Life as a young boy in Rivonia circa 1948 (70 years ago)

I think the year is 1947. I am about 6 years old.

The family (my parents, two younger sisters, and myself) have recently moved into a brand new house in Rivonia, situated between the Sleepy Hollow Hotel and where the then road to Bryanston crossed the Jukskei River. Beyond Rosebank, beyond Illovo, beyond Morningside and Sandown (mainly gum trees and grasslands) with a house every half mile or so.

The house was on a smallholding, I am guessing about 10 or 20 hectares (in what was to become part of Sandton!). It ran from the tarred road down to the river, and was bisected by a willow tree-lined irrigation furrow that served several properties along the road. Across the river lay Bryanston with even fewer houses than Rivonia, Sandown and Morningside.

Between us and Sleepy Hollow was a piggery farmed by a Mr Hughes who used to phone (we must have had a phone!) to complain that I, and friends, had been shooting at his pigs with our pellet guns. The piggery produced terrible smells when the wind was blowing in our direction.

Buried down there?

Above the house, in long grass, was a deep disused well. Its protective wooden railings mainly rotted away.  We were scared of that well, seldom went near it, and never down it. We feared people might be buried down there.

There was a long straight dirt driveway from the ‘main road’, crossed at regular intervals by rain drainage speed humps. We used to tear down this road on our bicycles, becoming airborne as we hit each hump. Horrible grazes were par for the course. Occasional visits to the doctor for stitches.

My father named our new home Kingsettle. We sold it in about 1953 and moved to Melrose (near our schools). (Later, in about 1956 we moved to a farm in Lufafa Road, outside Ixopo in the then Natal Midlands). My parents initially farmed dairy and later became the first in South Africa to make Brie and Camembert cheeses –  St Marc brand).

Struck by lightning

In Rivonia, we had some dogs, chickens, ducks, three dogs, including Shadow, my loyal German shepherd (called alsatians at that time to hide their German origin). We also had cats, a couple of horses, and a vicious Shetland pony called Tiny who thought nothing of biting children and seeking other ways of trying to kill them. Tiny was struck by lightning. No comment.

My mother used to feed the chickens that lived in an old barn. Each time she fed them, the resident cock used to fly at her in a noisy, fluttering, feathery, fury, to the point where she refused to carry on feeding them.  Us kids were told to take over the chore. We went into the barn armed with sticks ad stones, but the cock simply ignored us.

Also resident was old John, who tended and irrigated the vegetable beds below the furrow (we always had fresh, organic veg). There was also Alan, an energetic young black teenager, who spent a lot of his time running errands to the local shop.

The shop was back past the Sleepy Hollow and up a short hill on the left.

Even when we went with him to the shop (to buy cheap cigarettes for my parents, neither of whom smoked) he needed a pass slip.

When my mother was not around I happily signed pass slips for him (not sure the government had a 6/7 year doing the signing when it set up the system.

Idyllic for young boy

Rivonia at the time was a pretty idyllic place for a young boy to live. Lots of trees to climb, exploring to do, birds to shoot (I am sorry now), and birds nests to find and eggs to collect, and frequent summer swims in the clean and sometimes flooding Jukskei River.

We also had fun around an old barn below the water furrow. Hornets were our sworn and vicious enemies. They had many nests under the eves of the barn roof. One time, we dressed up in many layers of clothing and crusaded against the hornets by knocking down their nests with long sticks.

Attacked by hornet squadrons

The hornets were not amused and attacked in squadrons. Some broke through our defences and made their way underneath our many layers of clothing and STUNG, STUNG, STUNG (hornets, unlike bees, can sting multiple times). It was impossible to run away from the stinging as they were inside our clothes. Our defences had become our painful traps. By the time we had all our jerseys and coats off, we had been stung many, many times.

There was also a time when I stuck my hand into a hole in the river bank, hoping to find a swallow’s nest. But … it was a bees’ nest and I had angered them bees. Much scrambling down a steep river bank followed, and into the river with a cloud of angry bees circling my head. Mainly I kept my head under water, and the bees dispersed. I never stuck my hand into a strange hole again, without first checking for bees.

‘Borrowed’ dad’s pistol

Another adventure, with my sisters, Vicky and Ginny, and our older cousin, Gary Wilson, involved ‘borrowing’ my father’s pistol. We went hunting down at the river – but never even nearly hit anything. We all swore an oath of silence and rashly promised each other no confessions, no matter what! Someone had reported shots being heard and the evidence lay in an uncleaned gun-barrel.

My father spoke to the four of us, one by one, in private. Before long he had convinced each of us, that all the others had already confessed!

(more to follow)


7 thoughts on “Life as a young boy in Rivonia circa 1948 (70 years ago)

  1. Shannon

    Really enjoying this account of your earlier life and hope to read the follow up. Wondering why your parents sent Alan to buy ciggies from the shop if they never smoked…


  2. Stephen Taylor

    We seem to have overlapped at a number of places, Peter. My parents and I moved to Rivonia from Cape Town in 1952 when I was aged four, and we were there until 1965. Initially we stayed in a bungalow at Sleepy Hollow until a house became available. That was in Bevan Road, across a stretch of veld below the old Carmelite convent. In those days, as you may remember, there was just a post office (postmistress Miss van Harmelin) and a single shop on the road passing through what was a dorp. And like you, my buddies and I used to spend most of our time on the rivers (there was one on either side of that road) swimming or in one of the canoes we made from flattened corrugated iron. I remember it all as something of an idyll and have written about it.

    I have lived in the UK since 1970 but went back in 1997 in the hope of seeing the old house again. Rivonia had been developed out of all recognition, and the property was quite invisible behind its security perimeter. The house had probably been demolished for a new one.


    1. How interesting. I too went back to Rivonia some years ago. Even the house we had lived in, still there, was unrecognisable. I remember the Sleepy Hollow well. Between us and SH was a pig farm owned by a Mr Hughes. He used to get wild and phoned my parents when I set off his pigs squealing with my pellet gun.


  3. Mike Harvey

    Hi Peter, my grandfather, Percy Harry Harvey, bought the Sleepy Hollow Hotel around 1929 I believe and ran it initially as a Country Tea garden and then developed it further. My father Peter Harvey and my uncle Jack Harvey lived there much of their childhood and young adult years. My dad often spoke about the buck that roamed around the area, particularly on the opposite bank of the river. My dad Peter left to do his apprenticeship in Manchester, UK,where he met and married my mom, Betty Harvey. The returned to Sleepy Hollow near the end of WW2. My uncle Jack spent much of his time at the Hotel and opened the Rivonia Bottle Store which he ran for many years.I was born in 1951 and spent my early years in Rivonia, We lived in a flat above the Post Office if I recall correctly.
    I wonder if you ever knew my parents in those days?


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