Durban Photos 1968

I was clearing out some old CDs and found one I had saved these pictures of Durban taken in early 1969. In 1968 I had just bought myself a new Minolta SRT 101 35mm Single Lens Reflex camera from a firm called Modisons, 239 Grey Street. At that time Modisons were General Dealers but on the side they had a photographic counter and were agents for Minolta. It was a small shop with general goods, some pharmaceuticals, and groceries. An unpretentious camea shop.

I had been told of them through a friend, Derek Brown. I still recall I was in three minds what camera to buy as my budget was limited. There were three choices an Asahi Pentax K1000, a Nikon Nikkormat and the Minolta SRT. The Pentax fell away because the lenses had a screw in mount and the trend was towards bayonet coupling. Between the other two I ended up going for the Minolta because I fancied its features, had a mirror lock, nice feel, CLC light metering and I was offered a good discount. The Saturday I went to buy the camera, the Minoltas in their dull gold and black boxes were piled up on the top shelf of a shop cabinet.

Too high to reach by hand, the assistant had a dowel stick which he used to tip the box towards him, let it fall and catch it on the way down. Well he tipped one but somehow managed to let it slip his grasp and it fell to the floor. “Thank you ” I said “I will have the next one”.

I still have the camera in perfect nick but now sadly ‘retired” because of the digital revolution. Over the years I used to go and see Roy Collyer at the Whysalls Beach Photographic shop and picked up many Minolta lenses and accessories from their second hand trade ins. There were some bargains to be had in those days. In later years Modisons branched out and if I recall ended up having a big store in Field St. where the Daily News Building was.

To the pictures. These are random pictures but I will explain. Some are historic as I doubt whether photos were ever taken of the occasion. They are old so pardon the colouring and my early attempts at composition.

Click on pictures to enlarge.

The Japanese Gardens in Durban North had just been opened and were a beautiful feature. Friends of ours bought a house in Old Mill Way adjoining the Gardens. In later years they used to complain of gangs that had taken over the park and recall the gardens fell into disrepair. I am not sure if they have ever been resuscitated.

Japanese Gardens Dbn North
Japanese Gardens

The Catholic Cathedral and the Grey Street Mosque. Taken the Parkade building between Commercial Road and Pine Street.

Two religions. Taken from the Parkade

Lower Marine Parade as it used to be lined with rocks. Cars could park diagonally facing the sea. A popular Sunday afternoon family outing.

Lower Marine Parade

Durban from the Innes Road view site with the Greyville Racecourse on the left and Durban beyond. The blue glass Sanlam Tower not built then.

The Yacht Mole with the Point Yacht Club Building.

Yacht Mole

Taken from the Bluff View Site. The harbour sheds.

Looking at the Esplanade from the deck of the Sarie Marais

Looking at the Esplanade from the deck of the Sarie Marais.

The Holland America Line ocean cruise liner, Rotterdam being nudged into the Ocean Terminal berth. Taken one early Saturday morning whilst fishing with my late uncle at T Jetty.

The liner Rotterdam

The British strike aircraft carrier Bulwark moored at T Jetty. On deck are her Westmoreland Wessex helicopters. Naval Vessels visiting Durban were normally tied up at T Jetty and open to the public for inspection. Big crowds would go down to have a look.

Sailing boats heading home after a day on the Bay. Taken from the parking area at the yacht mole. Note the Marine Hotel still standing evident between the sails of the two boats. The tall building with the red side bricking Is Kingsford , the Durban Club a bit further on , tucked away the YWCA and then Devonshire Court.

The Vasco Da Gama Memorial presented to the City of Durban by the Portuguese Government in 1897 to mark the 400th anniversary of the sighting of Natal by Vasco da Gama en route to India in 1497. Originally the memorial was erected at the bottom end of Point Road. It was more or less neglected and forgotten there so the City Fathers decided in 1967 to move it to this site on the Esplanade. It remained here till quite recently where it suffered being vandalised. The City Fathers to prevent further damage have now moved it to the Royal Natal Yacht Club at the Yacht Mole.

