The Story of Melsetter

Chapter 18

The route for the new main road was chosen and surveyed and work started on the construction. Sir Alfred McAlpine & Sons had the contract for the section from Skyline to the Biriwiri river, and the Roads Department did the rest themselves.

At the end of 1949 Bill Atkins, today the Rural Council�s Road Supervisor, came out from England to work for the Roads Department. The chap in charge of C.M.E.D. in Umtali said he was to go to Nyahode and pointed to one lonely flag on a large map, which meant nothing to Bill, but he ascertained that the nearest pub was nine miles away and signed a document undertaking to stay at least six months until his wife joined him. He did not know till he got to Nyahode that they were taking blokes on for two weeks at a time as nobody would stay there.

The chap he was to relieve told him that at Nyahode Camp there was nothing to do, and on his advice Bill laid in stocks of everything he might need: reading matter, cigarettes, booze, and plenty of groceries. At the transport camp a left-hand drive ten-ton truck was pointed out to him as his transport, and Bill was disconcerted to learn that he had to drive it himself as he had never driven one in his life, but he picked up ten tons of cement as instructed and set off. He was given a boy to show him the way, which he felt was very good of them.

He managed all right and thought there was nothing in it as he travelled on the narrow tar to the Junction and on the dirt road to Cashel. Then it started raining and coming down Weltevrede he put the brakes on and nearly went over the side, and then understood why he had seen people in Umtali using chains: until then he had only seen them used for snow. At Melsetter mine host Charlie Heard advised him to spend the night as it was raining very heavily.

Next morning he pushed on to Nyahode and for the next three weeks it rained steadily and nobody did any work. In the camp they played poker every day, and when they ran out of food and drink they sent the Galion grader off to Melsetter with a large order, but it stuck. They then sent off 40 boys who got through and returned heavily laden. Bill recalls that those wooden crates held 72 bottles and took some lifting.

When the rain stopped at last they finished the section, and moved camp to the top of Skyline where the Engineer had chosen a site with a beautiful view and lovely sunsets. They loaded the mobile workshop on to a truck and hitched the caravans on the back, and pitched camp on top of the end of the world in the chosen exposed position.

One night there was a terrific gale and thunderstorm. A mechanic had awnings on his caravan and his 4�10 wife hung on to them trying to save them in the gale, and she was swung round by the wind. The portable p.k s were blown half a mile away and the cement store roof went over the top of the wattles and landed intact with all the weights on it. It rained in buckets and the following morning the place was under water and nobody could do any work. When Betty arrived soon afterwards with their small son she was very impressed with the view, and thought it was a glorious place.

The Roads Department camp was then moved beyond the Biriwiri river and work carried on away from McAlpine�s section. Getting to Melsetter was a terrible trip with some shocking deviations on the Macs� section of 1 in 3, at the worst of which a Land Rover was kept on one side with a wire cable on the other.

A roster was drawn up for everybody to take his turn in the unpopular task of driving the weekly passion wagon to Melsetter, when the wives went to do their shopping. One very wet night they were late getting back so Bill and the Roads Foreman went to look for them. They saw no sign of them as they drove past the Macs� camp and from the phone-box � a piece of sheet metal only � at Skyline they phoned the hotel and were told that the bus had left hours before. Really alarmed they drove on down, checking in all the culverts along the uncompleted road.
Eventually they reached Melsetter and then drove slowly back up to Skyline and down to the Macs� camp where they called in � and there were all the wives comfortably having a drink! In camp there was nothing to do in the evenings, so they used to answer Government Gazette advertisements for all kinds of jobs.

There were accidents and incidents on the road, and several trucks were written off. One employee was inspecting pegs and forgot to put on the handbrake of his Land Rover, and when he looked round he saw it about 20 yards away careering down the road. Onlookers were amused to see the short, tubby chap running after it to try to catch it, but it disappeared over the side and went straight over Skyline, and that was the end of that vehicle.

Chains were an unpleasant necessity. Putting them on was a job which was always left till the very last minute when, after much skidding in the mud, no further progress could be made without them. Putting them on then entailed uncomfortable paddling-round with legs and arms smothered in sticky red mud before they were finally adjusted. When Land Rovers came on to the market in 1949 they were very popular in Melsetter, chains were no longer needed, and travelling became a more certain undertaking.

In 1950 Melsetter�s feeling of being badly neglected by the Government resulted in a visit to Salisbury to interview Ministers on the many matters urgently needing attention by a deputation of representatives of the Farmers� Association, the Road Council, the Village Management Board, the Women�s Institute, the School Council, and the Eastern Districts Regional Development and Publicity Association, led by the M.P. for Eastern. 
The deputation discussed the burning question of Town Planning with the Minister of Internal Affairs; current problems concerning maize control, forestry and horticulture with the Minister of Agriculture; roads and the School with the Minister of Roads and Education. These Ministries were sympathetic and interested in the problems discussed, and the deputation felt that the visit would have some helpful effect, but in the event only one concrete immediate improvement resulted: the School kitchen was put on the next year�s Estimates, and the Minister visited the School and went very fully into other problems.
On the question of clinic and health facilities the replies of the Ministry of Native Affairs and Public Health astounded the deputation, which was clearly given to understand that no provision for improved facilities was to be made. Chipinga Hospital had been opened in 1949, and Melsetter had to accept the fact that the Government would not erect a hospital here, and after more public meetings to discuss the possibility of undertaking anything without Government assistance it was reluctantly agreed that the whole idea must be abandoned.

