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Memories of growing up in Woodlands,  Durban.

By Derek Austin - December 2008

I was born in April 1958 at Addington hospital. My elder brother was born in October 1952 also at Addington. At the time I was born my parents had just moved into a house in Alamein Avenue Woodlands. Prior to that they had lived at Prospect Court Prospect Road Umbilo.

My mother worked at Mercedes Benz spares in Umbilo below Flamingo Court flats or, as we used to call them FL court. My father had his own business situated at Lancashire House in Kenyon Howden Road, repairing the old valve radio sets. He did his apprenticeship at A Lalieu and sons in Umbilo road and, after being retrenched, decided to work for himself.

George Austin, right, during his apprenticeship.
Picture courtsey Dereke Austin.
Click to view enlargement.

Growing up in Woodlands was great as most people were middle class and everybody had kids of the same age to play with. At that time Nagle Square shops were where my mom shopped. She would order groceries from the grocer or butcher who would then send the delivery rider round on his bicycle.

Derek on his brother's Yamaha 50cc.
Picture courtsey Dereke Austin.
Click to view enlargement.

My brother and I would buy model aircraft from the grocer shop and build Spifires, Typhoons and many other model aircraft. Across from us was bush and then sugar cane; the railway line to Chatsworth had not been built and neither had the outer ring road. Where Woodhaven now stands, used to be a gully with a stream running through it. We would leave home early in the morning wearing black Teesav shorts and a T shirt, no shoes, and padkos [food] for the day and go play in the stream. Nobody bothered us and many a kid caught bilharzia in the stream.

One day we heard a bang from our house and in the sugar cane were some pylons belonging to Eskom, well the ANC blew one of the pylon’s legs off. We were too young to understand what was going on in those days.

Anyway, with my dad working for himself, many a time during shad season he would pick me up from Southlands School and take me down to the cutting at Reunion. In those days there were two sand dunes, one either side of the Umlaas canal. The dune on the right had a gun battery bunker in it. Some time later they removed the whole dune on the right, built factories in the area and eventually closed it off to the public.

George Austin fishing at Maydon Wharf.
Picture courtsey Dereke Austin.
Click to view enlargement.

My dad loved fishing there in the day and then at night, when it was quiet, he repaired radios. Incidentally many years later I was doing a Citizen Force camp and part of the area patrolled was the Umlaas canal, where at Merebank, one could enter the canal and drive down to the mouth in a Buffel [armoured vehicle]. The guys would bust the Indian fishermen for fishing illegally but, in return for a few shad, we would turn a blind eye.

The other place my dad loved fishing at was Fynnlands and first we would stop in Flower road, give the secret knock on the door, and buy live cracker shrimp from the owner. Otherwise sometimes my dad would fish at Maydon Wharf.

My father came from a family of 5 boys who were all born in Vryheid. Their father had served in the Boer war and had also been part of the Northern District Mounted Rifles. When his father died in 1924, the 5 boys and there mother moved to Durban. Their mother was a nurse and all the boys went to DHS for their schooling.

The eldest brother became a tea boy at Union Castle shipping and when I was about 5 years old my dad said to me that his eldest brother was now the CEO of the shipping line after something like 30 years at the company. The other 2 brothers were fitters and the youngest brother served in the war in 1939-1945. I have some photos of the troops leaving Durban. My father never went to war, I never asked why not but he did serve as a voluntary fire warden.

Some other places I remember going to as a kid were the Sunkist restaurant at Blue Lagoon and the Japanese gardens. I recall going to the Bluff view site before the army closed it off to the public. On certain days one would catch a waft of the whale blubber being cooked at the whaling station. One other place we would visit was the Model Yacht basin at Blue Lagoon and then, afterwards, we would have a game of Putt Putt.

Some people have written about what we did on the weekends. Well, when I was about 15, we started wearing platform shoes with checked Oxford bags and a broad tie to impress the chicks. I first started going to the Roxy, Oxford and Capri cinemas as mentioned by other readers. For 15 cents you got a Hi C cooldrink and entry to the movies. However there were lots of weird people who used to sit in the back row who looked dodgy so we would rather go to film shows at the MOTH hall in Kenyon Howden Road on a Friday evening and, on a Saturday evening, to the Methodist church in Montclair road.

Dressed to kill. Derek, left, and his cousin Colin Alborough.
Picture courtsey Derek Austin.
Click to view enlargement.

Later on we would go to the Clairmont hotel in Clairwood,k have a few beers, get some Dutch courage and then head to the Disco held at Ramblers football club in Wood Road. Often there would be fights between rival gangs from Montclair/Woodlands versus the Bluff or Toti. Generally it was only fists and as soon as the cops arrived everybody scattered.

Sunday nights, once we got older, were spent at River Gardens or the Athlone where, if one bought a meal then you could drink on Sundays and, at the end of the evening, borrow a beer mug or 2 and go home.,. [Our weird licensing laws forbade hotels and such from serving drinks on Sundays unless accompanied by a meal. Many establishments offered deals whereby you could see a film, have a meal and drink to your heart;’s content. Ed.]

I wonder if anyone remembers Clover dairies had those milk carts where the truck would stock the cart at about 4 in the morning. As soon as the truck left, we would run down to the cart and borrow one or two bottles of fresh orange or the milk that still had cream in it, not like the watered down milk one gets today.

Ah the good old days !!

Derek's picture gallery

Clippings showing troops arriving by train in Durban during WWII, prior to embarking on a troopship. Derek suspects his parents kept the clipping because his uncle appeared in them.

Derek's father George didn't volunteer for active service during WWII (many South Africans didn't) but did serve as a fire guard. His Citizen's Identity Card is below, left, then his fire guard's identity card, notice that he had been awarded the war Services Medal for services during the war and, finally, thanks from Area Commandant and Mayor Rupert Ellis Brown.

A couple of clippings of adverts from Durban newspapers during WWII. Payne Bros. was offering naval uniforms crafted out its famous hard-wearing pyramid serge, below left, and the deodorant adverts were more to the point than today's efforts; "Daintiness is much too precious a thing to take chances with", below right.
They apparently had stabbings in those days too, right. =>
Pictures and clippings courtesy Derek Austin - clock to view enlargements

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