When you drive down the gravel road that leads to the Rieger Hires offices in Gonubie, you may notice a strange sight.
In one of the old silos just beyond the fence, a wild fig bursts out proudly.
“Bathurst has got the biggest pineapple; we’ve got the biggest pot plant,” said Rieger Hires founder and owner Garry Rieger.
The history behind the tree is a fascinating one and stretches all the way back to the end of the Anglo-Boer War.
The land on which the tree currently stands was originally gifted to Sir Edward Yewd Brabant, a general in the British army.
Brabant’s career is a tale all on its own.
As a captain, he oversaw the Ndebele forces employed by the British SA Company in Fort Victoria during the First Matabele War from 1893 to 1894.
He later served as a Brig Gen of Britain’s forces in the Eastern Cape during the Second Anglo-Boer War, where he led a force of soldiers to hold the Jammersburg Drift in Wepener, Free State, alongside Col EH Dalgety, against the Boer forces led by Gen Christiaan de Wet.
Despite their foes’ superior numbers, Brabant and Dalgety managed to hold out for 17 days before reinforcements helped them secure victory. According to Rieger, Brabant built the first structures on the land, including a house made with wood salvaged from shipwrecks, and planted two avenues of bluegums.
“After that, it was bought out from him years later by Cooper & Nephews Inc,” Rieger said.
At the time, the British pharmaceutical company was involved in experimenting on new methods of pest control for livestock.
It’s founder, William Cooper, is often credited as creating the first successful sheep dip in 1852. It was Cooper & Nephews Inc who constructed the silos in 1932, which they used for making sillage, a type of animal fodder made from maize stalks.
“If you didn’t compact the sillage, then it would get too much air in it and go mouldy.
“So what they used to do is they would mix up barrels of molasses and they would pour it onto the stalks as they moved through the chaff cutter so they would be easier to compact.
“Then they used to put donkeys inside the silo with a sling and someone would lead the donkeys around to compress the silage,” said Rieger.
The next chapter in the story came when Rieger’s father purchased the land as part of his dairy business.
The old vertical silos were abandoned for more efficient trench silos, which could be compressed with a tractor instead of the elaborate donkey set-up.
Eventually, Rieger and his brother Rowan bought the farm from their father.
“After my dad passed away about 30 years ago, this tree started growing,” he said.
The wild fig now stands over 6m tall and strikes an imposing figure. Rieger said there had been much interest shown by visitors, and he was considering turning it into a local attraction.
“I would be quite happy to put a gate there for people to come and see,” he said.