by Ariana Montgomery
(first published on the Mills of South Africa website, and republished here with permission)

‘A tale of woe to you I will tell of the fate that to our mill befell.’

In the days of struggle and bloodshed, General Andries Pretorius owned 300 square miles of lush farmland between Skeerpoort and Pretoria, aptly named Grootplaas. Part of this paradise, a farm named Dodona, came to Nicolaas Jacobus Pretorius when he married the General’s daughter and in 1849 he obtained the right to erect a small gristing mill on the Skeerpoort River.

Dodona Watermill, built in 1886, showing mill house and mill race

The Dodona Mill, though modest in proportion, was constructed in 1886 of brick and corrugated iron with an overshot wheel– the date has been marked on the shaft of one of the millstones for posterity. It soon became a thriving little cornerstone of industry in the area, and farmers with ox-wagons, buggies and donkey-carts became farmers with lorries and bakkies (pick-up trucks) as time passed. Shortly before the Second World War the original wheel and grindstones were replaced with a Kaplan turbine powering a battery of steel roller mills, and the mill ground on, sometimes even at night by the light of a system of car batteries.

Dodona Watermill equipment name tag

But the tentacles of socialism began to reach out for the little mill and the farmer, Mr Jobling, found himself serving refreshments, to various representatives of the government on no fewer than twelve occasions. A parade of Inspectors of Machinery, Workmen’s Compensation Commissioners, Receivers of Revenue, Medical Officers of Health and the like began to find their way up the drive until, finally, one day in 1979, a representative of the Transvaal Board for the Development of Peri-Urban areas arrived on Mr. Jobling’s doorstep. Our unhappy host was by now a little weary of this form-filling, wallet-emptying exercise, and, rather than serve tea, he closed down the mill and returned his Gristing licence to the Mealie Board.

Looking out of mill house at Dodona Watermill to the elevated mill race

Today the mill is ageing gracefully in its peaceful seat by a burbling river, and occasionally finds itself a playground for the children on the farm. Charles Beresford Pretorius Jobling, great grandson of Nicolaas Jacobus Pretorius, who is the gentlest of gentlemen and an entertaining, informative host, was only too happy to pull out his stout walking stick and tramp down to show us this peaceful piece of his family’s, and our country’s, history.

Dodona Watermill turbine pinion wheel gears with sneezewood inserts