Wildlife and wild parties at Thrash Hill

2009-06-15 00:00

AS story of the “horror house” in Chase Valley unfolded in the pages of The Witness it has morphed from an urban legend about a gorilla abducting children into a ghostly tale and now, thanks to readers, into the story of a famous varsity student digs.

Neil Paton, who today lives and works in Farmersville, near Dayton, Ohio, in the United States, was an agriculture student on the local varsity campus in the early nineties and one of 15 students staying at Thrash Hill. Here is how he recalls his time there:

The place was a wreck. Most of our parents when they did visit were appalled at the condition of the place. We made it our home though.

When we moved in Telkom had no record of the address and we had to clear a huge long path through the bush for installation of a telephone line — that took about six months.

The property was wild. We battled to keep any semblance of a garden, what we really needed was chainsaws and tractors but we made do with an axe and a terribly unreliable push mower which we repaired weekly.

The access road was treacherous and there were many close calls with one vehicle falling off the edge after a party. At the end of our stay the developer needed a bulldozer just to access his property.

While there we witnessed all sorts of game and wildlife — including baboon, bushpig (which provided the digs emblem), blue duiker, reedbuck and lynx. It was very humbling to be so close to nature.

We had 12 laying hens in a battery cage I kept and they clucked away day and night laying eggs and allowing us to make as many “six-egg option” or “four-egg option” omelettes for breakfast as we wanted.

We had a pet pig called DJ that used to roam the bush. As she got bigger, she dug up all the slasto paving work in the rear of the property looking for cool sand and mud to wallow in. The pig was eventually sold in a Witness under-R50 ad: “Friendly pig needs good home — free to honest caretaker”.

On campus, the digs was famous for its parties and we made sure it continued to live up to its name in the two years we were there. We had a big digs party every semester, and the digs emblem would go up around the university with the caption “Friday night”. After that we just waited for the throngs of people to arrive, and boy did they. We estimate that at their height we had about 2 000 people there.

We had beer delivered directly by SAB through an account we had at a bottle store in town. The beer order for the night was about 910 cases — I don’t believe we ever cracked 1 000, then there was wine and spirits as well. Of course there was a big band or disco with dancing.

As parties grew, we had to hire a security company to patrol the neighborhood and “help” troublemakers on their way home. At one party, the security guards were overwhelmed by the chaotic nature of the job, quit and fled.

We also leased out franchise opportunities for food vendors which was very successful and co-opted the Rag buddy bus to drive drunk students back and forth from campus. Local police reportedly helped lost drivers with directions to the place as it was quite difficult to find if you had never been there.

The university administration was admittedly upset about the negative image and the phone calls they got during and after these parties, and we had an uneasy agreement with them to call and inform them ahead of time when the parties were going to happen — that way they could at least turn off their answering machines or unplug phones and turn a blind eye to all of this.

We co-ordinated with Shaggers, 106 St Patricks and a few other big digses as to when we would have parties so as not to compete.

The parties came to a sticky end though when we were busted by the cops for illegal sales of liquor, due to our unfortunate advertising of the event at a pub downtown. The pub clearly took a dislike to the unsanctioned competition and called the cops on us. We were in the hole for all the beer, wine and spirits we had bought on consignment — that was an expensive one!

The vice squad showed up in ratels and loaded up all the booze. We assume they had the biggest party of all, although they assured us it was all destroyed. It seemed to us that the era of grand-scale, wild and out-of-control digs parties was over.

But it wasn’t all partying. There were many afternoons spent sitting on the grand porch looking out over the city, and drinking tea and chewing the fat. What a privilege to have lived there.

During our brief stay there strong friendships were solidified and the majority of us are still in regular contact, all having been able to partake in the magic of Oakwood/Thrash Hill.

AS reported in a story in  The Natal Witness in 1948, two gorillas had escaped from captivitiy and taken up residence in Chase Valley, probably in the 1890s, when the area was still bush.

A family that included two young girls took up residence at Oakwood and the father became concerned at the danger the gorillas posed to his two daughters. He set out to shoot them and was able to shoot the female. That night the male gorilla gained access to the house and abducted the two girls. Their bodies were found a few days later. The family subsequently left Oakwood.

