THE SWALLOW LEGEND – Swallow Park
Hermanus history has produced a few legendary characters. Swallow is one of them. Magdalena (Swallow) Neethling (1877-1953) was born on the farm Neethlingshof near Riviersonderend, one of eleven children.
Swallow arrived in Hermanus as a young teacher in the early1890s. Until 1912 she spent her days in the old Dutch Reformed school and lived at the Sanatorium. Walking between her “home” and the school, she started dreaming of the patch of wasteland where she eventually created the park that bears her name. From 1912 she taught in the new school until her retirement.
Swallow’s strong, positive influence not only touched her many pupils across the decades, but enriched the lives of her large family and friends.
Swallow earned the nickname before coming to Hermanus. She was a petite woman, always darting like a bird. Her previous post was at a Caledon farm school. At Hermanus Primary, which later became Hermanus Secondary School, Swallow was the Standard Six teacher. She was excellent at all her work and maintained strict discipline. Her pupils loved her, but were scared stiff of her in class. She regularly played the harmonium at functions. Among others she also served as justice of the peace.
When the council gave Swallow the green light for the park, she worked there almost non-stop in her free time. Frikkie van Eeden, living at the Ocean View, helped with the layout. He built the sunken and raised rockeries, the two fountains and the jarra wood picket fence. Her Cape Town friends donated the benches. Swallow was determined to give something back to the village where she spent many happy years of her life. Swallow Park was the pride and joy of all Hermanus peoples for many years.
Unfortunately Swallow paid heavily for gardening in the park. Long before retirement, she was stricken with osteoarthritis, which left her with crooked hands and restricted walking. In her last teaching years, she often rested on a special couch in her classroom. In 1930 she finally retired and spent the rest of her life as an invalid. This did not prevent her from corresponding regularly with family and friends. She was an exceptional writer. Although she could later just manage to hold a pen between two fingers, her handwriting was still beautiful. Reading her letters of fifty years ago, is a revelation. She was bright and encouraging. Her special philosophies radiate from those lines. Her final years were spent with her sisters in and around Napier.
Swallow flew home on 7 August 1953 and is buried at Neethlingshof where she was born.
It is a shame today to look at the sorry state of Swallow Park. Are we failing to protect our heritage in the heart of town? Do we need another Swallow to save it?
Information: S.J. du Toit Photo: Old Harbour Museum