Dissatisfaction with the Town Planning set-up caused concern as although it was originally stated that stand transfers would be ready about April 1950, the authorities had allowed no transfers by the end of 1951. In 1952 three public meetings discussed some aspects including the water supply problem, lack of funds for development, and the fact that the Government had reserved some of the best residential stands and left too few for public purchase.
The V.M.B. still had no jurisdiction to sell stands of which the owners could not be traced, but were assured that they would be released after two years in terms of the Town Planning Act: in 1958 they were still not allowed to take back these plots and it was uncertain whether the Road Council could take any action in this connection on the lines of non-payment of road rates.

In 1954 the Melsetter Landowners� and Farmers� Association drew up a Memorandum, carefully detailed and supported by facts, which was to be discussed at a Public meeting with the Minister of Internal Affairs and the M.P. for Eastern on a date convenient to these gentlemen. It was apparently not convenient for some time, and it was only in April 1956 that they came and met the V.M.B. and a representative of the F.A., and no public meeting took place and there is no record that any attention was paid to the memorandum.

The V.M.B. seldom got replies to their queries. When the Town Planning Officer came in 1958 he expressed surprise that the Board had not been informed about leasing commonage land for wattle planting and gave them all the replies for which they had been waiting. When he was asked when the final survey of the 2-acre plots on the Orange Grove road and the four Smallholdings opposite the Country Club could be expected, he expressed surprise that these stands had not yet been put on the market, and presented a plan of the plots. He said that as and when the smallholdings had been taken up, and if there was a further demand, his Department would investigate the possibilities of more residential commonage plots. Peter Remmer later bought and developed two of the smallholdings.

For the water supply the V.M.B. decided in 1950 to implement the Circle Engineer�s scheme at an estimated cost of �1 715. They applied for a Government loan of �3 750: �1 715 for the water scheme, �300-�400 for latrines (aqua-privies at �9.17 each f.o.r. Salisbury), and approximately �1 000 for ten brick huts in the location, leaving a little over for unforeseen expenses. The first unforeseen expense swallowed up the reserve the very next month, as the Engineer had omitted to include operation costs and the cost of water. His final report was of a full scheme to cost �27 000. By the time the first stage was completed in 1952 material, bricks and piping had all cost more than estimated and all houses were not connected to the new supply. Water rates were increased to �1.5.0. a month but it was soon found that, although these rates would have helped the V.M.B., residents were unwilling to pay them, and they had to be reduced to 12/6. In spite of financial difficulties the scheme was continued.

At the end of 1954 the V.M.B. hoped to be able to terminate the sanitary service, but as some Government Departments and three private residents had not installed waterborne sanitation the V.M.B. decided to charge �5 a month for the service. This bright idea was turned down by Local Government and the charge was fixed at �1.10. By May 1958 all sanitation in the village was waterborne.

During the 1950s the V.M.B. continued to deal with village problems. A list of names for the new streets was compiled by official bodies, but the upkeep of the roads themselves continued to be difficult. The V.M.B. bought 150 feet of braided hose but found that the dust problem was not solved by watering, which was expensive and unsatisfactory as the roads dried up immediately again and no permanent good resulted. In 1954 the Road Council and the V.M.B. discussed the tarring of the village streets which, it was understood, had been started by the Roads Department. Unfortunately this was incorrect and no tarring ever did take place: tar was delivered to the village, but the drums were taken away again, and no hope was held out of the Government undertaking the tarring.

The Camping Site, on which a cottage was built, was let at �3 a month, and later when the V.M.B. had spent over �300 on improving the cottage it was rented at �6.10 a month plus water and service charges. The Board discussed the possibility of a new camping site and a motel site, but were unable to move in the matter.

For the Cemetery in 1950 a small committee with enthusiasm and energy started clearing, cutting down dead trees, burning, making paths, and tidying the many graves without tombstones which were of all shapes and sizes and not in line; they wrote to relatives asking if permanent headstones were planned and asked for permission to take over the care of the graves and for a donation towards expenses, but received no replies. In 1957 the F.A. gave �10 towards upkeep and another small committee was appointed, but in 1959 the money was still in the V.M.B. books. Charges were increased in 1960 from �2.10 to �5 for adults and from �1.10 to �3 for children.

The dipping tank site was sold and arrangements were made for commonage cattle to be dipped at Lindley.
In 1950 there were some cases of tick fever. As the Government did not provide for a stock of the necessary Aureomycin and allied drugs and as it was not easy to get medicines from Umtali quickly, the W.I. organised a special fund and, after full consultation with the G.M.O., bought a supply of the recommended drug which was placed in the care of the District Nurse. This supply was of value in cases when the G.M.O. recommended its immediate use, and users replenished the depleted stocks.