The Sting


Brian Hirsch, Mark Gilby, John Seton-Rogers, Phil Harris and Jan Polisensky  seeing Lake Kariba Southern Africa’s new inland sea for themselves as the water rose to its maximum capacity in the  early 1960s

The Sting

My older brother Brian embarked on a camping trip of his own with his friends Alec Friend, John Seton-Rogers, Mark Gilby, Phil Harris and Jan Polisensky.  They wanted to see Kariba for themselves.  Mom and Dad had given Brian an old WWII army tent and the heaviest fiberglass canoe ever constructed in the history of man for his thirteenth birthday.  He had put it to good use camping locally around Dutchman’s Pool and on the Bembezaan River.

The Sting

Dad had a habit of showing up at these camps unannounced and in the early days shutting them down if they were not up to the standards he had learned in the Ambulance Corps in Abyssinia in the war.  Brian’s nickname was Doc.  He was a meticulous boy from an early age, a methodical list maker, neat and tidy.  He had a first aid kit in a wooden box with a red cross painted on it. There was a tube of iodine, neat roles of bandages of different sizes, gauze and a tube of antiseptic ointment, a finger splint, and a role of Elastoplast.  A bottle of aspirins, a prescription bottle of codeine, a course of broad spectrum antibiotics with attached instructions to cope with diarrhea. A tourniquet for snake bites and an arm sling, a pair of scissors, a sterile needle and a razor blade.  A packet of bicarbonate of soda and a small collapsible mug to mix a poultice for burns covered the gamut of possibilities.

Now they were older, a couple of the boys managed to borrow their Dads’ cars.  They set off for Kariba.  It was a long drive.  They set up camp on a peninsular of the Lake, pitching the tent, making a French drain and digging a latrine.  Then they went off to explore the lake by canoe.

When they returned they found the peninsula was now an island.  Water was lapping the camp table and the French drain was full. They hurriedly broke camp and moved to higher country.  The canoe was too heavy to drag through the very shallow water to dry land.

After supper  Jan, known as Polly, and Mark decided to go fishing.  Wading out to the boat with their Coleman lamps Polly got bitten in the water between the toes.  What was it? A scorpion?  A barbel’s spike?  Both were poisonous.   “OOOOh!  Ahhhh! Oooohhhh!” he yelled.

“Its hurting too much.  You go ahead.” He ran out of the water.

The others took no notice.  “Agh stop acting man.”

“No man, I can’t.  You go ahead take my rod if you like.” He was in so much  pain.   He became incoherent.  Polly’s eyes wandered but were unseeing. He twitched and jerked, salivating all the while.  Suddenly they realized he was in real distress.  Brian studied the first aid kit momentarily. It didn’t seem to be much use.

It was dark now.  The night sounds of the bush were a cacophony in their ears.  They carried him to the canoe with trepidation. Everybody tried to tread lightly on the water.

Doc and John paddled Polly across the bay to the main tourist camp.  They could see the lights up ahead. It was quicker than driving the car around, besides, they were unfamiliar with the area and didn’t know where the hospital was.

At the dock they commanded the first person they met to drive them to the hospital. “We must get our friend to hospital immediately!” The man was rather shocked at being ordered around by teenagers but Polly was quickly loaded and Brian and John jumped in beside him.

They drove fast through the twisting gravel road up the Matusadona Hills to the hospital.

By morning, Polly had made a full recovery. Anyone who knows him, knows he loves food above all else.  After a double mixed grill at the local café he was ready for camp again.

He never knew what bit him.  Everyone wore their tackies (tennis shoes) when they went into the water after that. No one can remember if they caught any fish.


  • sue knight

    Reply Reply April 29, 2011

    My father always tells the story of how he taught four children of the Friend family in Umtali during the 1940s and then came to Que Que in the 1950s and taught another four children of the same Friend family. I have never known whether this was true or just a story.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply April 30, 2011

      The Friends lived not far from us in Hillandale. Alec was the youngest I believe, and a year older than Brian, I think (born 1943 probably). He and Brian set up a bush telephone between the houses and rode to school on their bikes together. Alec I believe died last year from anaphylactic shock following a ?bee sting at Kariba.


  • betty

    Reply Reply April 30, 2011

    I had no idea that Jan was friends with your brother before you married him. Please tell us the story of how your love blossomed and how long it took for you to find each other after he was friends with Brian. Loved the adventure, but I would have been a blythering idiot if all of that had happened to me and my friends. Everyone was so much more adventuresome than anyone here in the states! I do know how one can become overwhelmed when the tide comes in….many a car has been hubcap deep in saltwater down in Galveston, all the people praying for a truck to tow them out of the muck!!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply April 30, 2011

      Betty, Yes, the dam filled alarmingly quickly. We did have much more freedom in a small town in a small country but the horizons were lower. Everyone aspired to travel. We grew up knowing Que Que was not the center of the universe. Most kids wanted to make it to England.
      Remember the lovely flat beaches and flat waves of Galveston! The first time we went (in 1982) Andrew refused to get out of the car (this was not the land of the perfect wave we were used to in South Africa). Of course the car got too hot very quickly and he got into the spirit of things and we had a fine surf amongst the tar balls.
      How I remet and married Jan in 1979 is another story of another time…maybe another blog?

  • Hevz

    Reply Reply December 30, 2013

    Man does that story make me homesick!!!!

    My dad owned one of the plots that bordered the Bembazaan in the early 50’s. He was a true explorer and we had so many adventures with him camping out of his green Morris Minor Van. One of the trips I remember well was in the vicinity of Bumi Hills, Kariba.
    I grew up there and know Que Que well. Moved to Redcliff when my dad stopped galavanting and started work at RISCO.
    We enjoyed such freedom in those days, just walking the bush . . . . ahhh! lol
    After dad died I moved to England but still miss good old Zim bundubashing!
    I see there is a new bridge over the Bembazaan – when we were kids, dad used to leave a car each side of the bridge in flood season and we used to cross on the suspension bridge. A new dam too, wonder how that affected the farm along the Bembezaan?
    Thanks for your post – I enjoyed the blast from the past :-}

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 2, 2014

      So glad the blog brought back good memories. it was a wonderful life. yes, amazing how quickly the rivers came down in flood when he rains finally came…(in a good year). I’m tidying up the first of a series of books based on our Que Que experience…I’ll be giving subscribers a heads up when it available.

  • James Dryburgh

    Reply Reply May 4, 2014

    The fish with the nasty spikes is a squeaker. I am told that it can cause a crocodile’s death.

    In 1953 above Victoria Falls I was fishing with my dad. Some Africans came along, reached into the water and pulled out a load of water weed. In the water weed there were some squeakers which the grabbed. They then put a fishing line through the gill of a squeaker, out of it’s mouth and fastened it onto the dorsal spike. Thus tied they threw the sqeaker into the river. In fifteen minutes they had caught three tiger fish. No rod or reel. No hooks, no trace. Just a nylon line and a squeaker. Probably learnt from their families who had lived on the Zambesi for years.


    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 8, 2014

      Wow! Talk about taking the fun out of sport fishing! Jan’s mother used to put tiger fish fillets through the meat grinder (all those fine bones included) and make fish patties out of it. It’s not something my family would try.

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