Inspired by Passion!

Ode to the Dassies

As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give

other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,

our presence actually liberates others.

Marianne Williamson



I was kind of the black sheep in the family from a young age, and this led to me being sent to a “guvvie” school in Paarl at age 12 (midway through standard 6 or grade 8).

H.S. van der Walt High School was kind of a dumping-ground for young girls with all sorts of problems and for which the government of the day had no other  solution. It was not a reformatory, but what was known as an “industrial school” in the old days… a “trade-school” which no longer taught one a trade. The only available subjects were commercial ones although apparently it was only the “brainy” naughty girls that crossed that threshold…

The school has existed for many years, with the centenary being in 2015, and it finally closed its doors as that type of institution in 1992, although the structures are still being used for learning today, as part of Boland College. A few years ago a Facebook page for the school was formed, and as more and more ex-scholars (and even some ex-teachers) joined, talk turned to a reunion… the thought of which terrified and excited a lot of us “Dassies”. We were referred to as Dassies because apparently many moons ago the students were known for always trying to find a spot of sun in which to sit… the hostels and classrooms were not really warm and comfy.. they were typical institution models… cold and sparse….

Dassies ~ Reunion 28 April 2012

Thanks to a very determined young lady named Maryna who refused to give up and who, together with a very able team of volunteer helpers, begged, pleaded, Facebooked, BBM’d, e-mailed, phoned, arranged, bartered and put in a lot of time… the HS vd Walt Reunion Weekend became a reality on the weekend of 27-29 March 2012.

Attendees flew and drove in from all corners of the country, some of them spending Friday and Saturday nights in one of the hostels at the school, others only coming for the cocktail party on the Saturday evening. The oldest ex-pupil that attended on Saturday evening was an absolutely awesome lady, in all senses of the word, Sally Storkey (Lucas), of nigh on 80 years old, who attended in the mid 40s. The youngest weren’t even born when I matriculated from there in ’75!

Dassie Staff ~ Reunion 2012

There were quite a few teachers, hostel-mothers, and an ex-principal that attended, and this made for a very interesting cross-generation mix. The teachers spoke about how they enjoyed their time at HS, how it made better people out of them and mapped their path forwards… had we only know that THEN *grin* Words were spoken in speeches, in general and then there were also some personal aside comments made that had a profound effect on the recipient…

Over the months the members of the Dassie Club chatted on FB, some mini-reunions were organised in various parts of the country, and memories were recalled and shared… like those famous ones about “skivvying” which was one of our chores that had to be done ( going down on your hands and knees in really long passages, first removing the old polish with fine steel-wool then polishing the floor until you could see your face in the reflection….).

“Pikkens” is something that is remembered by everyone, no matter whether you have blocked out everything else about your time there or not… this was the “snack” we got once a week (peanuts and raisins). I remember a time when some of the girls collected all their raisins for a few weeks and then used them to make raisin beer… Another favourite food was “melk-kos” which is this really rich dish made with milk, egg, sugar, sometimes condensed milk, and pasta… my teeth curl just thinking about it….

Sally Lucas ~ matriculated in 1950

And so the sharing of memories continued through the weekend too…

Sally Lucas had us in stitches with the tales of the shenanigans that she and her crowd got up to when they were there… many of which I am sure were the precursors to what became an institution for the Dassies… such as running away to Paarlberg, or hitting the nightclubs in Town, or raiding the orchard behind Hostel 1…. midnight swims and midnight pantry raids for the midnight feasts we then held in our roooms later…

We were also very privileged to hear the testimony of Rita,

Rita Swartz

a Dassie who had literally been to Hell and back most of her life, but who has turned her life around and is now spreading Love, Light and Joy to youngsters… there were many looks of surprise and disbelief about what all she has survived and overcome, and many a tear shed, but the main emotion that filled the room was pride for her and in her.

Rita, you are a true inspiration – never be anything else but yourself!

I was also rather privileged to be able to connect with a few of those who had been there at the same time as me, some in the same hostel, some in the same class, to share a few memories and to listen to a few stories… I also spoke to quite a few people that I had never met before… not strangers though, just friends who had never met, because we all share one very strong bond; we are all Dassies till the day we die!

I heard anger, I heard hurt, I heard laughter and I saw tears, but what I saw most of all was a sense of “riding the tiger,” the facing down of fears, and an immense amount of tension, stress and baggage was released in a torrent of emotions upon re-visiting what was, for most, a very difficult time of their life. I hope that those that needed healing found it this weekend past… and remember, look forwards with joy because the best times of your life are still ahead…

Julie & Maryna

Once again to Maryna I say a heartfelt Thank You! Without you this would never have happened – you did a great job and each and every one of us that attended will remember the past weekend very fondly!

