Bjarne's Photo archive 1: From Oslo Beach




1-2. Mitchell’s Park, Where the Umgeni River Met the Ocean, Durban North


I had found myself haunted by dreams of Marabou stalks, a phenomenon I learned to be deeply ingrained in Zulu tradition where dreams were seen as visits from ancestors bearing messages. In this case, the Marabou stalk symbolised death, and it wasn't long after these dreams had ceased that I learned of the passing of a one-eyed Norwegian-Jewish farm worker. That particular morning, I had risen in the digs, forsaken by its occupants who had departed for work in the early hours, leaving only myself and a fellow visitor – a laid-back surfer from Cape Town. Dibble was nowhere to be found.

Driven by an urge for adventure, we embarked on a quest to find a Marabou stalk. A rendezvous with the mystical had transpired at the local bird park where I had encountered a one-eyed Marabou stalk.


3-6. The Durban Club, Near the Harbour and Wilson’s Wharf, Durban Central


The Durban Club, a venerable Durban institution where Dibble’s grandfather had held membership and Churchill himself had graced its halls during his time. Dibble had told me that he had been there as a boy with his father, and the allure had been too strong to resist revisiting. This club, a sanctuary for Durban's elite, had still permitted indoor smoking in the men's bar and had displayed impeccably set tables, though the act of serving food had been infrequent. Its continued existence had been owed to a handful of devoted members who seemed to maintain it simply for the sake of tradition. I had received no less than three reminders from the concierge to don a shirt and closed shoes, prerequisites for entry.


7. Tongaat Hullet Sugar Head Office Entrance


As I had left the digs one late afternoon, a quaalude had been passed my way to cure the throes of a hangover. Knowing I was bound northwards and eager to bask in the golden hues of the setting sun, Dibble and I had headed towards the Tongaat offices. Dibble had told me that the company had its roots in the merger between the Tongaat Sugar Company founded by Edward Saunders and Hulett’s Sugar, established in 1892 by Liege Hulett, an ancestor of Dibble’s. James Liege Hulett, originally hailing from Kent, had arrived in Durban in May 1857 and had embarked on a journey that would lead to the formation of Sir J.L. Hulett & Sons. This empire had been built on the foundation of a flourishing tea estate and extensive sugar farming.


8. Norwegian Hall, Berea, Durban, South Africa


I had been in contact with the occupants of the Norwegian Hall prior to our departure. I arrived there on a scorching summer day, where I met a second-generation Norwegian man and his wife. His father had been a whaler from Sognefjord, and he, in his own right, was a warm and welcoming host. Residing across the street from Norwegian Hall, he had managed to preserve the Lutheran church's legacy, even gifting me the last printed pamphlet about it. His sentiment had been that the building's presence was more important than its eventual fading away. I had promised to return the pamphlet, a promise unfulfilled to this day.


9. Peter Froude (91) on his Veranda in Salt Rock. After discussing Norwegian Whaling in Durban at length.


Peter Froude, a 91-year-old, had regaled me with stories of his youth when he had first worked for the Norwegian Whaling Company as a teenager, venturing on a whaling expedition to the Antarctic with grizzled whalers from Sognefjord. Eventually becoming the head engineer of the whaling station and the one to oversee its closure, he had held his Norwegian employer in high regard. This employer, once a shipwrecked stowaway from Norway to South Africa, had risen from rags to riches, at one point ranking among the five wealthiest individuals in South Africa. His ultimate downfall had been attributed to people exploiting his unwavering Lutheran ethics and values.

The Norwegian whaling industry's relocation to Durban had been a result of the presence of numerous descendants of Norwegian missionaries who had established sugar farms in the area. Durban, boasting Africa's largest harbour and a bountiful whale population, had become the logical choice after the depletion of whales in Nordic seas.

Most whalers had hailed from Norway's east coast, particularly Sognefjord, while missionaries had predominantly originated from the west coast, especially Bergen.


10. Umfolozi: Where Dibble’s Granduncle had been the head game ranger and a painter who used to sleep in trees.


11. Empangeni


Rupe is a beautiful person. Rupe, a true Zululand eccentric, had lain on the kitchen floor awaiting a lunch of mutton curry, accompanied by his trusty township tiger, Charly. Rupe had been the sixth farmer in Empangeni, where the first European settlers had been Norwegian Lutheran missionaries who had a favourable relationship with the reigning king, in no small part due to their non-British origins.


12. Tongaat Hulett Sugar Sign in front of the Golf Course Fence, Near the Lutheran Church where my parents were married


13. Empangeni Farm: In the Litchi Pack House, there had been a hat made with litchi crates.


14. A Leaning Christmas Tree in the Night, Salt Rock


15. Dibble’s Mother, in Front of Thompson’s Bay


16. Amanzimnyama: Many Norwegian Descendants would have walked through this door to discuss the sugar industry.


17. Empangeni: Mozambican Farm Workers


18. Umfalozi.


19-20. I had discovered that jobs were few and far between in Durban. Most young people had to be entrepreneurial, which meant working from home. David, a friend of Dibble’s, (also from a Nordic sugar farming background in Empangeni) took a call and passed me my camera.


21-24. The Digs, Durban North: A lot of energy was channelled into jolling.


During our visit to a church erected in memory of Rupe's great-great-grandfather, who had volunteered and perished in WWI, we encountered a landscaper who had shared the intriguing tidbit that these towering trees had been imported from Italy. Allegedly, they had been used in repairing ship masts. The presence of these trees had remained a subject of speculation and wonder, as they had graced numerous country clubs and other demarcated lands.


22. Knots were tied in the sugarcane to mark particular lengths of sugarcane in the fields. They looked ominous, I felt they held some other form of significance that marked sections of the crop. 


24. Quarters above the Garage, The Digs, Durban North


25. Umfalozi: Aggressive male elephant in heat turned away


26. Empangeni (Millet, Van Gogh, Bacon, Doig).


27-28. Dibble’s mother and stepfather on Thompson’s Bay


29. Gated Community with Security Personal, Umhlanga


Later that day, I received an email from my professor and a supervisor of my dissertation, ‘Beyond the Event Horizon: Metaphysics of Imperceptible Cosmology’. It inspired adventure in me.


“Dear Bjarne,

I trust this email finds you in good spirits, and that you are finding the time for your dissertation. I fondly remember my time in South Africa. Given your interest in my uncle, I have included some more details below.

Morten, born on 24 January 1906 in Trondheim, was the son of Olsen Ofstad and June Tetlie. After his mother's passing when he was six, Morten spent considerable time at Ofstad under the care of his grandmother, Margrete Ofstad. Despite later moving to his father's residence in Trondheim, Morten always cherished his time in Nordfjellet, actively participating in farm and saddle management.

Having graduated from the Norwegian Technical University in Gløshaugen, Morten pursued a career as a ship mechanic on American boats and later delved into refrigeration technology. He eventually managed refrigeration machines on board. His journey led him to a whaling factory in Sandefjord, where he met and married Ingeborg. In 1948, they moved to South Africa for Morten to manage a factory dealing with whale blubber.

After settling in Westville, Durban, Morten became the manager of a margarine factory. Eventually, he transitioned to become a successful investor, and this fortune was later inherited by his son, Torleif. The Ofstad residence at 26, Martin Crescent, was distinctive for its modern design, Scandinavian furniture, and innovative features that were ahead of their time.

Neighbours, like Jason Baudin, recall Morten's generosity, offering assistance in his garage workshop and even constructing a remarkable private swimming pool. Morten devoted his time to caring for Inge as her health declined.