Vasco da Gama Clock

The sailing ship icon placed on the modernistic façade of the Ocean Terminal building at T Jetty. The sailing ship recalls Durban’s long association with shipping.

West Street Christmas lighting. West Street still bi directional but now with a chained centre island. This was an attempt to stop the jaywalking which was rife in those days. Greenacres in the background, with Greenacre’s Passage and The Hub next door. Jaywalking probably ruled out by taxis these days !!

Tight Lines. Fishing off the beach probably during the Shad season. The one fisherman with the baited hook about to yell the customary “Coming Over” to warn the others. That is if you were an over head caster. Those that cast with a side sweep would yell “Rods down” and the other fishermen would lower rods and duck down.

The old South Beach fishing pier that jutted off the beach . The North Pier in the background. The original North Pier was completely demolished and removed to widen the harbour channel. If I recall there was a serious
altercation between a fisherman and a surfer on this pier which ended up with some one being hit with a basebal bat. It ended up in court.

The Aliwal Street Congregational Church with the Embassy Parking Garage next to it. The Church closed it doors and became an antique dealer’s premises. The Picadilly Cinema was further down towards the Esplanade.

One of the two lions guarding the gates that are at the entrance to the Cenotaph. Mounted on hgh plinths either side they represent the two Great Wars. Behind is the Trust Building which was demolished to make way for the Old Mutual Building and on the right the FNB Bank Building which replaced the old Natal Bank Building on the corner of Gardiner and West St.

The Bay seen from the view site on the Bluff. The view site was at one stage open to the public but was closed when security was raised in the 1980s. The old coaling appliance is shown which in later years was used less and less as oil fired boilers became more common. The reclaimed Fynnlands Beach and land can be seen on the left . This was used to increase the oil discharging berths and the additional storage tanks in the Fynnlands area.

An oil tanker moving towards the oil berths . Behind is the Ferry dock where the ferry that crossed the channel would lie. The pilot boats and the Harbour Water Police were also stationed here. One can also see the freighters lined up with the first one at A Shed. I would imagine that Durban’s first railway, actually South Africa’s first railway, terminated somewhere in this vicinity. On the right where the tug is berthed, is the SA Railways and Harbours workshop . The road led to the North Pier.

The Amusement Park is in town. The traditional location of the Amusement Park on a triangle of land which was at the entrance of the Lower Marine Parade. One can see the Roller Coaster, the Dive Bomber, the Octopus . Not shown are the High Flying Swings where the fun was , was to catch the swing in front of you and with your feet push it out on another trajectory. Centrifugal force would bring it back into line. I recall at the time several stone piers were being constructed to save the beaches as there was an ongoing battle to retain the sand on the beaches. I remember the PUTT PUTT course but not the Dolphin Show.

A historic photo showing Bay Passage. I knew this little side road well running from Smith Street through to the Esplanade where it emerged through an arched opening of the old St Andrew’s Building. It was not a thoroughfare though as the exit onto the Esplanade was blocked by pylons. However the area behind was a car park for Quadrant House which is on the corner of the Esplanade and Field Street. In the background is Murchies Passage with the new Eagle Building above it. The building on the right at the end of the Passage was Poynton Chambers with the upstairs rooms used by the Berea Rovers Sports Club as a clubhouse at one stage. I recall at the St Andrew’s Building end there was a very old double storey brick wall with an exterior wooden staircase leading to a door. On the wall one could just see the words “Boat Builder and Boat Yard”. Next door was the BP Head Office with frontage on the Esplanade. The caretaker of St Andrew’s Building was a Mr Hass, an elderly Maltese gentleman slightly eccentric. He was a friend of my father’s and we used to visit him. Rooms in St Andrew’s Building were let out and on the first floor was a wide open verandah looking onto the Bay. A very old building as it can be seen in many old postcards. Sadly another fine looking building demolished and is now a car park.