Thank you for all of the arrangements, the thoughtfulness in the decorations and the mementos, the great food, the certificates, the presents for the staff and some others, and for motivating us to get there!

Our thanks also go to Susan and Julie and all the other “behind-the-scenes” helpers.

So, to all Dassies, whether you were at the reunion or not… I salute every one of you as Women of Strength!

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.

Marianne Williamson

Credit must go to various Dassies for the photos used… sorry Ladies I don’t know who took the particular photos I used on this post, but thanks to all who took somewhere in the region of 500 photos of the reunion!

17 responses

  1. Hi Dassies, ek was in die skool vanaf 1977 tot 1979. As dit nie vir die onderwysers daai tyd, Tannie Elsa (koshuismoeder) was nie, was ek nie die mens wat ek vandag is nie. Ek het menige skoolvakansies ook daar moes deur bring. RIP Mnr van Schalkwyk. Mnr Pienaar was awesome. Ons almal moet boeke skryf sal verkoop soos soet koek!
    Magda Minnie (nee Ganz)

    29, September,2016 at 11:16 am

  2. Paul

    Does anyone remember Tara Pluke, I’m her younger brother. I’m looking for one of her friends from the school, I only have a first name. Rowann.

    8, April,2015 at 10:52 pm

    • Hi Paul,

      I do not know her – what year ws she there? have put in a request on to those I know, if I manage to find her I will pass on your e-mail address.

      8, April,2015 at 11:04 pm

  3. Debbie Davis (nee Sylvester) matriculated 1976

    Does anyone know what happened to Mr Pienaar and Mr van Schalkwyk?

    20, March,2014 at 11:47 am

  4. johan Opperman

    I am looking for contact details of a girl that attended HS van der Walt Highschool, all I can remember is that her name is Erika and that she stayed in a hostel where a Mrs Ungerer was the matron, Erika must have matriculated 1982 or 83. I met up with her in Pretoria during the late 80’s, but lost contact with her, she is a blonde girl, I will appreciate it if anyone can put me in contact with her, many thanks.Johan Opperman

    31, December,2013 at 12:05 am

    • Johan, I have put the word out… hopefully the Erika in question will contact me and I will give her your e-mail address. Hope you come right!

      31, December,2013 at 1:21 am

      • Johan Opperman

        Thanks a million, much appreciated.

        31, December,2013 at 8:52 am

  5. Sien dit nou eers. Dit was ‘n voorreg om deel te wees van die reunie. En, ek het dit vir siele rus en vrede nodig gehad, EN nou het ek sommer ‘n groot familie saam geerf 🙂

    20, December,2013 at 12:58 pm

  6. Antoinette Van Tonder

    Wow what a inspiration it is to read about the reunion, I am so proud to be part of the dassie family. I went to HS a very unhappy and full of hurt and bitterness girl. In the end after so much help and understanding from the teachers and of course dissipliene I became a (surprise to myself) stabile and strong person. Many thanks for saving my liFe to everyone who played a part.

    19, December,2013 at 6:58 pm

    • Antoinette, the reunion was phenomenal, and it was good to meet Dassies from different years, spanning a few decades….

      What is really great though is the fact that since that big reunion there have been many mini-reunions in Gauteng, KZN and the Western Cape and the “Girls” try to meet regularly just to catch up and keep the Dassie bond going.

      Love, Light, Joy

      20, December,2013 at 12:46 pm

  7. Cindy

    Some hard times but also great ones due to the staff Mr de la Rey especially that made it
    more pleasant. Matriculated in 1984

    26, August,2013 at 3:56 pm

  8. Kirsten Pirie (nee Schmidt)

    Dassie from 1978/79

    5, April,2013 at 1:52 am

  9. This Comment was left by Rita Swartz… somehow it got posted on the picture of her and not the post, so I am just reposting it here….

    This is the most beautiful peace of work I have seen and heard. Billi again you have brought tears of joy . Thank you for all the good memories and thank you for this beautiful photo of myself. I have never felt so proud and worthwhile in my life. I thank you for putting all this together . You are so special.

    2, May,2012 at 7:51 pm

    • Rita, Although I struggled to put down all the emotions that were flying around that hall on Saturday night, every word is true! You are an inspiration, and you should be as proud of yourself and the journey you have undertaken and through which you have come out on the other side whole, as we are!

      Love, Light & Strength

      PS I cannot take credit for any of the photos posted here… all credit to the various Dassies who took them

      2, May,2012 at 7:54 pm

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