“During the school holidays, my partner Willie Roodt took his family on a tour in his Kombi, near to the Blyde Canyon area where we were gold panning. The team of workers and I took a day off from work. We left at ‘sparrow’ and followed the eroded track, which took us to the Bourke’s Potholes and the old suspension bridge over the gorge.
This famous suspension bridge consisted of two ancient rusty horizontally placed cables, connected with old planks, some of which were completely missing and some broken. A third rusty cable was suspended vertically above the right-hand cable, which was connected to the lower cable with the oddly spaced vertical rusty wire.
This whole contraption swayed ominously in the wind blowing up the gorge. On the other side, were Willie and his family, with the weekly rations. He knew about my fear of heights, and was waving a bottle of brandy in the air to encourage me to cross the bridge.
I called for volunteers to fetch the rations and other items, but after looking at the frightening construction and then down into the rocky depths of the gorge, my gang suddenly became deaf mutes, and no amount of badgering and pleading would change their minds. Even the local miner who wanted his money and who had probably crossed before, would not venture over. He told me afterwards that his money would have been of no use to him if he were lying dead on the rocks, (a good point), but life is a challenge and the thought of Willie disappearing with my brandy, was just too much, so I ‘bit the bullet’.
I was determined not to look down, but to concentrate on the planks ahead of the guide cable and me. I slowly inched along, testing each plank before putting my weight on it. Halfway across, just when I was beginning to gain confidence, a plank gave way with a loud crack. My leg went through the opening and I came down on my butt. Luckily the plank held my weight.
I sat on the swaying bridge, frozen stiff with fear, and clinging onto the guide cable for dear life, unable to move. The murmur of voices from my gang went suddenly deathly quiet. Knowing that I could expect no help from them, I just sat with my eyes closed tight. I didn’t want to look across to the other side, and I couldn’t even pray. The bridge started swaying again.
I glanced up and saw Willie approaching very, very slowly. He was also testing the planks. Eventually, I heard him say, “Here boet, drink this and you’ll be OK “
I opened my eyes to see him holding an enamel mug two thirds full of brandy in his huge hand. I grabbed the mug and gulped the contents down with expert ease. Willie took the mug and turned to return. It took a few minutes for the numbing glow to seep through my body to my brain.
Willie had not reached the other side before I was up and going, and we reached the other side simultaneously with cheers from Willie’s family, as well as two tourists who by this time, I suppose, had heard exactly how he had rescued me.
After brunch, a chat and one for the gorge and with my haversack on my back, I was ready to return, but not over that bridge.
By that time, my gang had arrived by going through the river upstream of the gorge, on an easier but much longer route.
The only item of interest on our hike back was a pair of mountain reed buck that flashed their fluffy white tails at us as they cantered away.”
Another snippet gleaned from “Mgolomben” by Gordon Robertson.
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