Gerald Buttigieg's Page

Memories of growing up in Durban.


By Gerald Buttigieg - 2 July 2004

"Sessions" would be a word familiar only to a certain generation and, I would hazard a guess, that it would be those who were young adolescents or "older" teenagers between the years 1955 and 1965. Rock and Roll had exploded into the world with Bill Haley and his Comets and their "Rock around the Clock". Then Elvis appeared and Rock was here to stay. I am not sure if Durban started "sessions" but some members of the older generation cottoned onto the fact that money could be raised by providing the youngsters with the music which was all the rage. It was the M.O.T.H.S. (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) who may have been the initiators of sessions.

Using their "shellhole" premises as venues, Friday/Saturday nights were the nights for a session. A local 4 piece rock band would be hired to play rock music and at an entrance fee of 25 cents, the local shellhole would be the place to be either with your "steady" or a good place to meet the "local talent". These venues proved so popular that some churches needing to raise funds, got onto the band wagon. I remember "sessions" at St Cyprians in Umbilo and at Assumption Catholic Church Hall, the later collecting funds to build the Church that stands today. Shellholes that come to mind were at Durban North and Umbilo.

Among those attending the sessions was a "rougher" element called "ducktails" because of their distinctive hair styles, Texan cigarette packets rolled up into the sleeves of their skin tight white T-shirt sleeves, and their "irons" (motorbikes). This was the pre-Japanese bike era and the bike to have was either a Triumph , AJS or Norton. Unfortunately, crowd control at the sessions was wanting and rival ducktail / bike gangs would quite often spoil the fun by breaking out into fist and boot fights.

Liquor was not served on the premises but, inevitably, it was available. There were certain places in Durban were liquour could be bought illegally. When the punch-ups got out of hand, the Police would arrive in their Dodge Scorpion Vans, break up the fracas and remove the inebriated.

The concept of a 'session" is far removed from today's raves were live bands do not exist, males, females and others, dance singly or in groups, light and laser shows are in and the music is vastly different. Whereas sessions were restricted to roughly 4 hours, 8 to midnight (the law forbade public entertainment after midnight), today the night starts at 10 and ends anytime thereafter. Sessions were a regular entertainment in Durban for many years. The advent of the Beatles, for some reason (perhaps the waning of the ducktail cult), saw the demise of "sessions" with more formal venues (still with live bands) becoming the norm.

Going Fishing

By Gerald Buttigieg - 8 May 2004

My late uncle was a very keen fisherman and was adamant the best bait was live shrimp. He and I used to drive in his small 1952 Austen to Fynnlands which in the mid 50s was still a very swampy area. The present tanker berths were not there and these were built later from land reclaimed. We used to drive along Edwin Swales Drive in the dead of night to seine netters houses in Fynnlands and buy fresh live shrimp. The shrimp was sold in a "parcel" of newspaper.

With bait in hand we would then drive all the way back to the North Pier. Edwin Swales Drive used to be lit by sodium lights which bathed the whole road in a eerie strange orange light. North Pier at the time still had two wooden jetties which jutted out into the channel between North and South Pier. I have a feeling they were World War 2 remnants. The one jetty closest to the harbour was the more popular as, at the head of the jetty, it opened into a large area. However, space was limited and it was very much first come first accommodated.

Close by were two very large sewage outlet pipes and these were opened to discharge Durban's effluent when the tide changed to outgoing. You can imagine the contents of the outlets with the associated odour. However, the muck attracted the fish and some fine grunter were caught off this pier. In later years the two outlet pipes were replaced by a pipeline which took all the effluent out to sea.

Opposite on the South Pier was a large gantry crane which was used to bolster the pier with huge concrete blocks. This crane eventually rusted so badly that it collapsed and fell over into the channel and had to be replaced. The South Pier was not really as popular with local fisherman (probably because it was more difficult to get there) but the seaward side of the South Pier was the domain of the Shark fishermen. Using whale meat as bait and kites to get the bait out to deep water, local shark fishermen used to try and catch the large sharks found in that area. The Leviathan Fishing Club comes to mind and names like Harold Roseavere, Cecil Jacobs, Gordon Leadingham.

School Break Up Day

By Gerald Buttigieg - 2 April 2004

I entered High School at St. Henry's (Marist Brothers) in 1956 and distinctly remember the mayhem the more senior school pupils used to cause in Durban on year end break up day. I cannot recall how long this tradition had been going on for but it was stopped, I think, in 1958. At year end all Durban senior school scholars (boys and some girls) would converge on Durban Central on the trolley buses or double decker motor buses.

The majority would be upstairs on the upper deck and, as the buses came down West Street, exercise books (and school books) were torn up and thrown out of the windows in a sort of ticker tape parade. West Street used to be littered with paper. I remember the one year getting on to the bus going into town at the Glenwood Terminus upper MacDonald Road. At Bath Road (which in those days was a through road) the bus stopped to pick up the Glenwood High School contingent who overtook the top deck. Getting into town, the Glenwood boys were emptying sackfuls of torn up paper.

A school friend of mine was standing behind one Glenwood boy who had a bottle of ink in his hand. He opened the lid and prepared to hurl the contents out of the window. Unfortunately physics took over and the ink departed the bottle with the throwing action and landed all over my friend standing behind the "thrower". I can well imagine the explaining he had to do on reaching home with ink splattered all over his uniform.

Behind the buses Durban Corporation street sweepers would follow the buses with palm tree branches in hand clearing the mess. The next point of focus was the Town Gardens were a basher [straw boater] was put on Queen Victoria's head and a tie placed around the neck of, I think, Harry Escombe. Finally, everyone made their way to the "movies" where the afternoon show was fully booked out.

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