It would be very fair to say that the Jo and Henry Hyde were legends. They threw their very all into Veld and Vlei, Greystone. I managed to track down their four children who are scattered around the globe: Edward Curry-Hyde, Catherine Curry-Hyde, Charles Curry-Hyde and Elizabeth Curry-Hyde and was thrilled when the emails eventually started flowing. Read some of their interesting memories.
The core people poured enormous amounts of time energy (and cash) into V&V, but it didn’t thrive or survive.I remember the meetings at home in Estcourt, where budgets were a constant problem. All of the vehicles for example were ‘contributed’ either people like the Tanner-Tremaines, Eddie Peen (I think) and Henry. They really believed in what they were doing. They were also all very determined people who didn’t like being told anything and Alan Webster held all this together.
I am sure you know how hard it is to explain to people (… and my children, despite me banging on about it), how unusual mixed-race courses and indeed the whole of apartheid was. I keep saying that we need to remember that it is possible to condition a whole nation into thinking that most inhuman things (Modern day Russia…?). It was doubly strange thing living through it, as we were in such a distorted society. I remember somebody saying that V&V was the first time he’d ever been told what to do by a person with a coloured skin! How V&V managed to curtail lifetimes of conditioning into apartheid thinking for each of those three weeks, I do not know. I guess that they all believed in change and would be call liberal humanists now. In his newspaper, The Estcourt Gazette, Henry wrote some pretty risky stuff. The the local council prevented use of the town pool by Indian children and Henry wrote in his editorial that perhaps they were scared the water would turn brown. He got a visit from the local enforcer Meneer Barnard, who said that that was not funny or acceptable!
Henry took over a small news agency business in Estcourt on his mother’s insistence, midway through his degree in accounting (and drinking). My understanding is that prior to V&V Henry had spent quite a bit of time at the golf club and V&V gave him a focus. As a child I remember that he would go out there after work several times a week throughout the year for a 2-3 hours to manage it. Orbed the gardener was there permanently and Henry modified the ride-on mover to suit his injured foot. Isaac the cook was in fact Zulu royalty, as I remember taking him home north of Ladysmith several times with Henry, and I saw his large kraal and witnessed the huge welcome from his wives and children. I took Thandi Buthelezi (princess) to my matric dance at Michaelhouse and she knew him. Jo, Henry, Catherine, Lizzie and (to less extent) I got to know him and he was a man of enormous dignity and quiet power. As he got older he would sit beside the Aga and run the ship. I remember that he bought the washing ladies with him from home – I guess that some might have been wives.
This reminds me of another rather mad aspect of Henry – he didn’t see things like age and experience as an impediment. At 16 or 17 ish he put Catherine and then Liz in charge of catering for a course with 80-90 people! Ed led a course at about 20 and I taught sailing and rock climbing at 17 singlehanded, to happy campers my age! This applied to pretty much everyone there. Can you imagine the Health and Safety exec’s response to that today! But they didn’t kill anyone during that time. Sadly there was an accident a few years after we left, which led to questions about what they were doing. There were plenty of near misses though, some of which I saw. Did it leave scars? A few, but it also made us all very resilient.
One of the big motivations for Henry and Jo was that V&V brought a constant stream of really amazing people to our home. Estcourt was insular, yet we had eccentric, passionate people from all over the world dropping in, staying, sometimes for weeks and that made our lives really rich. The middle room of our house was a kind of expedition staging post with CB radios, and kit, and piles of things coming and going.
After Henry left South Africa for Australia things changed for him. He drove a courier van for many years and worked until he could draw a pension. He and Jo then caravanned around Aus and lived very simply. He always had mad schemes on the go. Chicken manure maturing in a vat, bits of woodwork projects and so on. We spoke at his funeral, and read our tributes to a rather stunned group of church goers! Someone said to me that it was a little unusual to laugh at a funeral. We started writing it with the usual sad stuff and then said, hang on a minute Henry was a very funny man (in many senses) and we needed to talk about that.
