Recollections of being an instructor

Rob Birt instructed over several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He writes this interesting account of his observations and experiences which certainly encapsulate the essence of Veld and Vlei back then.

I was a final year student at Johannesburg College of Education (JCE) in 1968. The following year I started my geography teaching career at Krugersdorp High School.

I was first introduced to Veld and Vlei through John Hall. We were both at Wits and stayed in the JCE Knockando residence. We also taught together at KHS. John, I think, was inspired by Outward Bound and coming from Cape Town where he went to school at Westerford, he had probably heard about the Veld and Vlei organisation through Outward Bound (Veld and Vlei) at Elgin and Wilderness. I am speculating and cannot verify this.

In the early part of 1968 John introduced me to Cedric Amoils who was already involved in Veld and Vlei, specifically at Greystone, and with Ian Webster, a teacher at Estcourt High School. They were looking for instructors for the July camp and specifically for a map-reading instructor. Being a geography teacher I enthusiastically agreed and joined the local Johannesburg organising committee.

The first camp I went to as a map-reading instructor was in July 1968 at Greystone. I cannot recall the camp number, but the following year in 1969 I again volunteered and joined the G7 camp in December. This was followed up with G9 in December 1970 and again in December 1972 on G13. I have the beer mugs which confirm these dates.

My involvement with Veld and Vlei was a long 54 years ago so recalling details is difficult. However the whole experience on those camps was very rewarding as an instructor, seeing the impact they had on the trainees. As instructors we were able to see the changes in confidence and the emergence of leadership over three weeks. The highlight was ending the course traversing the Berg from Giants Castle to Cathedral Peak. It was a rite of passage and in winter a huge challenge for all of us, instructors and trainees alike.

I recall the typical first day of the three week camp when the trainees split up into groups, given a map and a compass bundled into a bakkie, blindfolded and driven some way away from Greytsone and dropped. They had to make their own way back. It was a baptism by fire but gave them a taste of what to expect.

Each course provided the trainees with a variety of experiences included map-reading, rock face climbing, sailing on the Wagendrift dam, fitness training and developing team work on the obstacle course. In combination it exposed them to the dynamics of working with and respecting the environment, and each other. Cold showers in winter, mastering the challenges of sailing and overcoming fear on a rock face all contributed to their development. The “foofie” slide, climbing net, climbing wall and going through the closed tunnel added excitement to the experience. These all tested individual resolve and an ability to plan and work together; a small taste of what their lives were going to be exposed to after the exhilaration of Veld and Vlei.      

As I said earlier, the changes in so many of the boys who joined the camps was very apparent. They all seemed to leave hugely enthusiastic after the experience, and a whole lot more knowledgeable and confident about themselves and their leadership potential. It was a great grounding for life.

Some of the personalities whom I worked with and who were involved in the Veld and Vlei organisation included Jumbo Swan who lived at Greyston, Iain Kellman, Cedric Amoils, John Hall, Ian Webster and Ray Basson. There were many others who gave up their time to become involved in providing the boys with a wonderful experience. No doubt there are many beer mugs gracing the shelves of pubs of those who had the privilege of being involved with a great organisation. 

I have fond memories of the four camps I attended and have little doubt that they also contributed to my own development as a newly qualified teacher.

Rob Birt found an old box of his 35mm slides and sent these very good photos.

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