Wednesday, 10 June 2015


It does not matter where you live,  all of us have neighbours.  Luckily I think living on a farm you are actually more in contact with your neighbours than in our urban areas.

Looking across towards Newstead from Rookwood's boundary

As a student at Stellenbosch, I was lucky to have close friends – Moonyeen and Linda Hobson, who came from a farm in the Graaff Reinet area.  I spent many a holiday with them and was always touched by their neighbourhood camaraderie and friendship.  Little did I realize that I too would end up on a farm and would also be blessed with some wonderful neighbours.

Uncle Peter Hayes with a kowe mushroom picked on the farm
Two particular neighbours have been an absolute inspiration for me while living at Rookwood.  One of them, Peter Hayes has now moved to town, but his inspiration, friendship and support will always remain positive memories in my mind. Peter’s late wife, Liz taught with me and was a natural born teacher.  My own children (and all the other children in the district) absolutely adored her.

Peter and I had one big passion in life – vultures of course!  Peter was one of the farmers in the area who operated a very successful vulture restaurant.  He had a specific site on his farm where he would put out food for these birds.  He would regularly keep me updated on what he would see and how many birds he would notice.

a group of Cape Vultures feeding at Peter Hayes' vulture restaurant

a view of the restaurant
 The vultures that came down to feed did not battle to access their food as Peter made sure the carcasses were even skinned for them!!  Something many other farmers would not have done.  I can remember him telling me about the Lappet-faced vulture that he had seen on two different occasions.  I was always sorry I never got to see these birds, as they hardly, if ever, occur in this province now.   One incident I vividly remember Peter telling me about, was how he found one of his ewes had fallen over and that the vultures were all sitting around just looking at the sheep and not ‘going in for the kill’ as many other farmers claim they do.

Peter with his netted reservoir to prevent further drownings

Peter also had a very heart sore experience with these birds when he discovered thirteen Cape vultures had drowned in one of his reservoirs on the farm.  He was devastated and promptly made the reservoir ‘safe’ by netting the top of the structure to prevent this from ever happening again.

He not only shared stories of vultures with me, but would keep me posted on his beloved Martial Eagles (yes, he had a breeding pair on his property!), Blue cranes or any other birds he came across.  I truly treasure those discussions and was very lucky to have a neighbour like him and if I bump into Peter in town nowadays, I still share my stories with him of the vultures and other birds.

Peter giving a speech at Rookwood with Liz sitting 3rd from the left.

Our second neighbour is a legend.  Uncle George (and Aunt Cecily) Filmer, who live on the farm Newstead next door.  Rookwood was granted to the Filmer family way back in the 1850’s and Uncle George is a direct descendant from this line.  He grew up on the farm Newstead and has a wealth of knowledge of the history of this area.  Not only his knowledge of the history but also his wonderful knowledge of  our  environment, grasses, animals and rainfall patterns in this area.

Aunt Cecily

Uncle George, who is now close to 90 years of age, was always keen and actively involved in organizing walks, sporting events, horse camps and family gatherings over the years. Aunt Cecily has supported him in all these activities.

His horse camps were held in the middle of winter, in the middle week of the school holidays, for all the local children in the area.  Meagan and Joy both attended the Newstead Riding School in their younger days.  The children were of all ages and  
Joy on Lady at the Newstead Riding School camp
sometimes the camp would host up to 60 in total.  The children would be divided into groups (according to their riding ability) and would spend a week in the wind and cold ‘learning’ how to work/ride their horses.  Sometimes the horses were ‘borrowed’ from the neighbours and others were brought with their owners.  This would culminate in a ‘show’ day on the Saturday with the parents coming to see their children perform – be it in the beginner or the advanced groups.

I can remember Uncle George organizing a sports day for the farm school children where we were all asked to assist in being officials for the day.  The track was marked out for all the athletic events and three of the local farm schools in the area were invited to participate.  These children thoroughly enjoyed their day.

Uncle George (in the centre) with one of his walks he organized for the local folk

The walks were something he loved to organize and he would utilize the neighbours for different routes to make these walks more interesting.  This would often end with a get together at Newstead for everybody involved.

One of the many horse events held at Newstead.
One of his other favourite sporting events was the triathlon involving horse riding, cycling and running.  This event ran for a couple of years and the participants had to form a team of three members – one would cycle the first leg then be joined by the horse rider and lastly the runner.  The rules were that all three participants completed the race together.  This was a tough one as the terrain was not flat.


One event that is still being held on a yearly basis, although Uncle George is less actively involved, is the Newstead Endurance ride, which starts and ends at Newstead.  This event is now organized by the Hofmeyr Endurance Club, but Newstead is the base.  Uncle George is seen actively supporting the participants throughout the two days.

Participants in the Newstead Endurance ride completing the course

When it comes to the weather and climate of this area, nobody else probably has better records than Uncle George.  He has records that go back more than 80 years.  He can also tell you about the wetter years and the drier years and he has tallied all this and compared this data.  This is truly remarkable and very valuable.He would ask me about various different bird calls or tell me about unusual sightings of birds he had experienced. However, as he and Aunt Cecily are less mobile, it is always wonderful to be able to pop in and ask questions and still share thoughts about our area.

Uncle George on his "little beetle" as he calls it. He uses his four wheeler to get around the farm nowadays

In today’s busy life where vehicular transport has changed the lifestyles of many, I often wonder how many of us actually still have the wonderful neighbourhood experiences that I have been privileged to.

My world at Rookwood with its' neighbours.

No comments:

Post a Comment