June du Plessis came to White River from Namibia 48 years ago in 1966. She sought advancement and adventure through the bank she worked for but her ambition to transfer to Port Elizabeth was thwarted – Nelspruit was her destiny.
Fortune was smiling upon her, because in Nelspruit she met Jan du Plessis, a tall and very handsome White River farmer. They married and moved onto Jan’s family farm, which was where Spectacular Concrete Works and Bagdad Centre are today, although then the farm spread right across the R40 towards Legogote, and raised four children – three sons and a daughter.
When June and Jan eventually took over the farm from his father Paul, they became the fourth generation farmers of this family farm.
June’s husband’s grandfather, Jan Strydom, was granted squatter rights on the farm for six months by the Land Department on 1st December 1904. June treasures the fragile squatter rent receipt, for £3, signed and stamped by Tom H Lawrence on 12th December 1904. The farm was enormous – June doesn’t know exactly how many hectares but says it extended beyond both sides of the R40. Jan Strydom was a cattle farmer and needed vast amounts of space. In due course, Jan bought the land from the government. He owned other farms, one at Kiepersol which June thinks was exchanged for a large truck!
Jan and his wife had three children – Johanna, Anna and PC van Roy. Johanna married Paul du Plessis and they moved to Barberton, but returned to live on the family farm once their children started to arrive.
Anna became the Postmistress at Plaston while PC van Roy Strydom was a Sapper during WWII and is a decorated war hero. He and fellow White River residents Harry Lynn (who was Town Clerk in the 1970’s) Hans Massyn and Gawie Erasmus served together in the South African Engineering Corps in the North African Campaign. PC was mentioned in despatches for his role in blowing up the Sollum pass to prevent the enemy getting through and was awarded the British Empire Medal, which he received from King George in a ceremony held in Pretoria in 1947. Salute the Sappers: The operations of the SAEC in East Africa and the Middle East by Neil Orpen with H. J. Martin mentions PC twice in the chapter entitled Heroism in Retreat. PC died on the 28 April 1976, aged 63 and The Lowvelder gave an entire page over to his obituary on May 7th.
Jan Strydom was a very kind man and a continual train of people on the ‘down and out’ were invited to live with them. Ruefully, June admits that her husband, Jan du Plessis, inherited this kind streak from his granddad and she was often surprised by unexpected houseguests which in time, she’d have to evict! Jan junior adored his granddad, despite Jan senior’s strict punishment for misbehaviour.
Although he lived with his family on the farm, Paul du Plessis was a mechanic in White River. When June’s husband Jan was about 10 years old, his granddad Jan dropped dead while walking about his farm. Paul then took on the role of farmer, adding crops to the cattle and at one time unsuccessfully planting rice.
When June and Jan took over the farm, they began farming tobacco. For ethical reasons, they eventually stopped farming tobacco and replaced it with vegetables. June started Pampoen Paleis – stocking vegetables, curios and a mixed assortment of goods; the farmstall was a White River landmark for many years. June and Jan supplied all the hotels in the area, even into the Kruger National Park, with vegetables. What they didn’t plant, they bought in from the Johannesburg market.
Jan du Plessis died eight years ago after 41 years of marriage and June, a glamorous 70 year old, continues to live alone in the 110-year old family farmhouse hidden in the depths of the tropical green garden she planted. Desert born and raised, June values lush greenery beyond anything.
She says she often threatened to go back to Namibia but after so many years, and surrounded by so many memories, her paintings and collectibles in the old family farmhouse, she accepts that White River is her home.