Holiday memories

posted in: Mini Memories 9

Hannes Smith was regular visitor to Durban both before after WWII. He wrote:

Although I was born and grew up in Krugersdorp in the old Transvaal, I have recollections of many happy times spent in Durban.

My late parents must have been very fond of Durban because it feels as though we were more in Durban than at home, plus the fact that my mother`s one brother lived there with his family, all their children having been born there, made it easy to just pack the car and off to Durbs.

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One of my earliest recollections was of Mrs Fishers boarding house in, what my mother afterwards pointed out to me, was in Palmerston street behind Bakers bakery in West street.

I also recall staying in a Jewish hotel on the beachfront south of West street, and which probably belonged to Sol Kerzner`s family. Many others come to mind, White house, also in that area, Echoes in West Street, Coogee in, was it Tyzack?

I have been trying to remember the name  of  a small hotel in West Street near the corner of Gillespie, a few doors up from the small hotel Cecil, it had a Spanish sounding name, it just won`t come to me.

My uncle`s family lived in a largish double storied, semi-detached house at 83 Pine street, more or less across the road from the old railway workshops. That area was mainly residential, until about 1948 when the houses were demolished for businesses. Today it is the centre of the CBD.

My cousin Johnny, who was a few years older than I was, took me on many excursions with his cronies, some quite risky if not outright dangerous. The harbour area was their favourite playground, particularly the area where the Yacht basin is today. We took chances on a rickety, leaking tub-like canoe, rowing to the sandbanks to catch small fish and other sea creatures, probably shrimps, which we cooked or fried on an old shovel.

Sanitary lanes between streets were still existent then and were ideal for our different forays of adventure, some not entirely innocent. a Few doors down from their house was a small chocolate factory, I seem to think that it was Rowntrees, it was easy to get into the back yard from the lane and there was always a few chocolates to be scrounged from the cardboard boxes full of straw that were stacked outside.

In the winter of 1936 my parents were advised by our doctor to take my younger sister who had a chronic chest ailment to sea level and possibly out to sea. My dad could not get away from work and my mom took us to Durban by train. We stayed with the family in Pine street.

I remember it as being a very pleasant holiday, we went to the beach every day, went everywhere by ricksha, and with my uncle`s contacts, managed to go on a working dredger boat a few times for my sister’s whooping cough. There wasn’t the luxury of pleasure boats or even deep-sea fishing boats in those days. It was actually a very traumatic period, so soon after the depression.

And with Hitler`s Germany making threats of war, the whole world was in a troubled state. After being in Durban for about ten days we again went out to sea one day and upon our return to the house found a policeman waiting to give us the news of my father’s sudden death the previous night. We returned home the same evening. He was only 34 years old, my mother was a 32 year old widow with 4 small children, I was 9 and the oldest child.

During the war years it was almost impossible to get to Durban, but from 1946 we resumed our Durban holidays. We hardly ever booked for short stays, simply driving down to the XL or Cuban hat, having something to drink and an Indian spotter would approach with his query, “Hey man you want accommodation, where you want to stay, just say where, I get accommodation for you very cheap, very clean” Malibu, Four seasons, Coogee even the old Parade court tea rooms in West street, where Mykonos restaurant later was, had a reasonable and affordable annexe in the back in Palmer street.

We especially enjoyed train journeys from the Highveld to Durban, the trains leaving Johannesburg at about seven o`clock in the evenings, reaching Durban the following morning at about eight. Those semi-formal dinners in the dining saloon still haunt me to this day, lying awake listening to the click-clack sounds of the train wheels, and the loud good-byes of the people on stations along the way.

In February 1949 my mother, two sisters and I went for a 3 week holiday in the new Rydal Mount hotel. We were on a bed and dinner basis, breakfast was made in the small kitchenette. My chore was to buy fresh bread or rolls from Bakers around the corner every morning.

It was a lovely time, we enjoyed every minute, the old Indian market with its lovely smells of spices was a special favourite, the docks with the Castle ships, Blue lagoon for cream scones, Umhlanga rocks was just a sandy little village with houses dotted along the shore, taking fresh oysters from the rocks next to the lighthouse. What bliss!!!

One of my old post cards show South beach with a structure on the beach where shows were regularly held, I`m not sure if this was the Little top. During this holiday there was a group of entertainers performing there and they were very good, to this day I still have their autographs.

For interest sake I give their names;

The chief honcho was a character named Bill Brewer, he signed himself as the thief of badgays. Sergius the Russian, Val Mareski the fiddler, Ann Archer sang beautifully, Schalk Burger pianist, Elza Ray vocalist, Beniamino Giusseppi, Ian Kempton, I forget what they did.

They held 3 shows a day, morning, afternoon and evening shows, people sat on beach chairs on the pavement and on the sand around the stage. The acts were top class, and can you believe it absolutely free, even the deck chairs were free. Durban corporation certainly looked after their tourists in those days.

When I married in 1950, I decided to take my bride to ( you guessed it) Durban. She had never seen the sea before, being a plaasjapie from Groot Marico. Since we enjoyed our stay at Rydal Mount previously, that was the obvious choice.

Malibu, 4 Seasons, Maharani, Elangeni, Holiday Inn, Tropicana were still in the distant future, there was the Royal and Edward of course, but I was only a workman after all. It was pure joy to SHOW  her Durban and it`s many attractions and we had a fabulous honeymoon.

