Friday, January 25, 2008

2008. Post Apartheid: More Fraser Esslemont 1996 SA Town Hill Dispatches

While Jake and Luke settled into Oaklands School, Christchurch, I trekked to Lincoln University each day in my second-hand 850cc Subaru van, one of the worst motor vehicles I owned, after my crappy Austen Apache in SA, when I first met Leah. After working for over twenty years in SA, UK and Israel, and with over seven years' tertiary education, I found Lincoln lectures boring, with pseudo -intellectual lecturers riding around on bicycles and students doing juvenile things. I couldn't get excited about insect life-cycles; weeds; leaves; native plants; toxic herbicides and pesticides; grape vines and how to trellis and nurture them.

The eureka for me was that thousands of students scurried around studying nature in lecture rooms and libraries, yet outside nature was all around for anyone with powers of observation to see and read about in public libraries or visit on the internet. I was uninspired by Lincoln, and paid much money to realize I knew more about life and teaching than some of my lecturers. I withdrew after one semester, going back to apple-picking and other horticultural labouring. At least I was earning money, rather than wasting money on book -learning.

Fraser's Durban curator continued searching for alternative placement for Fraser, and kept me informed of developments.

28.07.96 Fraser's Town Hill dispatch: "Im thinking of you and your family often. How come you get a late flower flush in autumn? ['...season of mists and mellow fruitfulness']. The seasons marked with plants must be very nice. Tobogganing in the Alps must thrill the 2 boys. How about some photos of you and your family in Kiwiland?

Thanks for the leaves of the NZ trees. I kept them for a long time. Nursery work must have been interesting. Dont they sell in spring, when seedling trees are ready? [Yes]. Try and send the 'Meadow Fresh' milk container label, so I can see what the ingredients are. Im interesting in farming myself. Ill be training at Senior Training Centre in Maritzburg soon. Im waiting for the doctors go ahead letter of approval. [It seemed my nagging superintendent Dr. Ross about 'rehabilitation' was having some positive results, after Fraser had languished 7.5 years at Town Hill madhouse].

Im surprised they pollute Chch with oil and wood fumes. In Maritzburg, they got rid of oil-fired Corobrick factory. Your sealed oil fin-heater sounds a good idea. Please send me a photo of Lincoln University indoor cricket pitch. Im starved of any photographic material or magazines at O ward. [Closed ward again! I bet Fraser's madhouse keepers were unaware Fraser was an omnivorous reader before his Verulam accident].

What are deciduous trees? Send me a booklet on NZ trees. Id be interested. How old is your oak? Do they export apples to Asian countries. I think apple exporting would be a good career. People need fruit. [Aussies blocked NZ apple export to Oz, scared of Kiwi bugs]. I make compost myself out of dropped twigs & bark. Over 100 trees at Town Hill.

Forget the job search trail. Stay in one job for a year. A variety of vacancies seems a crappy idea. Competition for jobs must be stiff."


15.09.96 Fraser's Town Hill dispatch: "Tell me how you do apple tree pruning? In fact I dont know how to do the planting of apples. Let me know please. [I was pruning apple trees at Apple Fields Wigram Orchard]. I hope you have got permanent employment. [Impossible as a NZ labourer, due to the employer-favouring Employment Contracts Act].

It must be nice Jake and Luke being in the same primary school, Oaklands School. Do oaks surround the school? [No, but an oak avenue in the past had led to the original Oaklands farmhouse, opposite our Nottingham Avenue home]. When they stop wearing winter track-suit tops what do the boys wear? Jake must be playing rugby already for his school.

Qualified gardener is what im trying too. Planted carrots, tomatoes and radishes just the other day for spring vegetables. Watering them takes time each day. Im going to write to my lawyer as soon as Im sent to the Sunnyside Farm, Natal. There is a holdup because a Town Hill patient lost his ID document and we farm workers will have to wait 3 months for him to get his new ID.

All the best for the future."

26.10.96 Fraser's Town Hill dispatch: "Thanks for remembering my birthday. I was thinking of you and your family on 08.09.96. [My birthday]. Everything of the best for the coming year. Tell me more of Kleinzee. Is it an inland lake close to the coast? What is the name of the De Beers town in the Free State where you worked? [Koffiefontein]. Did you get the native-plant nursery work [No]. The Department of Conservation is a steady source of income. Try not to do temp work for them. [The Dept. wanted lots of NZ conservation work experience from me before seriously considering my job applications, never mind my SA conservation experience].

[A query about my Durban friend who was carjack murdered]: Was ... a tall teacher who came to visit us at Chelsea Drive, looking for a Comrades Marathon second in 1973. [Yes, I seconded him. And psychiatrists said Fraser's memory was bad]. My memory is not too good since 1973. [And psychiatrists said Fraser's insight was bad].

A group of 5 friends sounds ideal in Christchurch. Do you go to hotels and restaurants? Budding plants must be quite something to see in a new land. I think you get blaze [sic] in SA, expecting plants to bud every year. We have had good rains in Natal. The way you describe the Hagley Park area reminds me you were keen on poetry in SA. Try thinking poetry of your own in NZ. Your boys must have settled down nicely in Christchurch and enjoying themselves.

I hope Leah got that junior school teaching job. [Yes, teacher aide]. Is the NZ teaching methods much different than South Africans? [Yes partly, like composite primary classes, and bad reading teaching methods, like suppression of phonics for years, which later regained favour].

Im still waiting patiently for the Sunnyside farming job. [As Town Hill superintendent hadn't answered my letters for years, I didn't inquire about Sunnyside, as it sounded just another bullshit story by madhouse keepers]. I heard we receive a disability grant from the state. So the Town Hill staff is procrastinating in their decision. I will just have to be patient. I hope you have a pleasant and prosperous 1997. All the best."

Fraser's madhouse dispatches showed a curiosity about NZ. He was obviously not getting enough stimulation and inspiration at Town Hill.

After Fraser had existed at Town Hill for eight years, Fraser's Durban curator advised me that the Sunnyside Farm placement seemed remote.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

No comments: