The Story of Melsetter

In 1953 the Bethlehemite Fathers of Gwelo bought Willow Grove from Harris McLeod and started a Mission, using the old farmhouse as the Mission Station. In 1957 it was taken over by the Carmelite Fathers of the Diocese of Umtali who continued the missionary work. In 1961 St. Charles Lwanga Seminary was built, and since then the Church has been built and the Seminary buildings expanded. It is a Minor Diocesan Seminary and aims to educate and provide for African boys who wish to become priests. The students, who vary in number from 50 to 60, remain at St. Charles for four years, and when they have sat G.C.E. �0� Level they are promoted to the Major Seminary at Chishawasha. All the students do not persevere, and an average of 20% go through to the Major Seminary.

In 1953 Paddy Crook, Conex Officer, suggested the establishment of an Arboretum in Melsetter, where it would be difficult to equal the setting and where conditions favoured the growth of trees. After full discussion the Horticultural Society decided to go ahead with the scheme, and the lease of 31 acres was accepted from the Government. By 1957 �964 had been collected or promised and some future annual donations were promised. Fund-raising efforts continued and the rough plan was laid out.

Attention was once drawn to a travelling difficulty when the question was asked: �Why does the W. I. top table always have dirty feet?�   With horror the chairman looked at her own feet and those of the Secretary and Treasurer: those sandal-clad feet were all dirty. It was a dusty, hot time of year, these members lived about 20 miles out, had farmer-husbands who did the driving, and had to open all those dreary gates themselves. Nobody has devised a scheme for not getting hands and feet dusty or, as the case may be, muddy, when struggling with a concertina gate. And when one arrived in the village there was nowhere to wash except at the hotel, and if one took time to wash one�s feet there, the chances were that one was abandoned by an impatient husband, and had to walk through yet more dust in the streets to the meeting-place.

Other difficulties were described in 1953:  �For many of us, attending meetings is never a simple matter, but last wet season I undertook my most complicated trip yet. I was looking after six children, ranging in age from one to six, only one of whom was mine. If the meeting had been an ordinary one I might have decided to stay quietly at home, but the two previous meetings had been cancelled because of the weather and the state of the roads, and I had not been off the farm for a month and was determined to have an outing.

�I brooded over our short-wheel base Land Rover to see if it would be possible to transport my temporary family the 25 miles to Melsetter, and then diffidently told my husband that if he could move the spare wheel from inside and put it on the bonnet I thought we could all fit in. His reply was not wildly encouraging but late on Friday evening the wheel was moved. When I also asked meekly if the door on my side could be put in place, I was informed that I was quite mad to attempt the trip and that he was going to have a dreadful journey. I checked the children�s clothes for the next day. Margaret and Jill would have put on their party dresses if I had not firmly put them put of sight; David and Gavin could not have cared less if they had gone in yesterday�s dirty shirts and shorts. I packed a suitcase with a mackintosh and a jersey for everyone, and prepared food, drink and all utensils for lunches and teas.

�Early on Saturday into the Land Rover went first my attache case with W.I. papers, then the suitcase of mackintoshes, with Elizabeth�s pram on top of them filled with all the picnic basket and her own suitcase of necessaries. As the pram took up nearly all the floorspace, it was lucky that the feet still to be fitted in were small. Cushions for those incredibly uncomfortable back seats were put in. We packed Jill and Noelle on one side, and David, Margaret and the nursegirl on the other. Pat drove, Gavin was between us, and Elizabeth on my lap. I found my arm had lost its cunning in holding the weight of a baby on a long trip, and in a Land Rover (even with the door fixed on a few moments before our departure) there is nowhere to rest an arm, but Elizabeth went to sleep immediately we set off soon after eight o�clock. The other five children never stopped talking all the hour and a half it took us to reach the village.

�In Melsetter Pat departed on farmer�s business, and I unpacked, washed and settled my family on the back verandah of an absent friend�s house, which had all the necessary facilities. I then blithely took the chair at the W.I. meeting, �cool, calm and collected�, with no hint of external responsibilities. Guiding the meeting through three months� accumulated business, with our secretary absent, took my full attention, and when the last subject was dealt with I was amazed that two hours had slipped by without my giving more than a passing thought to my brood.