Two classic photographs; I am sure I had more. They show the demolition of the Central Methodist Church in West Street to make way for the Sanlam Building if I remember correctly. The Church stood roughly opposite 320 West St. It was a dominant part of West Street in the early years and is seen on many postcards. The original church in West St.

The demolition I recall was done by Atomic Demolishers using a wrecking ball. Its replacement is the big block church on the corner of Aliwal and Smith Street . The Broadway Hotel with its open verandah on the first floor facing the cinemas used to stand on this site . When the old church was demolished boarding was put up with peep holes so as to allow passers-by to look into the deep home being dug for the foundations.

Here is a picture of the new Central Methodist Church which replaced the one in West Street. It is on the corner of Aliwal and Smith Streets. It stands on what was the Broadway Hotel which had an open balcony overlooking the intersection and facing the Metro and other cinemas. It was the place to meet your friends before the show and have a “dop” !

African Stick Fighting.

Along Umgeni Road just below the Argyle Road intersection there were open grassed areas alongside the road. On Sunday afternoons, young African men would gather informally and perform their Zulu dancing. Cars would stop alongside and Black and White spectators would gather to look on. Individuals would take centre stage and go through their routines ending with falling on the ground. Another would then carry on and show his prowess. Later the dancing would break out into stick fighting with the young Black men gathering in a circle whilst two opponents would try to thrash one another with their sticks. White hankies would be tied to one of the calves for some reason. No major injuries but obviously you would not tackle someone else unless you knew how to protect yourself. Notice how the ice cream van pulled in to make a few sales.

The Athlone Bridge.

The Athlone Bridge was a steel girder bridge that spanned the Umgeni River. In the early days it was the only direct link between Durban and Durban North until the other bridges were built. It connected Athlone Drive and Northway. The bridge was built between 1923 and 1924 and was named in honour of the Earl of Athlone, Governor General of the Union from 1923 to 1930. In November 1955 the Ellis Brown Viaduct was opened which connected the Snell Parade to Leo Boyd Highway . This was lower down towards the Umgeni River mouth. The Ellis Brown Viaduct was at the time the longest bridge of its kind in South Africa with 15 arched spans.
The old Athlone Bridge was closed to traffic in 1968 as inspection of the bridge had shown serious corrosion and deterioration. Being a two lane bridge only, the Durban City Council had already pre-empted its replacement and in July 1966 the construction of the new Athlone Bridge to replace it was started. The new four lane bridge was opened in 1968. I recall my late father in law telling me that soon after the new bridge was opened, an inspection had revealed that gaps had appeared where the spans overlapped. Scaffolding had to be erected to support the bridge and the repair was carried out by injecting epoxy into the gaps.

I remember taking this picture lying on my back. The bridge had been closed so no traffic was coming through.

The new Athlone Bridge alongside the old. When the old bridge was cut away the pylons in the river could not be removed. They were left in situ and even the Demoina Floods could not eradicate them.

I came across this interesting picture card of the Athlone Bridge and looking at its surroundings must really be close to when its was opened in 1923 / 1924. Remarkably undeveloped area coming into Durban.

The Union Whaling Factory, Bluff .

Not pleasant pictures but part of Durban’s history. Between 1967 and 1971, I was one of three Dept. of Posts and Telecommunications technicians that made up the PABX (Private Automatic Branch Exchanges) Section. The three of us in our Mini Panel Vans would cover the entire Durban area from Oszizweni Hospital in the north down to the Illovo Sugar Mill in the south and from Ridge Road west to Westville/Pinetown /Kloof and Hillcrest. The Durban Corporation looked after its own network area until 1969 when the whole network was bought and taken over by the Government. One of the PABX installations was the Union Whaling Company on the other side of the Bluff. I recall one had to go up Lighthouse Road to the Army Camp site and there one had to get permission to access the road leading down to the whaling factory. The whales were brought in by the whalers on the channel side and left floating tied to the berth which had a slipway. The whales were hauled onto flatbed carriages and taken round to the factory via the train line that rounded the Bluff . I used to carry my camera with me and this particular day I was dispatched to attend to the unit at the Whaling Station. When I got there the factory staff were busy processing sperm whales that had been brought in. The smell was breath taking and there was a lot of blood and gore. Here are the pictures. Note the harpoon still embedded in the body. At the factory office there was a harpoon mounted as an exhibit that was actually bent over. I understand the factory is still there but now abandoned and derelict.