Henry was always very wistful about V&V. He wrote a history of our family and I don’t think said very much about it. His departure from SA in 1989/90 was difficult. His accountant at the time explained to me that the family business had run out of cash, in part due to the funds and time that had been diverted to V&V, but also poor property development decisions, in the midst of very high inflation, caused by apartheid. Henry funded a vegetable patch to make the courses more self-sufficient in front of the Greystone house, for example, and fenced it (with an 8 foot Eland-proof fence). Henry didn’t do things by half! I remember some people on the committee being rather unhappy that this was just done without the committee’s.approval. The reality of this change in our family finances was stark for me and my siblings. We lived a comfortable life with what Henry described as a money tree in the back yard! That all changed and looking back, if it hadn’t we might have not all have struck out on our own, as we did.
I think about Henry a great deal. He never appeared to be sad or knocked down by anything, even the big change to his now Australian life. I wish he had been given more credit for what he did. In the UK, he and others would have received medals or even knighthoods for their efforts, visits from HM and all that would have helped the organisation to keep going. I remember that they approached Outward Bound UK, who chose not associate with V&V due to sanctions, even though it was an agency for change. V&V could almost certainly have raised cash in the UK now, 2023. But there we are. My father was a truly amazing man – a prince. We have had to rethink “why we do things” after his death.
You have certainly prodded and poked the memory bank!
I remember going to Veld and Vlei with Henry and Jo all my childhood, and spent most holidays involved in some way.
I was V&V caterer with Bev Field in for 1978/1979 once and then I remember being thrown into it alone (1979/1980) when either Bev or the caterer lined up was not able to come or got sick. I would have been 15/16. I think Jo had returned to Australia during one of those times to see her family. Jo took on the catering role for many V&V courses when we were younger. We would all be packed up at the beginning of the holidays and moved out to Greystone for the course duration. The old house was cold but had the roaring fire in the living room keeping everyone warm during the winter courses. I remember packing hike rations in the main house back kitchen with piles of “dog biscuits”.
Henry was instrumental in the infrastructure of V&V, much of which is still standing today. The trainees went from sleeping in tents on the terraces to rondavels which were built in approximately 1976. I also remember the construction of the dining hall and kitchen. That was an extension of the old bluestone building that housed the quarter master’s store. I can still smell the manky smell of that room! The power generator gave him endless hours of grief! (to use his words). I remember the silence at night when the generator was turned off.
I learnt to drive when I was about 15, on the road from the Estcourt municipality boundary to Greystone. In those days one did not need to hold a license on rural roads, only if you were driving in town. Henry used to come up the drive way at home at 5.15 every night and I used to head to V&V with him. He drove a little Renault bakkie with the umbrella gear stick.
I reflect back now on my mother’s resilience living in South Africa. She came from a very sheltered upbringing in Australia and pretty much everything she did with my father was out of her comfort zone. I am very grateful for the upbringing we had and the exposure we had to so many things, and like Charles said, the endless flow of people in our home staying for extended periods of time was extraordinary and enriched all of our lives. Henry and Jo were incredibly generous people, from always having enough dinner for a crowd, to there always being beer in the fridge for anyone dropping in.
I have just read through the blog and had a fabulous journey down memory lane. Cedric Amoils had told me about your blog so it was wonderful to see it and read through the memories and photographs.
I did return to V&V when my uncle Mike died, am guessing in 2008 or 2009. It was then a Christian camp, I think it is now a children’s camp for school parties as well as wedding venue. I noticed with joy that the old rondavels and the rather ugly dining hall are still very much still in use. I remember well the building of those, particularly the rondavels. And the uneven floor in the dining room – Henry was not much of a level floor kind of person. Things were very much made “good enough” – and I can see my mother’s eyes rolling! There were always large puddles on that floor when the rains came, as I suspect the roof wasn’t up to much either.
I noticed on my visit that a swimming pool had been added, along with a chapel and other buildings. The assault course looked very much the same as it used to look albeit with an electric fence around it. The views of Moor Park and Wagendrift were of course just as beautiful as ever! The house remains as lovely as it ever was. A large part of my childhood was spent in that house, I expect more time there than in our home in Estcourt! I recall every inch of it, as one does.
I will see what I can find in photos etc. And scribble some memories for you too.
Well done on getting this together. I can say with absolute certainty that Henry would be utterly delighted with this, as would Jo. Sadly Henry died in 2019 aged 85 and Jo less than a year later in 2020 aged 83.
The Hyde’s lounge on typical Sunday morning
Edward, Charles, Catherine, Elizabeth, Henry; and Dick Lavers
Henry and Jo 2014, Toronto
Henry and Jo 2018