Cathy James: Growing up in Port Elizabeth

Personally I do not know Cathy at all apart from her regular posting to the Facebook page Ex PE 60’s 70’s & 80’s. Even though we are of a similar age, our lives stories differ markedly. But that is life.

This is a pictorial story of a Cathy as a youth in Port Elizabeth during the 1960s & 1970s. I am not biased but it was probably the halcyon days of Port Elizabeth.

Main picture: Cathy on the Humewood Beach

Cathy’s story in her own words:

A short blog of my life growing up in Port Elizabeth South Africa 1956-1976

I was born in Bonnie Scotland in 1952 and lived with my grandparents in a rather grand house in Paisley.   My mum and sister emigrated to South Africa not long after I was born. I was doted on by my grandma and grandad and was none the wiser that my mum and sister were in SA.  It wasn’t until 1956 that I was able to join them.   My grandparents wanted to come too, so we boarded the Carnarvon Castle and set sail.   A new life was to begin. 

With my grandma after arriving in SA 1956


My first memory was having a coke float in Cape Town when the ship docked.

My first coke float


My mum had remarried and we lived in a lovely house in Main Road Walmer. I had cats and my own dog so I was a happy child …… Until School

At Schoenmakerskop


 My first memories of school days were not happy ones.   I was sent to St Anne’s Primary and from that day onward, I rebelled.  I was kicking and screaming, my grandma in floods of tears.  I disliked the nuns (well most of them) due to being quite harshly treated.   I was also forced to stand on a box and made to sing (I had a very broad Scottish accent then) “On the Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” oh the embarrassment!

First Day at St Anne’s


From there it was on to Clarendon Park in 7th Avenue.   Now that was better.   I could play netball, swim, play tennis and made some wonderful friends.

Clarendon Park netball


Swimming was my life then and I trained at Peter Eliot’s in Water Road, I always entered Galas and did well; breastroke being my fastest.

I had my run-ins with various teachers but I had a favourite and thanks to her I made it through.   She encouraged my love of poetry and drama and for that I am eternally grateful.

My mum and Buster and family friend in the garden Main Road Walmer 


On to VP nothing much to say about that, I was far more interested in sessions, stomps, swimming and boys !!!!  After a disastrous year, it was decided I was to be sent to a cram school.    Once again I was caught out bunking off and shock horror smoking.

In between all this horror of school, we went to Kromme River a lot, great days of fishing, swimming and adventures.   I was quite a tomboy really.   I never quite got over being frightened by a baboon, and my beloved Buster growling next to me.   We stood our ground and the baboon bared its teeth and ran off.

My mum, grandma and grandad at our ‘shack’ at the Kromme River


We also enjoyed great holidays at Amsterdam Hoek.

Swimming at Amsterdamhoek


PE was a great city to grow up in, we had everything  – a fantastic library, great shops, Garlicks and Greatermans department stores and of course the favourite for teenage girls, OK Bazaars.

Then there was Carlos Coffee Bar in the Mutual Arcade, you had to be to cool for school to go there.

Drive-Ins were part of our culture.   Saturday night at the movies, midnight shows, we certainly had plenty of entertainment and not a TV or video game in sight.


Surfers at Kings Beach provided the best eye candy a girl could want.

My first job was as a telephonist and I loved it.   The freedom of earning my own money and away from the discipline and strictness of school suited me down to the ground.  I was treated to lunches out at The Cornflower and The Bell at Humewood, oh those were the days.

I started developing a “social conscience” in the 60’s I did not like the segregation of black and white and coloured people.   I could not understand it and even though we had a maid and a garden man, Jim, I always treated them as equals and felt sick and angry when they were treated disrespectfully.

That is another story though.

Sailing at Swartkops


Yes we were indeed privileged and I never forget that.   In 1976, I decided enough was enough and I left SA for the UK.   I have been back only once and that was to Johannesburg to visit family.   Now that I have reconnected with so many PE friends and made new friends from the EXPE Group 60’s 70’s 80’s I really do want to visit Port Elizabeth again preferably with my two daughters who were born in the fair city.

I was entranced by Rod Mc Kuen’s  poetry and this seemed to sum up life in SA


We had joy we had fun 

We had seasons in the sun 

But the wine and the song 

Like the seasons have all gone 


  1. Lovely personal account which does give a perspective. I will link to this article from a blog that collects memories of this era because this simple story mirrors the tale of many… But first, my penny earning job :)

  2. Gosh that was entertaining. I seem to remember when you lived in Walmer. Your surname was Cheshire. Am I right??
    I only have a very vague memory of you and didn’t you have a brother David or did I dream that? Murie was always glam and Anne used to put tissues or socks in her bra to make her boobs look bigger lol!!!


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