�At lunch under the gum trees, with more of our family down from the School and other friends, we were five adults and sixteen children. Then we parked the children again, and went to �enjoy� ourselves at a political meeting. Promptly at four I left, unpacked the general untidiness that had accumulated in the Land Rover, repacked according to the morning�s routine, settled the children in, and collected Pat.

�On the drive home in a short while Noelle was fast asleep lying back on the cavas side, her little face gathering more streaks of dust as the journey continued. Jill and Margaret then fell asleep, while David and Gavin kept awake without any sign of over-tiredness. Elizabeth, who had slept in her pram in the afternoon, was full of bounce and tried to dance over me all the way home. So ended a worthwhile though somewhat harassing day. Within an hour the children were all bathed, fed and asleep, and peace reigned in the house.�

The W.I. felt the need for its own premises which would, it was hoped, be of value to Melsetter as well as to its members. The Building Fund was started with �13.10 from a Bring & Buy Sale and more money was gradually raised through strenuous efforts. After prolonged negotiations Stand 170 in Heyns Street was bought from Lonrho in 1953 for �80 plus transfer fees, and it was decided to build each stage as and when there was enough money. In 1956, with over �1 000 in hand, the building was started, and in October 1957 the first meeting was held under the W.I.�s own roof in the finished Committee room.
With steady progress in raising money and steady work on the finishing details, the Hall was completed, furnished and fully paid for by Jun, 1961, and was insured with contents for �4000. Use has been made of the hall for many social occasions and meetings, and many visitors as well as W.I. members and their families have gratefully made use of the camping facilities available in the fully equipped Hall. In 1954 the W.I. celebrated its tenth birthday with a popular and amusing Book Tea for members and friends.

In 1954 Rathmore Farms and Investments (Pvt.) Ltd, jointly owned by three Plunket brothers, bought land mainly in the Zunguni valley for afforestation, as they felt that the tremendous potential of Rhodesia as part of a multi-racial Federation was attractive for long-term investment; the fact that the part of the country most suitable for forestry was also one of the most beautiful was a fortunate coincidence. The company increased its holding to 3 500 acres, and interest in cattle and fruit-growing developed subsequently.

The farms were mostly undeveloped, and Belmont had been kept as a wild life sanctuary since 1937 by Major Saunders, who was a keen ornithologist and established small plantations round the house for the sake of the birds. On the boundary with Greenmount is a stretch of indigenous primeval forest. Shaun Plunket initiated development of the estate, and in 1957 Robin and his wife Jennifer (a grand-daughter of D�Urban Barry an 1890 Rhodesian pioneer) made their home on Rathmore, which is a family name. The situation of the original Kok house on Belmont lent itself to development. Extensions have been made to the house, in which a collection of modern African soapstone carvings blends well with the 18th century furniture, and the garden has been delightfully laid out.

By 1954 the Library was on a sound footing and a wide interest was taken in the flourishing enterprise, and the W.I. was delighted to be relieved of the responsibility when it was handed over to the representative Board of Trustees of the Memorial Hall, who appointed a Library Sub-Committee.

In 1956 Mr. and Mrs. Verne Reeves of Rusitu Mission contracted poliomyclitis; theirs were the only cases in the district and they both made an excellent recovery, but their illness caused much anxiety. The Biriiri Mission was started by Mr. and Mrs. Merritt and Iva Mae O�Brient as an educational centre with classes to Form IV, and the work has since expanded into an African Teacher Training College.

The Melsetter W.I. Homecraft Club was started, which functions under the guidance of W.I. members and is financially self-supporting and does a valuable service in teaching its African members domestic economy, hygiene, budgetting, and how to run their meetings. Some Club members have attended external leadership courses, and net-ball is a favourite relaxation. Other clubs in the district are also run by W.I. members.

Rabies caused considerable anxiety for some months; some people were bitten and had to undergo the very painful series of injections, and great care had to be exercised in all contacts with animals.

In 1957 the direct road to the Waterfall was widened for two-way traffic, and in 1958 the Road Council did a good job repairing and gravelling the village streets, but any improvement to unsealed roads can only be temporary and the streets continue to be a problem.

In 1959 Harris and Olive McLeod joined Braam Olwage in building what was intended as a butchery, but soon afterwards Olwage gave up his interest and the McLeods started the Pork Pie Cafe.