Torleif, a Norwegian citizen, served his military service in Norway and later became a chemist. Despite his intelligence, Torleif faced challenges, including a strained relationship with his father and struggles with alcoholism. Following Torleif's move from Durban to Johannesburg he left a substantial legacy to Animal Protection in South Africa, reflecting his deep affection for animals.

Torleif, unfortunately, passed away childless, marking the end of this branch of the Ofstad family tree.

Morten had many friends in the Skagga village in the same age group as himself, including the Kvalstad brothers and, of course, cousins. I remember my mother telling me that he used to visit the children of the Mørkved family in Trondheim on the way to NTH. Through her and others who shared stories about the Morten they knew, I gained the impression of a cheerful and jovial man. However, Jason Baudin mentioned that he could seem a bit brusque before you got to know him.

When Morten and I exchanged letters at the end of the 70s, he wrote lyrically about Nordfjellet, life in the hermitage, and all the trips he went on as a youth. It was clear that these were very dear memories. He remembered every detail from the landscape and mentioned that he went on walks in the Nordfjellet every day in his imagination. Morten was stubborn even as a child (he was four years younger than Olai). For instance, if Morten got his clothes full of snow, he would undress in the freezing cold, knock off the snow, and then put his clothes back on. When he died, Morten wrote to me, expressing his wish that a young person would run up with his ashes and scatter them from Liakammen.

Inge became demented, but Morten wanted her to live at home. It was demanding because she had a problem with running away. It was on one such desperate run after Ingeborg in intense heat that Morten suffered a heart attack, from which he later died in the hospital on 10 September 1979.


Unfortunately, there was no scattering of his ashes from Liakammen.


Best regards,

Prof. Ofstad”


30. Empangeni


31-33. North of the Tugela River


We had explored and resided on several farms managed by third or fourth-generation Norwegian South Africans. While their ties to Norway had been more conceptual than spiritual, remnants of their cultural heritage had been preserved, often displayed in exquisitely crafted cabinets or ancestral corners within their homes.


34. Rupe sat in his litchi orchard on a chair from the pack house office. He was not so pleased about it.


35. Norwegian cabins painted on whale teeth.


36. When the wind blew the sugarcane, it made a beautiful noise.


37-38. The Marabou Stalk and Empangeni.


39. The water reservoir looked like a hat.


40-42. Litchi picking season ran over the Christmas season.


43. Safari vehicle under the garden tree at The Digs.


44. 26 Martin Crescent, Westville. Outside the house of Torleif, Inge and Morten Ofstad. Morten was a Norwegian immigrant who worked at the whaling station turning whale oil into margarine. He was my professor’s uncle. Prof. Ofstad received a message recently which read:

“I was fascinated to read four entries you authored on Blogger about your father’s cousin and in particular the mention of Morten’s son Torleif. As a student at Natal University, I was a very good friend of Torleif. We both studied chemistry and shared an interest in photography. I visited the house in Westville, and it was indeed atypical of local homes. Its style was way ahead of the ‘Scandinavian’ fashion that later came to South Africa. Torleif had a suite of his own with a separate entrance, which impressed his circle of college friends. It also meant I never met his parents.  He had the use of a Volvo with which we occasionally participated in rallies.

We lost touch when he moved to Johannesburg, and I to the USA, though I recall visiting him there once. He was living with an attractive woman and, as he told me, using his photography skills to attempt to launch a career for her as a model.

That brief observation belies the description of him as too bearded and ugly to be wanted. Torleif was popular and jovial at university, though ‘different,’ not just because his name was unpronounceable to insular South Africans. Perhaps of interest to the theme of your blog, Torleif never quite slotted into one of the categories of South African college students, even though he spoke English as a native and had the appropriate cultural references. He was hard to place in the social order, coming from an elite suburb but not having an elite bearing, always needing to explain himself. I was very sad to read of his turning to alcohol, but not entirely surprised.


Thank you for writing about him. He made a lasting impression on me so the closure, however disconcerting, was appreciated.”