The Story of Melsetter

Chapter 15

In March 1934 a large leopard was seen disposing of a goat on the road opposite Lindley, and Abraham Olwage went to the spot with some natives and two small dogs. He stood in the road while the dogs went into the bush after the leopard and when it charged with them over the embankment Olwage was caught up in the rush. He was knocked over, his hands and arms were lacerated by the leopard, and his rifle slipped to the ground.
While the dogs continued to worry the leopard Olwage had time to recover and fire, but it escaped after also wounding both dogs severely. Olwage was taken to Umtali hospital, where he had one finger amputated and the other wounds treated during the six months he had to spend there.

Coffee was grown regularly in small quantities on many farms for home use; J. L. Martin for many years reaped a very good annual crop from his little plantation, and Allott had 100% success with seedbeds of Caffea Arabica and planted out 1 000 trees in 1934.

Hanmer planted his first 1 000 apple trees on Fairview, and expanded his orchards over the years. He had very good results from apple sales and turned the surplus into cider, which seemed so innocuous and was so pleasant in flavour that its potency was frequently not immediately realised. In December local wireless enthusiasts listened in to the Duke of Kent�s wedding, which despite rainy weather was clearly and distinctly heard.

From 1935 Melsetter�s most senior Government official was the Assistant Native Commissioner. That year the Allotts decided to run the hotel themselves: they had had no previous experience, but won a good reputation. They installed electricity, erected ten prefab bedrooms which had been the living quarters during the building of Birchenough Bridge, and in 1938 put in the swimming bath, put up a private telephone line between the hotel and Belmont, and built the new diningroom where dances were then always held although concerts and plays were still put on in the Memorial Hall.

The Allotts had a dance band of local talent, with up to six different instruments, which was in great demand for all dances in the district. The Umtali Advertiser reported on a delightful evening spent by tourists at a well-organised dance with a band better than many in more sophisticated parts; a sketch was charmingly interpreted by Josie and Rosemary Allott, and the song was delivered in good voice by Bert Pike, and an encore demanded by a delighted and surprised audience. A bushbuck once wandered into the lounge, got frightened, and jumped through a closed window: as it was badly maimed it had to be shot.

Consideration was again given to a road through the Chimanimani Pass to connect Melsetter with Vila Pery, and John Martin took the Minister of Finance and the Postmaster-General on horseback to view the proposed route, but no further move was made.

On Albany Captain W. H. Boshoff reported a phenomenal infestation of snakes which had attacked cows, and �one milch cow was bitten in the udder seven times and recovered completely eacn time under treatment with paraffin and Condy�s crystals.� In two weeks more than 20 snakes were killed, and Boshoff thought that an even greater number had escaped.

In June 1935 there was an unusually severe frost in the Nyahode valley, and in August snow fell on Fairview and Sawerombi.

For years Melsetter and Chipinga farmers, supported by Umtali industry, municipality and agriculture, pressed for a proper outlet across the Sabi River, which was, at risk, fordable for only four months of the year. In 1931 a site was selected for a bridge estimated to cost �30 000, but the Government had no funds, so the Beit Railway Trust was approached, Sir James McDonald visited Melsetter, and the case was put to him by residents. A local Committee then circulated the whole Eastern Districts asking for letters, facts, or any support in order to furnish the Trustees with a complete statement of the benefits that would accrue.
Helpful memoranda and facts were received and the Committee sent full details regarding population and farming, with Miss Cruikshank�s exhibit, to London. An engineer visited the Sabi, and in 1934 it was formally announced that the Beit Railway Trust would build the bridge, and work was begun. Meantime Melsetter pressed for a road via Fairfield and Admiral so that benefit might be derived from the bridge, but apart from a very rough track to the 85 mile peg on the Sabi road nothing was done. In December 1935 the Birchenough Bridge was opened, then the third longest single span bridge in the world.

1936 started off brightly: there had been no A.C.F. cases since early 1932 and restrictions had been lifted in 1935, but hopes were dashed with fresh outbreaks on Lavina�s Rust and Bok Kraal.

