A smooth blend

Eric and Dolly Scrooby at the Voortrekker Monument with the Great Trek centenary in 1938.

by Willie Meyer – from his book “Magaliesberg Kaleidoscope”

OB Scrooby says there are no more Scroobys in Scrooby – the place in Nottinghamshire in England which gave the Scrooby family its name. They have all emigrated mostly to the United States and many can be found in Boston where the pilgrims had settled after 1620. The South African branch of the family came to this country with the British Settlers in 1820.

The first Scroobys to settle in the Magalies Moot were the brothers William Walter, Albert Leopold and Octavius Benjamin. From the gravestones in the area it is clear that they were already settled here in the 1880s, but the first Scrooby to buy a farm was William who bought 2 825 morgen of Grootplaas from the Pretorius family in 1897 and sold half of it to his brothers in the same year.

Although of British descent and English speaking, the Scroobys fought on the side of the Boers in the Anglo Boer War. OB’s grandfather, also called OB, cultivated wheat and oats on the banks of the Magalies River where Lakeland is today. He was a successful farmer and supplied the Boer forces with food and fodder from his well-stocked sheds. While he was away on commando, however, the British struck and burnt down his sheds, his house and everything on the farm. OB’s father, Eric, was a baby then and had to live with his mother under a salvaged corrugated iron sheet. After the war grandpa OB rebuilt his farm with material cannibalised from the British blockhouses on the Magaliesberg. That was the only material available.

When the government started expropriating land for Hartbeespoort Dam around 1916, the Scroobys, like the Schoemans and Pretoriuses, objected. They did not want to sell their land, but were prepared to sell “servitude of storage”. The issue ended in a court case which the government lost and the Schoeman, Pretorius and Scrooby families retained their land, the submerged areas included.

OB was born in 1927 and remembers well growing up in the Moot. He travelled by donkey cart to school in Skeerpoort where there was a parallel medium school. OB recalls that there was strict separation, even animosity, at school between Afrikaans and English speaking children.

It is one of the anomalies of the aftermath of the Anglo Boer War that some people could not forget the war and regarded all English speakers as British, while others managed to blend the English and Dutch and grew into a truly bilingual culture.

In those days there were many English speakers in the Moot, quite a number of them Settler descendants.

OB’s mother, Dolly, was Afrikaans (her maiden name was Botes) and OB says he never spoke a word of English to her or a word of Afrikaans to his father. How smoothly they managed to blend their cultures was illustrated by a photograph of Eric and Dolly taken at the Voortrekker Monument with the Great Trek centenary celebrations in 1938.

Many changes in the topography of the area occurred over the years – some suddenly, some gradually. OB noticed one such a sudden change when, as a little boy on his way to school one morning after a heavy storm, he noticed that the mountain looked different. A huge part of the rock face near what is today Leopard Lodge had broken away and slid down the mountain, leaving a deep scar. For years it was a very noticeable feature, but now it is overgrown and not so conspicuous anymore.

A more gradual change, apart from the buildings and roads, was the vegetation. At the turn of the 19th century the Moot area was devoid of trees. Both Eric Scrooby and Johan Schoeman were fond of trees and Eric started growing blue gum trees. He gave some to Johan who planted them along the road from the dam wall to Schoemansville in the 1930s. Johan then started his own blue gum nursery and plantation in Meerhof. The blue gum was a popular tree for it was a fast grower and provided useful straight timber. Ground water was not an issue then.

OB met Delia in the 1950s after his first marriage ended in divorce. She was a young widow whose husband was killed in a car crash. She was doing modelling work then and OB saw her picture in a magazine. A mutual friend introduced them and Grootplaas again had an Afrikaans madam of the house in an English speaking household.

The name Scrooby has for many years now been associated with beautiful women. Delia, with her modelling career, started it all and her daughters carried on the tradition. Odile, who tragically died in 2010, was a Tukkies Rag Queen, Odette became a Miss South Africa and Olivia became a Miss Teen South Africa. All of them, including their adopted sister, Carla, and the eldest and only son, Eric, who is now living in New Zealand, got married and have children of their own now.

OB had considerable success with drying lucerne with a machine he developed with the help of a friend in Durban and has always been fond of big cars. Somebody who owed him money for sand offered him an old car that had been standing in a shed for 20 years. It was a 1934 Packard Dietrich V12, of which, OB later learnt, only two were custom built – one for Clark Gable and one for an Arabian sheik. This one was Gable’s but no-one had any idea how it ended up in South Africa. As a gesture of appreciation of his friend’s help in developing the lucerne dryer, OB gave him the car. Today the car is back in the United States, exhibited in the motor museum in Detroit and estimated to be worth a million dollars.

A feature of Grootplaas which has become a landmark is the railway coach parked on the shore of the lake. It is a Caboose, built in 1934 by Norman Pinker as an inspector’s coach – a complete flat on wheels. When Pinker retired in 1947 he was given the coach as a retirement gift and arranged with OB to park it next to the shore. OB says it was a mammoth operation to get it there from Damsig siding where it was delivered by rail.

A copy of the book by Willie Meyer is available at the Kormorant office.