Tuesday, December 05, 2006

BOERWURST by Jan Lowing

(Note: This is the September Assignment. Our members had a choice of a number of topics. We were to choose an unfamiliar topic and perhaps research it and produce poetry or prose. Jan has chosen "boerwurst".)

Boerwurst. I have no definition, it doesn’t rate a mention it the dictionary. This is my personal understanding of the word, and these are the memories it evokes…if you’ll just bear with me…the connection is rather tenuous.

We ran a large Merino stud for many years, and young overseas breeders would often ask to spend time with us to experience Australian conditions. They were usually the sons of South African or New Zealand stud breeders, and very keen to learn and help out on the property. I have many fond memories of them, but Piet Geldenhuys was my favourite. He was the son of Boer settlers with land in the south west corner of South Africa, chunky and cheerful with a blonde crew cut. I asked about the history of land ownership in his area, and he rather naively explained that black Africans had never settled there. He genuinely believed that, but I know how tough those early Boer settlers were and had my doubts. Piet was great mates with the Bantu workers who helped on the property, and would take them down to the family fishing hut for weekends. He had happy photos of them drinking beer together, and showing off the many big fish they caught. We had trouble with foxes taking lambs at the time, and he explained how his father could set traps for many different animals. The wild life was plentiful and varied on their farm, he often remarked on the scarcity of birds and native animals in Victoria. One morning we were checking ewes and lambs and found a pair of twins, one black, one white. Merino ewes have trouble rearing two lambs, and we decided to catch the black one and shoot it, giving the remaining lamb a better chance. My Kelpie bitch helped me catch the ewe so I could put a cull mark in her ear, and then I looked up to see Piet in full cry after the black lamb, which was displaying an amazing turn of speed. As Piet made a last desperate dive for a leg, the lamb scrambled through the fence into the next paddock. I called out to leave it, we’d get it later. He huffed and puffed his way back, red in the face and very cross. ‘What a stupid lamb! It must have a black brain too!’ he spluttered. It was the only remark I heard him make that could in any way be construed as racist!

The next year we had two very different boys, South African twins from near Port Elizabeth. They were of British background, and fresh out of boarding school and Agricultural College. Both their experience of life and their range of interests were extremely limited, and it soon became obvious that sport was the only thing they got excited about. Apart from girls, of course. Brian had a girlfriend of Boer extraction who was travelling with them. Kirsten was bright and attractive, pretty switched on, and I soon wondered why she was with such a boring young bloke. Kirsten told us in great detail about the ways they used every part of a sheep when they killed one on their farm. Lots of blood pudding and ‘wurst’, she and her mother always spent a full day processing it. We heard this more than once, it seemed that eating these goodies was the main excitement of farm life for her, and my cooking came in a poor second by comparison. I could have told her where to put her wurst after a few days.

Brian and his twin brother John had no regard or respect for the blacks that worked on their farm, they said they were dirty, but they hadn’t even built a toilet for them. The boys also complained about the smell when the blacks cooked up sheep that died, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was the only meat they were given. One of the twins managed to run over a little terrier pup we had, simply because he was driving far too fast when he’d been told to slow down just a minute or two earlier. They were quickly wearing out their welcome.

The World Series cricket was on in England, and of course they sat up to watch it on TV; Australia was playing South Africa in the final, and I was listening to the radio in bed. They had the game won but threw it away in the last over, handing it to Australia for free. There was a resounding yell of ‘Shit!’ through the wall, and loud and sorry clumping footsteps retiring to bed. I really enjoyed asking them who won over breakfast next morning.

A few weeks later I met another host farmer who had them to stay after they left us, and he was full of news. Kirsten had announced she was pregnant and Brian was going to marry her, they even announced their engagement. It all seemed a thinly concealed plot of hers to marry into money, I felt, and maybe the twins’ father had the same idea. There were lots of phone calls and a hurried trip home, but no wedding and no baby either, we discovered later.

You can blame ‘Boerwurst’ for these mediocre meanderings.

Jan Lowing ©


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