We regularly visited Durban later and our children grew to love Durban as much as we do, so much so that when I got a teaching post in Port Shepstone in 1975, and two years later to the Natal Technikon in Durban, they all followed us to Durban.

We are lovers of the sea and first lived in Connemara on the North beach, and soon afterwards bought a flat in the newly completed Belmont, corner of West street and Marine Parade. We lived there until 1992 when we moved to Hermanus in the Cape for a new adventure.

I can honestly say that the fifteen years that we actually lived in Durban, experiencing Durban as Durbanites, going to Kings park as true banana boys, being part of the fan club, Where cousin Renee was one of the organisers, knowing all the best restaurants, seeing all those lovely shows in the Alhambra and Playhouse. Having  wonderful colleagues and friends, both for me at Technikon as well as for my wife Babsie at the old United Building Society in Smith street, those years must rank as some of the happiest years of our lives.

And yes to this day we are  staunch Shark rugby fans.

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9 Responses

  1. Allan Hannah
    | Reply

    Hi Hannes
    Having read, and enjoyed your insert I would like to add some comments! Hopefully these will follow the order of items in your insert and be of interest!
    I seem to recall that Sol Kerzner and his family were involved with a small hotel in Gillespie Street – the Palace Hotel. This hotel had a night spot called the Baq Room and hoisted many local and then Rhodesian bands. We spent quite a few enjoyable evenings there.
    The fishing stories about Durban harbour are interesting! I am a keen fisherman and enjoy fishing in the harbour. Things are a little different today and development has changed the face of the “bay” forever Having said that, I must say that the fishing is still very good in the harbour and grunter of 3kgs are not uncommon! A number of Wahoo, Springer, Stumpies, Bay Snoek, just to name a few of the types of fish that are being caught these days!
    For me, a significant factor that contributes to fishing on the bay relates to the recent widening of the harbour mouth! Other changes include the prohibition of any angling activity from the dock sides within the harbour area – including north and south piers. Broadly speaking this means that membership of a “bona fide” fishing club, a registered boat, skippers licence, annual boat inspection, a valid fishing licence are required to enjoy fishing on the bay.
    I enjoyed a couple of train rides on the old “ trans Natal express and the “clickety clack” of the wheels on the track bring back nostalgic memories!
    Just a few memories and other items!

  2. Sean Kempton
    | Reply

    Hi Hannes

    The Ian Kempton you mention was my late father. He was a comedian and did many shows at the Mermaid Lido and Little Top venue in Durban in the 1950’/60s.



  3. Jeff Isaacs
    | Reply

    Totally enjoyed your memories. Thank you

  4. R.Steele
    | Reply

    Thanks for that contribution. I worked at Addington hospital ’70-’73 and was a regular visitor on my days off to the XL Tearoom for anchovies-on-toast and a coffee, then my mother, Beryl and I may go see Harry Shakespeare singing – or comic act? – at the Lido. Your reminiscing took me back some, grandmother Matron O’Rourke and her old friend ‘Dot’ Fisher (of Fisher theatres Singapore vintage, where she “escaped with only her handbag and a lipstick..” back to Durban in the mid ’40s after that fiasco in WW2). Gran and Dot were regulars at the Coogee Beach hotel and occasionally the New Rand for an occasional dance on a Friday evening, and a glass of Lager & Lime. I miss Durban, as you do, but wouldn’t give you tuppence for a visit these days. Tourism gone to pot.

    • Tolkie

      I have a question about Dot Fisher and the Coogee Beach hotel, realizing this is a very old post but hoping to get a reply.

  5. Hannes Smith
    | Reply

    I must admit that I was overwhelmed by nostalgia on re-reading my memoires. As the old song goes “Thanks for the memories”

  6. Margaret Dams
    | Reply

    So did I. Lovely reminiscences. I was born and brought up in Durban and miss those days very much. Halcyon days.

  7. Nick H
    | Reply

    The Coogee Hotel was located in Tyzack Street, on the right as you went up its slight incline towards Marine Parade. My late father, an apprentice ship’s engineer during the 50’s, would often mention The Coogee Hotel in his whisky assisted nostalgic anecdotes. That hotel, being just a stone’s throw from the harbour, was throughout the 50’s and 60’s something of an institution among the seamen based, or on shore leave, in Durban. Certain chapters in the hotel’s chronicles centred on the more colourful and rowdier residents on furlough from the sea; you can imagine the goings-on these men were apt to initiate. I last saw the Coogee, still going by its time-honoured name and in a parlous state, about twelve years ago just before I left dear old Durban. Never a grand place with airs about itself, even its heyday or when I was a kid in the 60’s, it had become, I am sorry to say, a categorically seedy building by the early 2000s. It appeared to me that the handful of elderly whites who still called the place home were too down at heel to have any other choice. Tyzack Street, and the entire Point Road neighbourhood for that matter, was by then a crime infested dump, into which you ventured after dark, if you had any reason to, pretty much at your own peril. A sad note, I know, but yes, my own memories of better times in old Durban will never leave me, nor those unwitnessed but well-portrayed personalities and incidents of my father’s own recollections and reflections.

  8. Colin Barraclough
    | Reply

    When we left Northern Rhodesia in 1962 we travelled down to Durban and stayed at the Coogee Hotel for a month 🙂

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