NURSERYMAN BOBBY COLLINGWOOD HAS LIVED IN KLOOF ALL HIS LIFE AND SEEN THE SETTLEMENT TRANSFORMED FROM A SMALL AND COMFORTABLE COUNTRY VILLAGE TO A BUSY DORMITORY SUBURB OF THE ETHEKWINI MEGACITY, WRITES ROBIN LAMPLOUGH
Bobby recalls that at first his father lived on a property at the bottom of Kloof Falls Road, where there had earlier been a tearoom. Every day the older Collingwood travelled to work in Durban. The family business, a garden shop in Pine Street, had been founded a generation earlier by Bobby’s grandfather. The landlord was the eccentric and philanthropic Bertie Smith, later to live at Botha’s Hill. I remember, years ago, Bobby’s father telling me what a generous and helpful gentleman Bertie had always been.
The political uncertainty of 1960, following the Sharpeville shooting – when the South African police opened fire on a crowd of Africans protesting against the pass laws – caused Bobby’s father to move away from the remote and exposed site in the gorge. He shifted the family home and the nursery to Umzwilili Road in central Kloof, where Bobby operates today.
In a new century, Bobby thinks back to the village he grew up in. The business centre consisted of a single row of shops beside the Old Main Road: Springbok Stores, Pooley’s and later Tim’s. Bobby thinks back to the annual all-day carnival atmosphere that prevailed during the running of the Comrades Marathon.
Perhaps the most dramatic incident in the village story occurred in 1973, when two leopards were spotted in the valley below Haygarth Road, near the Maytime Centre. Members of the Beckerling family, whose servants had given the alarm, mounted an expedition to investigate. Heavily armed with a pair of binoculars, a screwdriver and a .22 rifle, they moved into the valley – supported by the family dachshund. But when the leopards began advancing towards them, the family force had second thoughts and retreated in good order.
A close second to the leopard saga and one with tragic consequences was the arrival of the Domoina cyclone in 1984. The Molweni came down in flood at the bottom of Kloof Gorge, and a young couple who decided to swim in the river both drowned.
Asked about old Kloof’s most eccentric resident, Bobby had little difficulty in identifying Leslie Riggall, founder of the Fern Valley Botanical Gardens. These were located where Makaranga Gardens are today. Riggall welcomed visitors to his site, but insisted, to prevent plant pilfering, that each one should pull out their pocket linings and leave them out until their departure.
A dramatic illustration of the passing of time and fashions came from the bridge over the railway line into Platt Road. Time and again, Bobby’s mother effortlessly crossed the line in her Hillman Minx. But when her husband tried it in his new Valiant, the car was too wide to negotiate the bridge.
The most obvious change Bobby has witnessed over the years has been the way in which Kloof properties have grown increasingly smaller. What has not changed, however, is the wealth of long- standing friendships going back to the days of a small and close-knit community. And many of them are Bobby’s regular customers.
This was forcibly brought home to me in the course of my interviews with him. Time and again,
I was introduced to Bobby’s old friends who had dropped in for a bag of compost, a tray of seedlings or some technical advice, as well as a long chat about the passing scene. And in almost every conversation, I detected a deep if unexpressed nostalgia for the way things were in the old days.
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