From Boatsheds to Battlefields 25 New Beginnings

A month of fishing and mountain excursions had passed when once more Mick’s face was turned Struanwards. His friend Zach had moved heaven and earth to find congenial employment for Mick and had succeeded.

So primed with good advice, filled with good intentions Michael Osmond alighted at Struan to be met by Peter Van Der Walt an old school friend and co-partners with his brother Mathew in one of Struan’s finest estates.

Now followed a happy period. The Van Der Walt’s two young brothers and a schoolgirl sister who was fair to look at and pleasant to know owned twelve hundred ostriches which brought in a regular stream of gold. There was a vineyard of eighty thousand vines which yielded large quantities of rough country wine and brandy – pedigree merino sheep, purebred Hackney horses, Friesland cattle, breeding ostriches and great crops of wheat, peas, oats, and barley all contributing to nearly double the income derived from feathers.

Sharing a room with Peter, treated as one of the family, allowed to work more or less where and when he wanted Mick’s sea longings vanished and all his heart and soul went into farming.

Sometimes he drove with Peter or rode with Mathew, other times worked with the field gangs. There were horses and mules to be broken in and saddle and harness, ostriches to be plucked, vineyards and orchards to be pruned and dug, stumping, irrigating and a hundred other works – all interesting.

At daybreak the Reveille bell rang and immediately all hands except irrigation boys fell in at the door of the wine cellar where each man was issued with a cup of claret – then followed milking, cream separating, feeding stock, cutting firewood and all the manifold farmyard jobs.

Meanwhile, those coloured men engaged on irrigation had left long before dawn to open furrows and flood the lands they were working on. Oxen and mules were driven up to ploughs, harrows, leveling machines and wagons, whilst the farmyard tasks were in swing and shortly after sunrise everybody was working smoothly and rapidly.

At Reveille Mick took well made freshly roasted coffee with the two brothers, helped issue the wine ration and then either rode around the lands with Peter or Accompanied Mathew on a tour of Dairy, byres, and stables.

At 8 o’clock the breakfast bell sounded. Work stopped automatically and a second wine ration was issued – those already in the lands drawing theirs from a can which had been sent out to them.

Breakfast at the Van Der Walts was a serious business worthy of the ancient Holland traditions of the family. Maize kernels boiled in milk were followed by omelette of ostrich egg, tender mutton cutlets from a freshly killed sheep or its liver and kidneys, white and brown farm made bread of their own grown and milled wheat, newly laid eggs – delicious butter, honey, jams, and preserves of fruit – everything produced on the farm except the fragrant coffee and sugar.

At 8.30 the farm bell sounded – again an issue of wine was given to the labourers after which work restarted. Where a gang laboured a white foreman set the pace with spade, sickle or scythe – any man who could not keep the pace knew that the end of the day was the end of him as regarded employment with the Van Der Walts.

At eleven a halt was called a fourth wine issue was made and for ten minutes the men lay smoking and drinking. Again came the call to work, once more scythe swung or sickle gleamed until noon, when the old slave bell tolled from the house and work ceased for an hour – once more wine was issued and the men lay under monster pear trees eating and resting.

At the house, lunch consisted of thick bean soup boiled with diced bacon, rissoles or curry, cold mutton and bread and butter. Four o’clock brought wine and a breathing spell after which work continued until sunset when the field labourers drew their last lot of wine and received a supply to help them through the evening. Boys on irrigation received a little Brandy and their ration of wine for the morrow and a little later the farmyard tasks having been completed peace reigned over the estate.

Shortly before sunset when the work in the byre, stable and dairy commenced Peter and Mick would visit the pantry where Mrs Du Toit the housekeeper would supply them with bread, butter and thick milk although an hour earlier they had made a hearty meal of cake, coffee, and the far farmed Cape Konfyt or preserved fruit.

Dinner, a long stately meal of endless courses was followed by evening prayers when Mathew read a chapter of the Bible and a psalm and prayer ended the day.

One of Mick’s first places of work was the helping to round up some six hundred ostriches which during the winter months had been turned into bush country away from cultivation.

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