I don’t think Robert Hart had 2012 in mind when he made his way from Scotland to unknown Africa as an eighteen year old soldier, in 1795.
Perhaps he dreamt of children and grandchildren when he settled on Glen Avon in 1825, but prior to that what he did was fight the Queen’s war by, amongst other things, welcoming Settlers in Grahamstown and growing vegetables to supply wheat & fodder to the Military in the Eastern Cape Frontier.
We forget how recent the history of colonial occupation of Africa is.
Still, where do you encounter eight generations who lived & worked and played on the same land for almost two hundred years.
My Zuko grew up in Walmer, Port Elizabeth.
It is something wonderful to think our children are swimming in the same pool she swam in when she was their age.
The third generation.
Only the second to experience it as children.
I grew up in Oudtshoorn.
Then in Salvia Crescent in Westering.
Then in Kyle Road in Framesby North.
Then in Violet Avenue in Sunridge Park.
Then in Christiaan Street in Rowallan Park,
Then in Ascot Road, Greenacres.
Those homes only photographs in albums.
As we make our way up the mountain to Avon Heights, to meet Reg & Vivian, to go and see the Glen Avon Falls which drop 80 meters from mountains up high to valleys below, I think of ‘continuity’ and wonder if we’ve lost it along the way.
Reg & Vivian have been living high up in the mountains for more than five decades.
Reg’s aunt left the land to him when he was only 29.
He settled there & was soon joined by Vivian.
And their three children.
Whom they raised without electricity or internet or mobile phone reception.
Today Reg is 74.
Tougher than I am.
Working the land in extreme heat & extreme cold, through drought & snow.
It is a cold day.
We get on the back of the bakkie. Zuko & Maddi get an honorary seat inside the vehicle.
Had the weather been better, we would’ve walked the distance to the falls.
The drive is beautiful.
We see mountain reed buck.
An eagle flying high above.
We hear the baboons fighting even higher than we are.
Reg finds a tree to park.
Then we walk.
He knows this land.
He speaks lovingly of each tree & plant and animal we encounter.
It is evident that he spent a life-time here.
Vivian explains that when they get older, they would probably have to consider moving to town.
I think it is here wishful talk, rather than Reg’s intention.
The falls is beautiful.
At the heartbeat of Glen Avon.
‘Avon’ is a Scottish word.
It describes a valley meandering high into the mountains.
Perhaps it describes a life meandering through centuries.
Reg’s Aunt was married to a descendant of Robert Hart.
He also went to war.
For the Queen.
During which he was ‘gassed’, I’m told and was told that he would not live long.
So he went on a world tour.
Eventually brought back Pecan-seed, which are now the old trees standing in front of our cottages.
But never had children.
So he died.
And his wife’s nephew inherited the privilege to raise his family in this world.
And share it, with visitors, through their mountain cabin.
A moment to experience.
To walk to the falls.
To hear the wind.
To listen for baboons.
As we drive back from the waterfall it starts to snow, white flakes swirling in the wind.
We find Reg & Bev’s own mountain home.
Lunch of homemade sausage & bread & Quiche.
Coffee & Boston Bread for desert.
They show us pictures of their children who live in exotic distant places.
By the time we get home we’re still soaked.
We light the fire in our comfortable Glen Avon Cottage.
Take a warm shower.
Hang our clothes to dry by the heat of orange flames.
Then Greg Brown comes to greet.
He is the seventh generation on Glen Avon.
His children the eighth.
We see him work the Angora Goats. Carefully registering every new kid. Tagging it. Putting away the ewes with kids in sheds, anticipating a cold night.
Along the way he shows us the old mill, built in 1823 by Robert Hart.
Upgraded in 1861.
Repaired in 1984.
He shows us their shearing shed as well.
Brought to Glen Avon by Robert Hart’s great-grandson in 1906.
Bought in the north, where it was a mess-hall for British Officers fighting the 1899-English war.
Maintained & utilized for more than a hundred years.
How do we make sense of history?
Unless we find some sense in families living from generation to generation.
Perhaps if we all had the luxury of continuity, our world would be a little more peaceful?
But that is not what I think of as I sip my last bit of tea before drifting off to sleep.
I think of resilient men.
Who settled in untamed lands.
Who shipped mills, piece-by-piece from England, to trek with them over Zuurberg-Mountains, to assemble them on remote land.
I think of men and women who lived without.
To live with.
Without electricity or convenience.
Without nearby doctors & schools.
To live with nature.
Vegetables, wheat, apples & nuts.
How desperate we need a new generation of pioneers.
Who will boldly move into the future.
Building our country, now owned by many as shared inheritance.
Pioneers who will think of tomorrow & spare no effort to build something which will stand for centuries to benefit generations.
Greg lives in the house his grandfather grew up in.
His father lives in the house his grandfather grew up in.
I have no idea if the little one-roomed house I see on pictures still exist on a Oudtshoorn farm.
I do hope my children will be brave enough to be bold enough to take on this life and create something.
For generations to come.