The Story of Melsetter

A serious outbreak of A.C.F. occurred on Tilbury and all adjacent farms were infected. Following an outbreak in the Veterinary Experimental Camp all cattle on the Commonage were ordered to be slaughtered, but the V.M.B. asked for one month�s notice because of the difficulties of transporting milk and fuel to the School Hostel and the village.

Sheep experts from the Union reported that Melsetter was perhaps the best district for sheep and wool, and wool exported to England realised an average of 9d per lb. Hanmer Brothers� Wool Sales Report said that competition for their wools was excellent, with the wool in very good dry condition, well classed and packed. Shearing in September was a very busy time on many farms, and for some years a Government Sheep Officer was stationed in Melsetter.

The Cemetery, for which the V.M.B. constituted themselves a Board of Trustees, was dedicated by Bishop Paget in 1932. Its upkeep continued to be a problem, with special efforts made usually only when someone complained about the state of neglect. The V.M.B. planted trees round the border, had the graves tidied and numbered, the grass cut, the fireguards put in order, kikuyu planted, and the site fenced, and in 1933 they fenced the Pioneer Cemetery on Stand 6.

On an occasion when Dr. Rose was taking his daughters and other girls back to school and his son Bill was going to Umtali High for the first time, Bill leaned out in fascination to watch the wheels churn through the water as they were going through a deep rocky drift. He leaned out too far, and when the car lurched he fell out. The girls screamed but Dr. Rose calmly continued to negotiate the tricky passage. When he had got the car safely through to the other side he stopped and waited. A very bedraggled small boy climbed into the car, to renewed shrieks from the girls as they drew away from his wet form. Dr. Rose said calmly: �I wouldn�t advise you to do that again, Bill. Next time you might not be able to get out�, and drove on.

In 1932 work was started on fencing the Commonage, with grids erected; a very narrow road was put through to the Waterfall which replaced the footpath; the new Racecourse was laid out and blazed through the virgin veld; and work was done on the road to Springvale and the Goat Track was built through Alicedale and Hillside to connect with it as the Rusitu Mission access road.

The whole district was closed to cattle movement because of A.C.F., but with little infection on the commonage, all village cattle were moved to fresh kraals on the Chipinga road with dipping continued at the village dipping tank. Rocklands, a cattle depot for the Imperial Cold Storage Co., was infested with A.C.F. Cattle-slaughtering was the policy, and farms were ringfenced and police-patrolled. With the necessary dipping and checking of cattle the district was divided among the Cattle Inspectors, of whom a tremendous lot came and went, all taking part in all activities and adding to the fun that everyone managed to have whenever there was an opportunity; the Veterinary houses were among the most hospitable when farmers came to town. Hans Heyns, with his great love of horses and no. mileage allowance, chose to do much of his work on horseback whenever the distances allowed: covering his area meant travelling 600 miles a month, getting home to Settler every second Saturday.
Few cash crops were grown owing to distances, cream was often low-graded, and times were hard; had it not been for the sheep many farmers would have had to give up. Debts mounted up, but traders in Umtali, the Land Bank in Salisbury, and Cronwright with his store in Melsetter, showed great courage in supporting the farmers.

Efforts were made to build up good herds in spite of the ever-present threat of setbacks. G. J. van Riet came on one of his regular visits to his Melsetter farms and.made a gift to the district of one dozen pedigree bulls and one dozen Border-Leicester rams, and Allott bought three pedigree bulls and a stud stallion.

Fruit had done so well from planting material brought up by the trekkers and from later importations that many expanded their orchards, and a Fruit-Growers� Association was formed in 1932. Miss A. L. Cruikshank, who had started a dried fruit industry on Bland�s Folly in 1924, supplied a small assortment of dried fruits for despatch to the Beit Railway Trustees in London as an exhibit of what could be done in the district in support of the Sabi Bridge campaign, and also exhibited regularly at Salisbury and Bulawayo Shows. She described her project: �Everything that is made here sells, and the market is tremendous. All the fruit that is not good enough for drying is made into jam. I have 1,225 lbs for sale, and am only waiting for attractive labels for the tins. Dried vegetables are also going ahead in Northern Rhodesia. The evaporators are in working order, and a motor lorry is being obtained to fetch from the farms, paying cash.�
She had a neat little pamphlet printed; unfortunately no prices are marked on the extant copy: �PURE DRIED FRUIT & VEGETABLES ETC. FROM MELSETTER. Dried Fruits, whole: apples, peaches, prunes, figs. Dried Fruits, halved: apricots, pears, plums, bananas, peaches. Dried Apples (for Jam). Fresh Fruit: apples, peaches, apricots, plums and pears. Jams in 2-lb tins: peach, apricot, plum, quince, marmalade, apple jelly, quince jelly. Dried vegetables in tins: all varieties.�

In October R. F. Windram wrote an article on Melsetter for The Field, using Miss Cruikshank as the most likely line as she provided good publicity copy. Windram, whose father had been stationed here previously as a Cattle Inspector, was the first Beit Scholar of Melsetter School. On this occasion he travelled by pushbike from Fort Victoria and after his visit wrote a number of publicity articles on Melsetter.

