Bondu - use of the term at Halley Bay

discussion started by Clive Palfrey

Clive asked about the use of the word bondu to describe the surroundings of Halley Bay and a possible South African origin. Mention of this in the March 2022 Z-Fids Newsletter (No. 51) elicited a number of comments from readers. Here are collected the original query and the comments received.

Clive Palfrey (chef, 1973)
It's fifty years since I went south so maybe the memory is playing tricks on me but I seem to recall that the large open plains of ice and snow were referred to by some as Bondu. I mentioned this to a South African who said that there must have been a South African down there who transferred the name as it is a term commonly used in South Africa as a description of plains, open farm land and a particular tribe. So do you know who and when the term of Bondu was adopted in Antarctica? [21 Feb 2022]

Andy Smith (physicist, 1971-72)
It is more usually spelled bundu in the South African context. Looking at the various glossaries shows that the term appears in only one: that compiled by Ken Lax for 1973-78. Further analysis suggests its use was quite limited - only at Halley Bay and only for the years from about 1969 to about 1987. Does anyone know if its use was started by a Halley Fid with a South African connection? When I wintered in 1971-72, the former glaciology office had been reincarnated as the Bondu Bar when the glaciology programme ended. [22 Feb 2022]

Paul Whiteman (meteorologist, 1962-63; BL, 1966)
Bundu was in common use in the early 60's although I cannot remember where it originated, although if it is South African then Charlie Spaans - carpenter 1962, would be the most likely. [23 Mar 2022]

Dave Brook (geologist, 1966-67)
With reference to the term Bondu and its use at Halley Bay in the late 60s, I remember it as bundu and I strongly suspect the influence of Lewis Juckes, the South African geologist who wintered in 1964 and 1965. [23 Mar 2022]

Mick Shaw (physicist, 1966)
It was certainly there in 1966 because it is firmly etched into my memory, always prefixed by the phrase "The Great White". I have always thought it came about because of the regular chess game that we played over the radio with guys at the SANAE base up the coast. I think they were our nearest neighbours.* Did "CJ" [Gostick] pick it up from a voice sked with the South Africans I wonder? Or did the use of the phrase go back even earlier? [23 Mar 2022] * Belgrano would have been nearest - Ed.

Geoff Lovegrove (surveyor, 1965-66)
"Russ" Russell was also S African (same years as Lewis [Juckes]). He was radio operator on base and did a full field season as a GA in Heimefrontfjella. The term bundu bashing was given to the long sledge journeys to and from the mountains at the start and end of each season! [24 Mar 2022]

Iain Campbell (doctor, 1972)
Bondu has to be a corruption of "bundu" used in South Africa, as Clive Palfrey says, and also in Zimbabwe (or Rhodesia as it then was) where I worked before going to Halley and in Malawi (where my wife worked). It was used to denote wilderness areas or "the bush" rather than farmland or plains, and would include hills and rocky outcrops or "kopjes." As such I think the term describes the environs of Halley very well - except for the kopjes. It presumably comes from one of the African languages but which one? [24 Mar 2022]

Peter Mounford (meteorolgist, 1968)
In 1968, we used to listen to Radio South Africa a fair bit on the shortwave radio, and there was a regular program called, I think, ‘Buntu Fireside Tales’. Other than that, I don’t remember anybody using the word in everyday usage. [25 Mar 2022]

Lewis Juckes (geolgist, 1964-65)
Was I responsible for the term "bondu" at Halley Bay? Not guilty, I say! Indeed I grew up in South Africa, and it was a word that I heard and used there often enough. I might even have used it occasionally down South, but only in passing or in jest. For that matter, to us it was always "bundu", and when I first read about its use in the Antarctic it jarred with me to see it mis-spelt, as I understood it.
I was there in '64 and '65, and I'm convinced that the term only came into use after that. (To check for fading memory, I turned to my letters and diaries from that time. They're all typed up and searchable, with no entries for any of the various spellings I've seen.) Incidentally, Simon Russell (also '64, '65) was not from South Africa but East Africa. Gordon Mallinson ('63 and '64) was from South Africa but that's too early.
Many years ago I wrote up various notes for my family, including a glossary which included this entry:
Bondu. Sometimes spelt Bondoo. This was not used in my time at Halley Bay but is a useful term that appeared a few years later. Bondu refers to a wide expanse of snow such as the ice shelf around the Base, or the surface level itself. (The origin may be "bundu", a long-standing slang term in Southern Africa meaning an area that is remote or relatively inaccessible.) Prior to this term arising we had no agreed word for this surface. A report tells us that in 1976 temperatures were measured at "screen level, bondu level and sub-bondu level". (E Thornley, 1976, Annual General Report 1976, BAS Report AD6/2Z/1976/A (A/1976/Z).) Similarly, in 1978 some dumps are "raised off the bondu with fuel drums". (M V Mosley, 1978, Base Commander's General Report, BAS Report AD6/2Z/1978/A (A/1978/Z).) Several decades later the term was still in regular use but seems to have been extended to the landscape as a whole, so that when Gavin Francis arrived there in 2003 and his predecessor introduced him to his new surroundings he found that "Lindsey called the plain of ice the 'bondoo' ". (G Francis, Empire Antarctica, 2012, Vintage Books, London, p 59.) [28 Mar 2022]

Mike Thurston (zoolgist, 1960-61)
'Bundu' was in common parlance when I arrived at Halley Bay in January 1960. I have no recollection of any discussion as to the origin of the word - it was the accepted term used for the great open spaces away from Base. As Clive Palfrey has established the word as being of South African origin, surely it must have come south with Hannes La Grange, member of the TAE advanced party? [6 Apr 2022]

Jay Rushby (radar technician, 1971)
Regarding ‘bondu’, the British armed force (least-ways those without webbed feet) have long referred to any flat rugged terrain as the bondu and that might go back to the Boer War. The military has a habit of picking up foreign words (and then derivating or mispronouncing them). When I was in the RAF these were bondu boots (otherwise known as desert boots):

Whilst thinking about FIDS slang, does anyone know where the "dingle day", "grip", "scrage", "gash (maybe military for left over/scrap etc)" and "ginn" originated? [7 Apr 2022]

Iain Campbell (doctor, 1972)
There was a Zimbabwean pop group several years ago called "The Bundu Boys" but I haven't heard of them for a long time. Also the term Scradge comes from the goon shows and Gash is a naval term presumably reflecting the strong naval influence when Halley was first built. [7 May 2022]

7 May 2022
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