital hearing aid was OK. But I use one digital and one analogue hearing aid for best hearing, for my nerve deafness, although digital and analogue hearing aids have deficiencies, due to mostly background noise].

You must have got strong physically after all your packing of apples and cherries, and furniture moving, and warehouse work. I hope you get the computer job. [No luck, the Christchurch computer school went bankrupt, after I was on a waiting list for months]. Stay away from being an electrician. [I was interviewed for some electronics jobs and training]. You being interested in botany, why not be a gardener in botanical gardens?

Im sure you and Leah will be happy with Jake and Lukes education. Keep me informed. Im sure I can be of assistance concerning their future."

13.04.97 Fraser's Town Hill dispatch: "Howzit hows the year been treating you and your family? Very soon, I should have news of whether I go to Sunnyside Farm or Mulberry Farm in Tongaat, Natal. Recently I told Dr. Uilspieel that the vacuum had gone out of my brain for good, and I have an option of two places to go to. [Town Hill madhouse seemed to be working on placing Fraser in Natal establishments, instead of their deranged idea of exiling him to the Cape near where I'd lived]. This vacuum occurs to other head damaged people. Mine lasted 7.5 years, because I was comatose for 3 months. [Sic, 10 days]. Im defineitely [sic] on the mend after 10 years of being in 3 hospitals.

This Tegratol tablet (tranquillizer) worked well for me. But I receive 5 tablets and this is too much, now that I'm recovering. Please write to Dr. Ross at Town Hill about reducing my medication from 4 to 3 tablets. [Dr. Ross still wasn't replying to my letters]. On a farm my brain cells don't have to be tranquillized. So I think, get my pills reduced before I go to any farm at Bulwer or Tongaat.

If I go to Tongaat, Ill go skiing at Wewe Dam near Tongaat sugar mill. [Fraser's retrograde memory was good]. Trying to fish shad at Tongaat wont do me any harm. So I think being on the coast will be better for me therapeutically. Ill buy a second hand mountain bicycle to explore Tongaat sugarcane area. You'll remember, Im a little bit flatfooted, but im sure Ill handle a bike with no problem at all. I tried playing football and found Im very unsteady in the calf muscles. Due to my tendons being cut. [After iatrogenic crippling by Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome, then Achilles tendon surgery in Durban]. You and Leah were at Addington Hospital the night 2 doctors gave me a local anaesthetic and cut and re-stitched both my tendons very painfully.

[Leah and I weren't at the Achilles tendon notching. I trust major surgery wasn't done under local anaesthetic! At the time I was working at De Beers Koffiefontein hundreds of kays away, but visited Fraser once a month].

If you have any unused books on horticulture, please post them to me. Even varsity note paper that you don't use. We are both in the southern hemisphere. Im sure planting methods are similar. Any clues on farming methods, ill very much appreciate. Ill have to get study notes from somewhere. At Town Hill Im starved of information. [So much for Fraser's 'rehabilitation' and 'management' after over eight years at Town Hill]. A correspondence course won't help. What about NZ farming brochures?

Excuse the shocking writing. I think I should write in a daily diary to practice. [Sic]. Have you any photos of your house and surrounding area? Ive tried to imagine, but photos will help. Thinking of you and the family."

Fraser's handwriting was neat, much neater than mine, more legible.

After raspberry, strawberry, bean, apple picking for several months, I got a job at a Christchurch cookie bakery. Over ten months, I signed four (yes 4) temp work contracts, under the aegis of the Employment Contracts Act, which benefitted employers more than employees. The Act ensured Kiwi unions stayed weak.

31.05.97 Fraser's Town Hill dispatch: "Congratulations. You and your family have settled into being Kiwis in 2 years. I can tell by your letters that you are more relaxed & confident. [I didn't burden Fraser with the fact we were almost bankrupt, and our SA funds were almost gone.] Thank you for the vegetable growing book. I appreciate it very much. Please send me pamphlets and magazines when you find something suitable.

The manner you talk of trees, shows you love nature. Winter for us in SA started 4 days ago, not 1 June. Do you plant bean and strawberry in your garden? [Yes]. Good luck seeking new work. Working in a bakery will be sure employment for you, for a season.

I think ice skating and swimming excellent exercises for both the children and you. [My sons learnt to swim in our East London pool, and I taught them to skate at Christchurch ice rink]. Is your ears good enough to be a part time tutor? [No]. Not that I'm an expert on the subject. You have had enough over the years. You would have to go to the childs academic level to get through to them. It is up to you to try it out again. [I did and failed].

Tell me more of Leah's teacher-aiding? Is she pre-primary or primary school? You and your family are constantly in my thoughts, and I wish you 'veel sterkte vorentoe' in the coming times of change."

Fraser had suffered much over the last decade and his empathy was touching.

After being in denial about my deafness for many years, hoping for a miraculous cure, or decent hearing aids (analogues were OK, digitals were prohibitively expensive, but slightly more OK), I realized I could no longer teach.

Fraser's dispatches evaporated for more than a year.

Town Hill's superintendent Dr. Ross stayed spitefully silent.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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