Over the years the V.M.B. made every possible effort to advertise Melsetter�s attractions. They encouraged and, when necessary, criticised Our Local Correspondent. For a publicity campaign in 1932 they contributed �10 and collected donations from the Hotel and from Chipinga, spent �6 on having postcards of Melsetter views printed, lent the FA. �31 for printing a brochure, and had a write-up of the district compiled. Close touch was kept with the Umtali Publicity Association, although it was difficult to attend meetings in Umtali.

Captain Allott bought the hotel, hoping to provide more attractive accommodation for tourists, boost the district, and provide an outlet for Belmont farm produce. H. W. Steel managed it, and advertised the attractions under the heading �A Call to Melsetter� offering accommodation from 12/6d a day. Among the visitors who came were Cabinet Ministers and other officials, and local problems including the need for a Cottage Hospital were raised on every possible occasion.

In 1932 an armed commando under Lieutenant-Colonel du Preez, D.S.O., M.C., met the Governor and his party two miles out and escorted them to the hotel, where local residents and the schoolchildren received them. Over the years all the Governors came with parties of their own retainers and senior Government officials and visited the School, farms and the Waterfall, had picnics and horserides and attended indabas. Garden parties at The Gwasha were attended by up to 330 local residents, with volunteers providing the food and necessary hardware items; these pleasant occasions were usually held as planned, but sometimes the party had to be held in the Memorial Hall because of inclement weather.
Dances at the hotel in the evenings were regular features of the occasion. Dress at all the functions was formal: medals, hats, suits, gloves, and long evening frocks and dinner jackets or tails at the dances. The V.M.B. steadily pressed for improvements: the personnel changed, but years of faithful and conscientious service were given by many who served in this frustrating job. Until 1932 members were elected at Ratepayer�s meetings, but after this they served until they retired or were transferred and when a vacancy occurred the V.M.B. nominated members.

The Board asked the F.A. to nominate two of its members to the V.M.B., but this was not done, and when later the F.A. criticised the V.M.B. very severely for its conduct of affairs the V.M.B. resigned in a dignified manner. A new Board, of the N.C., the G.M.O., and the Predikant, was appointed and held its first meeting in 1934 when the friction had died down, and gradually the size of the Board was again increased.

The V.M.B. was expected to run the affairs of and provide services for the township, and yet could make few moves without Government approval and assistance, and that co-operation was seldom speedily or readily forthcoming. It had slender financial resources, very limited borrowing powers, and little hope of repaying loans because there were so few ratepayers. All activities were hampered by lack of finance, and there were constant references to the gloomy financial outlook and serious financial difficulties.

The collection of Village Fees was a problem as many residents were dilatory in paying their dues. Small amounts of revenue were received from the sale of firewood cut on the commonage, which in the 1930s cost 7/6d a cord when the V.M.B. had it cut and 3/- if residents cut it themselves, and Nieuwenhuizen carted the wood at 4/- a cord. Another small source of revenue was from leasing the quarry site and the brickfields, for which the most suitable site was chosen after analysis of soil samples.
The charge for numbers of stock on the commonage above free grazing rights was reduced to 3d a head for large and ld a head for small: Cronwright stressed the need for a lot of cattle to keep the commonage from becoming a wilderness and was a great advocate of free grazing, but others felt that the V.M.B. needed the revenue, and the charge remained. Stock were supposed to be properly herded and kept out of the township, but many were the complaints about cattle and horses not being properly controlled and straying into the village and damaging gardens: the Board frequently circularised owners in terms of relevant bye-laws and Government regulations and sometimes threatened prosecution.

The V.M.B. gave continued consideration to the possibility of piping the water but funds could never be found for the purpose; they chose the hillside site between the Police Camp and the Sports Ground for a location; for years they kept the Nachtmaal camp fenced and in proper repair; they asked regularly for a Bank Agency; and they continued to investigate the possibility of installing electricity.

In 1933 Melsetter was cut off by washaway when the Tandaai bridge was washed away, and once more mails had to be brought to the edge of the gap by car and across the river by carriers and taken on by another car on the other side.
John Olivey pressed for the Pork Pie road to be built both as a scenic drive and for access to Sawerombi, and the Roads Department surveyed and laid it out with a �10 contribution from the V.M.B. It was always a difficult road to keep up, and John had continually to ask for assistance with repairs and maintenance. Before Ann Olivey�s death in 1937, it was a common sight to see her riding on horseback to Melsetter with little Annabel perched in front of her.