In the early years of the 20th century two brothers and their sister rented Oakwood. One night the sister reported seeing “two huge eyes” looking at her through the window. The police were called in a trap was set and the male gorilla was shot dead.

This story was related to The Witness by H. R. Coleman in 1948 who had bought the then abandoned house in 1944 and subsequently renovated it. At this time its address was 70 Connor Road (not 72 as reported in an earlier story). The Colemans sold the property to the Pierce family in the early fifties who sold it to developers in the eighties. It was demolished last year to make way for the Rivers End Residential Estate currently under construction. Before that happened it was a well-known student digs known as Thrash Hill.

“ONE evening, as we were watching television and talking, one of us saw a woman in a flowing white dressing gown walking past the door leading to the bar with a telephone,” recalls Neil Paton. “Everybody told him he was talking nonsense, but he swears it was true.”

“ A female student who spent some time in the attic (we rotated rooms as some were horrible and some were great) claimed she had a wild dream and woke up to hear someone specifically telling her not to go near the window. She was pretty freaked out over that and left the digs shortly thereafter citing concerns about how she did not feel safe there.”

Dave Stewart, another Thrash Hill resident, corroborated these stories, adding that “one of us who stayed in the attic room was unable to sleep and reported seeing lights”.

Another girl who stayed in the attic left because as she was closing the windows up there during a storm, she heard a voice saying, ‘Get away from the window’.

“It was later that an elderly woman visited the house and told us about the tragedy of the abducted children, although we heard it was baboons not gorillas, since this seemed more plausible. She also told us of an old woman who was struck by lightning and killed in the gables of the old attic.

“This story scared us as it gave credence to our departed digs mate’s claim of the voice she heard.”

 

Of gorillas and ghosts

AS reported in a story in The Natal Witness in 1948, two gorillas had escaped from captivitiy and taken up residence in Chase Valley, probably in the 1890s, when the area was still bush.

A family that included two young girls took up residence at Oakwood and the father became concerned at the danger the gorillas posed to his two daughters. He set out to shoot them and was able to shoot the female. That night the male gorilla gained access to the house and abducted the two girls. Their bodies were found a few days later. The family subsequently left Oakwood.

In the early years of the 20th century two brothers and their sister rented Oakwood. One night the sister reported seeing “two huge eyes” looking at her through the window. The police were called in a trap was set and the male gorilla was shot dead.

This story was related to The Witness by H. R. Coleman in 1948 who had bought the then abandoned house in 1944 and subsequently renovated it. At this time its address was 70 Connor Road (not 72 as reported in an earlier story). The Colemans sold the property to the Pierce family in the early fifties who sold it to developers in the eighties. It was demolished last year to make way for the Rivers End Residential Estate currently under construction. Before that happened it was a well-known student digs known as Thrash Hill.

Spooky bits

“ONE evening, as we were watching television and talking, one of us saw a woman in a flowing white dressing gown walking past the door leading to the bar with a telephone,” recalls Neil Paton. “Everybody told him he was talking nonsense, but he swears it was true.”

“A female student who spent some time in the attic (we rotated rooms as some were horrible and some were great) claimed she had a wild dream and woke up to hear someone specifically telling her not to go near the window. She was pretty freaked out over that and left the digs shortly thereafter citing concerns about how she did not feel safe there.”

Dave Stewart, another Thrash Hill resident, corroborated these stories, adding that “one of us who stayed in the attic room was

unable to sleep and reported seeing lights”.

Another girl who stayed in the attic left

because as she was closing the windows up there during a storm, she heard a voice saying, ‘Get away from the window’.

“It was later that an elderly woman visited the house and told us about the tragedy of the abducted children, although we heard it was baboons not gorillas, since this seemed more plausible. She also told us of an old woman who was struck by lightning and killed in the gables of the old attic.

“This story scared us as it gave credence to our departed digs mate’s claim of the voice she heard.”

Legendary digs stories

Did you live a digs with an interesting story? We’d like to hear it. Send your tales to features@witness.co.za or phone 033 355 1125.

Legendary digs

Did you live in a digs with an interesting story? We’d like to hear it. Send your tales to features@witness.co.za or phone 033 355 1125.

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