A meeting of all Eastern District Farmers� Associations pressed the need for more veterinary staff . The C.V.S. said that some relief was being arranged for Melsetter whereby guard area cattle would be allowed to travel under certain conditions, and he thanked the Melsetter Veterinary Advisory Board for their assistance.

Cattle sent to Umtali for slaughter were quarantined for 14 days before departure and objections were made to their detention for a second inspection at Mpudzi, where there was sometimes a three-day delay in a place devoid of grazing with a resultant serious loss of condition. Representations were made for a return to the previous custom of walking them straight through to Umtali, but it was not until 1942, when wartime petrol rationing restricted travel, that inspection at the Mpudzi was cancelled.

In spite of drawbacks there was an improvement in cattle prices, and oxen were sold for �5 to �6.10 each.
An exhibit from Melsetter at the Empire Exhibition in Johannesburg included tea, wool, cheese, wheat, bottled fruit and native craftwork. A bale of Fairview wool created such a favourable impression that enquiries resulted regarding the price of land in the district.

Some cases of diphtheria among the Africans on the Commonage caused concern, but inoculations were carried out and the epidemic was soon cleared up.
Concrete beacons, numbers 48A to 76, were erected on the boundary with P.E.A. In November a cloudburst on Moodie�s Nek resulted in the Tandaai river rising 30�.

Dr. J. P. Ziervogel bought Orange Grove and Roede for his son, who was killed a few years later in the War. His manager, S. M. (Pat) Sinclair, set up camp on Orange Grove, and spent the next few months fencing, buying cattle, planting pastures, buying sheep �including 600 at 8/6d each from Koos Papenfus � and importing two Corriedale rams. Schalk Kloppers built the stone house, and Giellie Bredenkamp took over the farm management while Pat went off to get married, when he returned with Shirley.

Bees have frequently been a hazard. In January 1937 they swarmed in the roof of the Veterinary offices, and D. V. S. Nixon arranged for them to be smoked out one night, and the building caught fire and was destroyed; it was later rebuilt. The Umtali Advertiser reported that all furniture and records were saved, but the reply to a recent
request for access to old records was that they were all burned in Nicky�s fire.

A bee invasion occurred when John Olivey drove in to load his wool: when the bees swarmed the R.M.S. driver abandoned the trailer and drove his lorry away to Umtali, the village was as if deserted with all houses closed and not a soul in sight, and John�s car stood abandoned with the swarm settled on his wool bale. Bert Pike, then Postmaster, thought that with the aid of a small piece of mosquito netting and a flit pump he would be able to disperse the little devils, but they soon fixed him with a sting on the point of his chin. Exit the Postmaster. The Post Office had to be locked up by the office messenger and the keys taken over to the house, and no postal services were available for that day. John managed to shed the bale, acquired some sacks for protecting his head and arms, and drove round the village like a Ku Klux Klan figure.

The Post Office consisted of two rooms, one with the counter and the inner one with the safe and telephone and telegraph apparatus. The telephone line connected with Chipinga and Umtali direct. Most people called for mail: there were no private boxes, but there were a few Private Bags. Mail sorting, at very erratic hours depending on the lorry�s arrival, was very frequently done by lamplight after dark.

During the Coronation celebrations F. E. Cronwright was warmly congratulated by all on receiving a Coronation Medal for services rendered to Melsetter. He was a quiet retiring man, full of the wisdom of experience, and always turned away from any unpleasantness but was always ready to help.

It was hoped that the name Melsetter Waterfall would be kept for this scenic attraction and the V.M.B. said that those who called it Bridal Veil should be corrected, but this was a losing battle as much publicity had been received for the Bridal Veil Falls. The V.M.B. looked after the site, and bought the iron scat which is still there for �4 in 1937. They also spent �3 on repairing the road from the hotel to the Orange Grove commonage gate, and the Roads Department built the road to van Bilion�s farm Orals Krantz.

A memorandum was submitted to the Government on the plight of the Melsetter Chipinga area, detailing the hardships which had so often previously been mentioned, and appealing for assistance including long-term loans for fencing.