In 1933 the Farmers� Association elected a Vigilance Committee for A.C.F. eradication and John Martin raised the subject in� the House, saying that dipping had failed, slaughtering should be the only policy, and the Government had been half-hearted in carrying out any policy. A Commission of Enquiry was appointed.

As a result of A.C.F. and quarantine difficulties on Rocklands, with trained oxen fetching only 10/- a head, young Marthinus Martin decided not to stay; John Martin was sad at the decision, but put nothing in the way of his son�s departure.

Over the years locust invasions severely damaged crops including wheat (which in 1932 was 23/3 a bag for truck loads). In 1933 there were swarms throughout the district and hoppers on the Commonage; the V.M.B. organised a campaign with two rangers who destroyed 70 swarms in Muwushu Reserve, but shortly afterwards 15 square miles from Rocklands to Weltevrede were invaded, and it was reported that the locusts were being eaten by white ants and baboons.

Other crop pests included small finches, and horsesickness was an anxiety. A champion rat known as the Hudo in chiNdau, 28� from tip to tail, was killed at The Gwasha: the previous largest killed in Rhodesia was 27�, at Mazoe. In The Gwasha�s excellent orchard, which included olive trees, a constant watch had to be kept on the fruit during the season so that the baboons who lived up the mountainside did not take the lot. Violets could never be grown next to the house as the buck which were often seen in the garden had a liking for them.

Reports were very frequent of the presence of pythons and eagles, of depredations by baboons and wild pig, and of the harassing of stock by leopards and wild dogs. Farmers kept packs of dogs specially for hunting leopards, and many farmhouses had their tally of leopard skulls and tanned skins.

In 1933 the first aeroplane landed in Melsetter, when Hallam Elton from Thaba Nchu landed his Gipsy Moth on the Racecourse. Everyone went down to welcome him. He made a beautiful landing, and after having a cup of tea he took off again. As he tore down the course the slope seemed too much for him, but he managed to get into the air before it was too late, and slipped over the top of Pork Pie and disappeared. Hallam and his wife Beryl used sometimes to fly over to Melsetter for a game of tennis.

On one occasion Hallam made a mercy flight. On Fairview eight-months� old Janet Hanmer was seriously ill with enteritis, and Dr. Rose told her parents that he could do no more for her. Bill drove as fast as he could down the four miles to Lemon Kop which had the only outside telephone in the district, on the Melsetter-Chipinga line, to ask Hallam to come quickly. Bill drove straight home again after telephoning, and found that Hallam, having landed on the road, had got there before him. Hallam flew Peggy and her baby to Umtali, where Janet recovered in hospital. (In 1935 Hallam Elton flew under the Birchenough Bridge roadway.)

The need for a landing ground was stressed, and the Director of Civil Aviation visited Melsetter to select a site near the commonage. Elton was invited to meet him, but apart from a site on Rocklands being considered, nothing further was done.

The V.M.B. bought 5000 Rainbow trout ova for �10 from Kingwilliamstown, and hatching pools were made below the Residency, at Rocklands and on Fairfield. The following year fingerlings were released at the Waterfall, in Elandspruit and in the Nyahode river, and the V.M.B. ordered a further 5 000 ova after recovering the �20 which the venture had cost through sales of fingerlings. In due course fish were caught as the trout did well, and in later years more were hatched and released in many other rivers.

The Memorial Hall was gradually finished with money raised with fetes and dances, and was valued at �500 in 1933. The Library doubled as the V.M.B. Secretary�s office at �1 a month rent, and the V.M.B. had a table made for �2.5/-, which is still in use today as the Librarian�s table. A piano was bought and 6d an hour was charged for practising and �1 for hiring the piano away from the hall: whether it should be moved at all was a matter of discussion, as moves undoubtedly damaged it and references are frequent to its bad state and the need for retuning and repair. Various charges for the hire of the hall were laid down, which became more or less stabilised at �1 for any occasion. The regulations varied frequently: in 1932 the Hall was not to be free for any charitable purpose and no distinction was to be made: charges were for religious services as well as other occasions; no liquor was to be brought onto the premises; no nails were to be driven into the walls, and hirers had to tidy up and clean the rooms within a reasonable time after use. In 1933 it was decided that all sports meetings should be held free of charge, and in 1934 that young people could have free use for private entertainment.

The Ladies� Entertainment Committee (L.E.C.) was started in 1933 with an annual subscription of 2/ 6d. A small Dover stove was installed in what had been the reading room of the Memorial Hall, and with this kitchen as headquarters L.E.C. members catered for many occasions and ran the children�s Christmas Tree each year.

The Rhodesi� Christelike Vrouens Vereeniging (R.C.V.V.) � the Dutch Reformed Church Women�s Association � co-operated in the Christmas Tree parties, and their excellent bazaars were outstanding occasions at which the standard of goods offered for sale was very high.