Sperm Whale on flat bed truck at whaling platform.
Hauled onto platform for dissection.
Cutting up using a flensing knife.
Embedded harpoon
Lower jaw of the sperm whale.
Lower jaws showing teeth.
Whlale blubber being dropped into boiling vats below
Another section being processed
Messy job.
All done.
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29 Responses

  1. Taryn
    | Reply

    Hi there, My name is Taryn, I have a son at Morningside Primary School… We are trying to do a history project for the school but I just cannot find a photo of the school from 1928 it was called North Ridge Road Government School, could you perhaps have any photos of that ?
    My email address is
    Thanks a mil

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Taryn
      Unfortunately I have no photos of the Morningside Primary School for you. I do have a book that lists old Durban schools still existing and Morningside Primary is listed as such and as being founded as you say in 1928. I think your best bet would be to visit the Killie Campbell Library in Marriott Road and see if they do not have something in their archives. What I can tell you is that the school in 1938 was still called North Ridge Road Govt. School and the Principal was Mr A.B. Bentley. The school roll was approximately 139 pupils and classified as Mixed (girls and boys) and Infants. This info from the 1938 Lawrie’s Durban Directory.

  2. Allan Jackson
    | Reply

    What a great post Gerald. There are many historically interesting pictures among them and I was most interested in the whaling series. I don’t think I’ve seen such a complete overview of the process. Anyway, your Minolta could still have a productive career in front of it. The hipsters are still shooting film to the extent that Kodak is reviving Kodachrome and there’s no reason why you don’t too.

    Your mention of Modisons brought back a lot of memories as well. By the time I discovered the place in the early 90s it was being managed by Naresh Modi who had an extremely engaging manner and made you want to buy from him. I ended up shelling out for a Canon EOS 10 and two zooms. I used that camera for many of the stories I covered for Natal Newspapers (R10 per picture used) and for my hobby. Canon was quite early to auto-focus, got it right and left Nikon in the dust for years. I remember showing the camera to one of the full-time photographers at Natal Newspapers and he reckoned that it beat his high-end Nikon F4 as far as autofocus went.

  3. Naresh modi
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald
    Superb photo collection. Allan I am glad you still have a memory of our Business Modisons and hope you enjoyed your canon still a great camera. Yes their is a revival of film . Those were the good years of photography & conversation 🙏🏻
    Naresh Modi

  4. audrey willcock
    | Reply

    The old Mexican Hat on the beachfront – did it not have a huge hat on top of the building at one stage?

    • Graham Campbell

      Hi Audrey, the one one the beachfront was called the Cuban Hat. According to other posts the Mexican Hat was at the top end of Smith Street amd I do vaguely recall it

    • Graham Campbell

      Hi Audrey,

      Yes, it did have a hat on top. I have sent a pic of it to Gerald. I’m sure in due course, he will publish this.

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Audrey
      Here is Graham Campbell’s picture of the Cuban Hat with the sombrero on the roof. Looking at the VWs this picture dates to the early 70s. The white VW if you knew them has the old style bumpers with over riders front and back whereas the 70s models only had a one piece bumper.

  5. Ron Jackson
    | Reply

    Some beautiful photographic memories of early Durban. The Central Methodist Church, now demolished, where I got married in 1969. I have my photos of the our marriage but I did not have a photo of the church from the front, very nice.

    • Theo Schuurmans

      Is that the one opposite the city hall and next to a swimming pool ? Used to know one of the guest organists there ( D P Mostert ) – she used to come in at Easter time and play St Mathews Passion.

