“There have been 25 years of Splashy Fen but I have been to 33.” So claims Huck Auben, the self-proclaimed mayor of Underberg, the area where the festival is held.
Of course, the statement makes absolutely no sense, but then again, Splashy Fenners would expect nothing less from the man. Over the years this alter ego of one Brendan Healy has become a famous character at the festival.
From his waist-length ponytail to his famous curly moustache and his ’70s tennis gear including long socks and a tennis band, Splashy Fen wouldn’t be Splashy Fen without Huck Auben. And then, of course, there is his running commentary throughout the festival.
Last year, for instance, he horrified first- timers by announcing to anyone who would listen that it was to be the last Splashy Fen.
He had bought the trout farm and surrounding land and, sweeping his arm dramatically across the horizon, said he’d begin mining next year (this year) and all the natural beauty that was Splashy Fen and Underberg would be ruined forever. There’d be mine dumps as far as the eye could see.
“I started off as a mining magnate,” he explains after apologising for his late arrival to our interview in Durban. It went something like: “I was late for this interview because there was mist on the mountains and I didn’t want my helicopter to go the same route as the Malaysian airline so I had to wait for the weather to clear.”
He then explained how he made his gazillions: “I used to go along the beach with my magnet, trying to find old jewellery, and one day I struck gold and bought a plot of land in the Underberg area. Using my entrepreneurial skills I went from strength to strength, opening craft stores. I also brought the first Pep stores to Underberg.”
So just how much property does he own in Underberg? “All of the property is mine. I just don’t have the deeds yet.”
There is no doubt Auben and Healy are Splashy fans. He says: “Splashy Fen offers a platform that is part of our cultural heritage. We can go and partake in something that is bigger than ourselves. I also feel safe with my family in the family area. It is cordoned off and there are no reprobates.
“Besides the music, I like to socialise with people and add value. A funny hat can only get you so far, but intellect gets you further.”
What’s an average day at Splashy Fen for Auben? “I like making omelettes in the morning on a gas stove. All the meals I cook at Splashy are flamboyant. I always bath before I drink, but then again, Huck doesn’t drink that much.” He pauses: “In the morning, that is. I drink a lot in the afternoon and at night, which is why Splashy is such fun. Entertainment, dancing in gumboots and alcohol go well together. I am proof that white men can dance. Afterwards, I go back to the camp site, smoke my pipe and curl up in bed.”
And finally, any memories that stand out for him over the 33 years he has been attending the 25 years of Splashy Fen?
“I was watching Anton Cawthorne-Blazeby playing violin and these dodgy characters dressed in wet suits holding blow-up toys emerged and came past the front of the stage. It looked so bizarre with these violinists and cellists. Then there are those weird Spandexed guys who are always here…
“When Jack Parow first played Splashy I managed to get backstage with my youngest son who was wearing a shark tooth. He proudly showed it to Parow and then we took a photo of them together. I have never seen it so packed as when Jack Parow performed.”
Look out for Huck Auben at a stage or a camp site near you from April 17 to 21.