Then and Now: Pioneers of Umdloti village

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Sep 27, 2020

Share this article:

Durban - The pictures of old Durban this week take in one of the first houses in Umdloti and were sent to us by Collin Deeb, who has retired to the village and remembers many delightful school holidays growing up on its beaches.

The property belonged to his great aunt Margaret Bacon and her husband Samuel, who everyone knew as Squire. Living in Johannesburg, they had seen an advert in a newspaper for a series of plots in the village and “decided to buy one on spec”.

The scene today. The Fairlight B&B is in the foreground and the original house stood slightly further back, more or less where the cellphone tower can be seen today. Margaret Bacon Drive is to the left. Picture: SHELLEY KJONSTAD/ANA

Deeb has a copy of the original 1895 survey map of Umdloti Beach which was known as Newsel Beach. The large plots were a division of the Bellamont Estate.

In 1927 Squire and Margaret Bacon then went to stake out their plot. “They caught the train from Johannesburg to Durban and then the train to Verulam where they hitched an oxwagon and took two days to travel down the Umdloti river valley,” Deeb says.

The original cottage was made from packing cases used to transport cars from overseas. Later asbestos walls were put up. Deeb says that in the early days there was no electricity in the village, the toilets were long drops and there were stables on the beach.

The original house was called Fairlight and the family would come down from Johannesburg for holidays.

As the village grew, his great aunt subdivided the property and was forced to pay for a road that to this day bears her name – Margaret Bacon Avenue – to allow access to the subdivisions. She kept a substantial portion of the land around the cottage.

On Margaret Bacon’s death, she left the property to her sister, Deeb’s grandmother, Sarah Pinchon, who in turn left it to his mother, Thora Deeb.

Deeb remembers holidays in Durban and showed pictures of him and his brothers fishing and surfing. He remembers the heavy dune vegetation that separated the beach from the house, with pathways forged through it to get to the beach.

The original subdivision plan for the village of Umdloti.

Deeb's family moved to Durban North and he matriculated at Northlands, but at weekends regular trips were made to Umdloti.

He met his wife of 51 years, Margaret Ric-hansen, through his connection with the village. Margaret grew up in Verulam and they first met at mass in the town.

“Collin at this point had just qualified as a pharmacist, and would drive out to Verulam to take me out,” Margaret Deeb remembers.

Collin and Margaret Deeb at their Umdloti home. Picture: SHELLEY KJONSTAD/ANA

The couple have lived in Umdloti since, first in Coral Sands which Deeb's parents developed, and later building their home on the site of the original house. Their children grew up in the village.

In the modern picture shot this week by our photographer Shelley Kjonstad, the property at the front is the Fairlight B&B, owned by Deeb’s brother, Bruce. The site of the original cottage was slightly further back, more or less between the cell mast and the brick wall.

Today Collin and Margaret Deeb live in a unit less than 1km away with views of the sea and the original plot, while their daughter, Ursula Maroun, owns the original property.

In keeping with the Deeb family’s love of the beach, their grandson, Matthew Maroun, has just been awarded a Mountbatten Medal from the Royal Lifesaving Society in England for a rescue he performed in January 2018.

His father, from the same house, scanning the stormy seas noticed a swimmer in distress and caught in a rip current about 200m out and beyond the backline in pounding 3m waves.

Matthew, a junior lifesaver at the Umhlanga Rocks SLC, grabbed his Malibu board, sprinted 50m to the beach to the rescue, despite lifeguards warning it was too dangerous. He eventually reached the exhausted swimmer about 400m off the beach. Realising it was too dangerous to return to the beach with the swimmer, he waited for a jetskier to take the swimmer to shore before paddling back.

The Independent on Saturday

Share this article: