The Life of a Plumtree Fag

The Life of a Plumtree Fag
Plumtree School crest. The Motto: Ad Definitum Finem (To A Definite End)

The first classes at Plumtree School on the Rhodesian border with Bechuanaland were held in a rondavel in the garden of Mr. and Mrs S.J. Smith whose nine children were the first pupils in 1902.  Later the school moved to the dining room of the Plumtree Hotel which doubled as the station refreshment room.  A move to the customs house preceded the final location on a five acre plot bordering the railway village. Over time it developed a very good name partly due to its isolation in the bush sixty miles from Bulawayo: none of the bad news ever reached civilization.

The Life of a Plumtree Fag

Tradition had been firmly established by 1952 when Tim Hughes went from the top of the pecking order at Cecil John Rhodes School in Gwelo to take his place at Plumtree and the two year duty as a fag (personal servant) to senior boys.  As a fag, he had to attend to all his fag-master’s needs;  a list was placed on the school notice board by a teacher at the beginning of the school year. Each new boy would be allocated to serve a senior boy for two years.  As well as doing all their own chores, a fag made his fag-master’s bed in the morning, fitted the mosquito net at night, tidied his private study room, polished his shoes, carried his books to school, and washed dirty rugby jerseys and socks after matches. Toughening up young Tim was their ultimate aim.  Nearly all free time was taken up performing a new-boys-concert, for the entertainment of older boys. Tim longed for the holidays.

Two of his friends from CJR Junior School days lived at the Connemara Gold Mine, seven miles from Melrose Farm, two miles south of Hunters Road railway siding, on the main Bulawayo-Salisbury highway.  In the school holidays Tim regularly cycled to the mine to stay for weekends with either Malcolm Mackendrick or Alan Hessom.

Visits to his friends at the mine developed Tim’s social life as his father, Gervas, and step-mother, Dorothy, never went out to films, dances, or social occasions, only local farmers’ meetings once a month.

Every Saturday night at Connemara Mine a black and white cowboy film was shown free for the African mine workers. An end wall of their beer hall was specially painted white to make a large screen and a film projector was operated from the roof-rack of an African bus. Europeans who wanted to watch were provided with canvas chairs from the roof-rack. Africans sat on the ground between the bus and the screen. The white cowboys who shot Red Indians received the greatest roars of approval and were the Africans’ heroes.

At the mine golf club Mrs. Hessom took it upon herself to teach Tim how to dance. Alan and Malcolm taught him golf and snooker so he was soon able to join in the social scene. His sister Angela didn’t go to the mine and shut herself away in her room when the farmers’ meetings were held at Melrose. These meetings were made into social gatherings by the farmers’ wives and their children. A big party was always held during the week before Christmas, complete with a Father-Christmas who arrived on a tractor.

When Tim turned fourteen he noticed that Gervas’ 1939 Chevrolet pick-up was abandoned without tyres near the house. Gervas had bought new vehicles, a Standard 8 sedan for Dorothy and a Studebaker three ton truck for himself. Tim boldly asked if he could have the Chev.  Gervas in a weak moment said, “If you can make it go it’s yours.”  Tim was nearly done with being a fag at school.  If he could get this car to run it would go a long way towards a definite end to his servitude.

Many thanks to Tim Hughes of Queensland, Australia for the excerpt from his unpublished manuscript Matambega and Son written in the 1980’s.  Crest obtained from