KORSMAN CONSERVANCY

Buck herd at Korsman

HISTORY Part 1

OVERVIEW

The pan was first known as Westdene Pan and expansion of Benoni started around it in the 1920s. In the 1950s, the Pan was fenced to protect bird life and was later declared a nature reserve. Game were introduced and were a popular attraction at Korsman for four decades.
Since the 1980s, individuals and groups have done volunteer work to preserve Korsman for future generations.
The Sanctuary is still owned by Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality.

Historical information and photographs provided by Anne Mearns, Dian Cockroft, Cedric Ostermeyer, Alison Bainbridge, Glynis Millet-Clay of 'Benoni Now and Then' Facebook group, Peter Wood.


1. Westdene Pan:  Early days

The first users of the Pan may have been hunter-gatherers, as artefacts found just a couple of kilometres away shows they inhabited the area several thousand years ago. When Trekboers established farms in the area in the early 1800s, they found no human settlements.
In the early 1900s, the open pan was part of the farm Benoni, a portion of unclaimed land in between other farms, and upon which the town was established.
The southern bank of the pan was used as a rubbish dump site for the first inhabitants of the newly formed town. Exotic trees such as bluegum, pine, poplars and spruce were planted at the pan after the Council requested residents to plant trees around Benoni, and some of the bluegums still grow in the Sanctuary.
In 1910, a makeshift abbatoir known as a 'slaughter pole' was erected on the north-east bank and used until 1913 when the Council built the first abbatoir.

In 1920, 70 stands were laid out in Westdene, with many around the pan area. The first residents were allowed to shoot the wild duck for sport and dogs in the area hunted and killed the waterfowl. On the west side was O'Briens farm, whose cattle and sheep grazed and watered at the pan.

2. Memories of a childhood

Cedric Ostermeyer related how one of the first residents in the new suburb was his father Arthur Joseph Ostermeyer, who built at 41 Edward St in 1929. It was the second house in the road and he was asked why he was building “out there”, as the area was still undeveloped. Edward St was only paved to their corner with a dirt road beyond. The house roof blew off in a cyclone that passed through Westdene in 1930.

The Ostermeyer house had a wonderful view of the Pan from the back porch, where the family ate, and Cedric remembers how the pan water looked gold in the sunsets. The property had a large vegetable garden, but the cows from O'Briens farm wandered across and ate the Ostermeyer's vegetables, and the bull once chased Cedric and his pals.

At the top of Victoria Ave there was an open storm water drain into which the kids climbed with their go-karts and rode it down to near the water. This activity was popular enough to last through generations, as Alison Bainbridge (who grew up on the western side, developed later) also rode the storm water drain as a child, in the 1950s.

Cedric and his friends played around the pan. They paddled their canoes and plugged the screws with melted tar from the road on hot days. The water was 7-8 feet deep and crystal clear. They built a jetty of stones out into the water near Short St. 

It become a rite of passage for admission into the local gang to swim across the dam. Cedric once attempted it and got three-quarters of the way across but thought he wouldn't make it, so turned around and swam back. The kids had all run around to wait for him and then came back to ask what had happened. It taught him the lesson that you must keep on going.

The worst part of wading in the dam was the bloodsuckers – leeches – which attached to their legs and feet. There were plenty of snakes and bullfrogs. There was a stand of reeds near Sanctuary Lane where they went in their canoes and raided bird's nests for eggs. Cedric's mother disapproved so Cedric didn't collect, but the other boys blew their eggs out and built up large collections.

The kids used to picnic at the Victoria St rockery and collected the little 'elephant feet' succulents which he found afterward were rare. The rockery was later developed as an enclosed garden, where one could enter through a gate. Some plants growing there and identified as hybrids, probably date from this time.

The Drive, initially a gravel road, was built up later, with the more affluent area of the time on the south-eastern / Sanctuary Lane side.

3. Water level
over the years

The water level of the pan has varied over the years between the extremes of flooding and drying up completely.  Historically, the pan was fed by permanent springs and streams, one from near the railway above Drury Lane. Ground water still seeps out at points around The Drive.

In 1952 the water rose to the level of the stands on three sides of the pan.
A multitude of frogs inhabited the grounds around the pan, and many were killed trying to cross The Drive. Migration of the frogs to other pans in the area is virtually impossible due to urban development.

There are four records of it drying up: 1963 (estimated), 1973, 1993 and 2004, during which times the pan smelled terrible. Reports, as yet unverified, state that water was pumped into the pan during dry periods.

Nowadays, the average water level is higher due to increased storm water runoff from development in the surrounding suburb, draining in through 17 storm water inlets. High water level must be managed by pumping which evacuates the water to Middle Lake.

Continue to History - Part 2

1930s Benoni map
View from 41 Edward St 1929
1929: Westdene Pan in the background on the left. Seen from 41 Edward St under construction.
Buck herd with Kilfenora St in the background.
1930s Benoni map
1950s go-kart with pan in background
1950s: Pan in the background, R, from the Kilfenora side. (NB Not the go-kart used in the stormwater drain!)
The Drive in 1980s
The Drive: View from inside the pan, 1980s
October 2004 dry pan
October 2004 Dry pan
Press clipping thumb 1964
Press clipping thumb 1973
Press clippings from 1964 (est) and 1973 about the water level. Click on thumbnail for full image
Flooding in 1996
Flooding in 1996

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