  6. Graeme
    | Reply

    Yes Audrey Willcock, it did. Wonder what happened to it. Anyone know???. The nest was next door. The good old days

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      I have a vague recollection of a large Sombrero on the roof of the Cuban Hat but no picture. One will crop up. Here is an aerial picture postcard of the Cuban Hat and the adjoining Nest with the Durban Surf Lifesavers Club bordering them. All changed now.

  7. graeme
    | Reply

    Sorry Graham, you quite correct…Cuban Hat was next door to The Nest. I thought Audrey Willcock was referring to “what happened to the actual hat”. You also correct, the Mexican Hat was situated there and owed by the Thomson family, George, the great Durban surfer….legend

    • Theo Schuurmans

      Thanks for the memories guys – wow. My friends and I used to frequent the Cuban Hat and ran a tab with one of the Indian waiters who trusted us – we used to pay him at month end plus a tip of course. Those were the days.

  8. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Just to sort out the Mexican Hat / Cuban Hat question. The Cuban Hat was on the Lower Marine Parade and virtually next door to the Durban Surf Lifesavers’ Club and the Rachel Finlayson Pool. Next door to the Cuban Hat was The Nest. The Mexican Hat was at 505 Smith Street which way up from the beach front. It was situated just up from where Russell St joined Smith St. On the corner was Bible House, the HQ of the Bible Society of SA, then K Motz the jeweller and next door was the Mexican Hat. Apparently owned by the Thomson family. Next to the Mexican Hat was Bigden House and then Savage and Biggs butchery. This is from the 1965 Durban Directory.

    • Graham Campbell

      Hi Gerald, Thanks for the correction on the old telephone exchange. I now re-call that the the newer building was the one that was clad in modern aluminium incorporating the Telkom logo.
      Gerald, I have come across a pic of the Cuban Hat with the ‘Hat’ visible. If you would like it let me know how to get it to you. I also acknowledge your question regarding Marist class photo’s and need to dig into my albums. I will let you know in due course.

  9. Bob carter
    | Reply

    Seem to recall a place called the Polar Bar somewhere near the corner of Russell and Smith (or West street). Had my first ever hamburger there. Was the best thing I had ever eaten at that blender age. Also, wasn’t there a movie house (either the Embassy or the 20th Century) that got burned down and rebuilt with a new name? Corner of Aliwal and Smith I think. Seem to recall going to see a movie called “Sweet Ride”: with Jaqueline Bissett in it. Was 4-18 years only, and we were all about 16-17 and nervous as hell aboutvtrying to sneak in under age!!!

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Bob
      Here is an old postcard showing the Polar Bar on the corner many years before it became the Polar Bar. Corner West St and Broad St. It hardly changed till it was demolished to make way for the small shopping centre erected there. A few doors down was Colombo Tea and Coffee who stood their ground and did not allow its building to be demolished so the centre was built around it.

      And a better picture of the Polar Bar

      The 20th Century cinema burnt down but was rebuilt as the Cinerama I think. This happened in the 70s ???

  10. Bob Carter
    | Reply

    Wow. great pic. Thanks Gerald.
    Broad Street. Of course. I always got Broad and Russell mixed up. Goodness, that brings back memories. We seldom went into Durban city centre. My dad was an incredibly anti-social being! This was one of those occasions (new years eve, I think), that my mom managed to convince him to take us to town to watch the date click over from one year to the next. Think it was atop the City Hall. Struggling a bit here with my memory.
    Never noticed the name “Jerrard” at the top of the cafe either! Wonder who that was?
    Anyway, many thanks for all of the pre-posted details about Durbs. Heck, we had a ball in that town back in the day…………. Take good care.P.S. I actually thought that it was the Embassy that burned down, and was rebuilt either as the 20th Century or The Metro. Obviously wrong on that one. There also used to be some sort of milk shake shop I seem to recall being down the lane which ran down the left-hand side of the Playhouse we used to go to (might have been a Milky Lane). Remember that the tick straws used to stand fully erect in those shakes, they were so thick.

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Bob,
      Jerrards was a small boutique gown shop. You probably had to walk through the pharmacy to get to it. If you remember Durban there was a dress shop above Colombo Tea and Coffee which you had to enter and there were stairs inside the shop leading to it. Here is a classic picture of Colombo Tea and Coffee standing their ground against I think it was Sanlam who bought the entire block but not their stand!

  11. Bob Ian Carter
    | Reply

    I don’t recall that at all Gerald. We kind of came off the southern freeway and headed straight down the embankment to The Royal Hotel. There was a pub downstairs ( entrance via Hermitage or Albany Lane I think). Thereafter we would perform what we called a “360 degree” circumnavigation of all of the known gathering spots like Elangeni, Cane Cutters at Maharani, then up to the Robert E Lee in Musgrave I think. We talking circa 1976 – 1982.

  12. graeme
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald,
    re your 1st pic of the old Polar Bar building…What was that rocket shape building to the right of the pic…my memory also faded. Thanks

  13. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    That was the Atlantic Building. This was built on the land once owned by the Catholic Church and on which the first St Joseph’s Church was built. This church was eventually demolished block by block and rebuilt in Stamford Hill Road where it became the second St Joseph’s Church. The proceeds from the sale of land went towards the building of the Durban Cathedral which stands today rather forlorn and surrounded by over passes. All that was left was the Holy Family Sisters Convent further down Broad St. and the St Joseph’s Junior School facing Smith Street. I will add another picture of the Atlantic BUilding in due course.

    The first St Joseph’s St which was in West Street.

    The Atlantic Building which once stood opposite the Polar Bar.

    I do not know when this building was demolished but today on the site the last time I saw it was a KFC.

  14. graeme
    | Reply

    Thanks Gerald….how sad…Landmark of Durban. Thanks again

  15. Kevin Watson
    | Reply

    Remarkable pictures Gerald. It was 1968 when I bought my Minolta SRT 101 and MC Rokkor lenses from Audiolenz, all of which now lie unused in my cupboard. Thank you for sharing these memorable images.

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Kevin
      Thanks for the compliments. If I remember correctly the firm was called Audiolens and they were in Gardiner Street. Yes my Minolta, and I bought a lot of lenses and accessories are also lying unused. I made a special wooden box and packed the lot away. I really loved the Minolta SRT 101 and it took some fine photos. I bought my Minolta from Modisons when they were a small outfit in Queens Street if I remember. They eventually expanded to quite a big outlet in the 1990s. I recently had my last spool which had ben in the camera for years developed . It only had a few shots on it but they still came out. Cost to develop and print was close to Rand 200. Pity another hobby killed by technology.

  16. Kevin Watson
    | Reply

    Good to get your reply Gerald. You’re correct regarding the shop named Audiolens. Over the years the Minolta captured so many memorable images for me, mostly as 35mm colour slides and every picture was carefully composed before pressing that shutter due to the processing costs.

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Kevin, Same here went through the slides stage but reverted to colour film. In 2004 I took the Minolta on its last trip to Egypt. Much to my wife’s opposition I took it with lenses et al. I bought the film before hand AGFA 200. I really got lovely crisp pictures from that trip of a lifetime. When I got back my friend at Whysalls, Roy Collyer processed the films for me. Now it lies unused. Here’s a pic from Abu Simbel.

      Abul Simbel front

  17. Kevin Watson
    | Reply

    Very envious of your trip to Egypt. Sadly, many of my Agfa slides have developed mildew. i bought a Sony digital camera and then, with guidance from Harry Lock who lives in Hillcrest, a Canon that I’m very pleased with. Our shock to hear of Allan’s passing has left us reeling. Allan occasionally commented on my photos of scenes in and around Dumfries, Scotland, where I now live. I’m sure Allan mentioned that he spent some time living here. Am I correct? Regards.

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