Beaufort West again become the last outpost in the Western Cape Province under the new dispensation when 11 provinces were declared. This town, established in 1818 to maintain frontier law and order, was the last stop in the Colony and beyond its borders lay wild unexplored veld. Now Beaufort West is again a boundary town. From there we once again look at some of the stories carried in Rambler, the newsletter of the Regional Tourism Organisation.



Long before there were show farms in the Klein Karoo a princess, destined to become Queen of England, was invited to see some ostrich chicks on Rietvlei, the farm of Basie Meyer, near present day Mons Ruber and the strangely pitted red hills at Le Roux station. She was fascinated by these fluffy, spotted, long-legged creatures and many photographs were taken. While Princess Elizabeth played with the ostrich chicks, her mother was also photographed “pruning” – the term for cutting – plumes. King George VI and Princess Margaret kept a more respectful distance from the birds. The photographs were presented to the C P Nel Museum by Basie’s widow, Roelanda – Rambler No 3 March, 1995.


The story “Memories for a Queen” reminded 83-year old Mrs Miriam Olwagen of a dress she once knitted for a princess who was to become Queen of England. During the 1947 Royal Visit Mrs Olwagen and her husband Lucas were stationed at Klaarstroom were he was police sergeant. They were among those who turned out to see The Royal Family when their train sopped at De Rust. Mrs Olwagen was so captivated by Princess Elizabeth that she decided to knit a dress for her on behalf of the women of the South African Police Force. This was negotiated through Margaret Egerton, lady in waiting to the princesses. Mrs Olwagen personally presented the magnificent lacy dress to Princess Elizabeth at a function in Beaufort West. She was delighted by the gift. Later Mrs Olwagen was ecstatic when it was included in Princess Elizabeth’s wedding outfits. She remembered Princess Margaret trying on the dress and whispering that it was so beautiful she wished it was hers. The industrious Mrs Olwagen soon created a similar dress for Princess Margaret. It was taken to London by General Smuts in June, 1948. Mrs Olwagen also knitted a baby’s layette which she sent to Queen Elizabeth when Prince Charles was born. She still treasures letters of thanks.- Rambler No 4, April, 1995


A recent On Track Magazine featured an article entitled “Running Cars on Straw” It said a genetically engineered bacteria, developed in Europe, could turn millions of tonnes of agricultural waste into ethanol, a cheap fuel alternative. As straw burning was forbidden by European law, farmers were keen to try this. Fuel alternatives are not new. In 1916 a Great Karoo farmer distilled fuel from prickly pears. To prove its worth as a low-cost alternative to petrol he invited author Lawrence Green to accompany him across South Africa to promote it. In his book Karoo Green describes the journey. They drove on little more than a wagon track from Cape Town to Bulawayo, but there the venture failed because the farmer inhaled poisonous gas from fuel and it killed him – Rambler No 4 April, 1995


Towards the end of the last century there were two important gold find. One was in the Great Karoo between Beaufort West and Prince Albert and the other was at Millwood near Knysna. The first gold nugget in the Karoo was dug up in 1870 by an aardvark on the farm Spreeufontein. Twenty years later a shepherd found another on Klein Waterval, a neighbouring farm. This led to a gold rush. Prospectors from across South Africa and abroad rushed to the area to seek their fortunes. A tiny town, Gilbertsville sprang up complete with post office, hotel, dance hall, and fancy ladies. But soon it all vanished like a dream. Now, apart from abandoned shafts, all that remains are tantalising traces of alluvial gold in streams, rivers and pools after rains. The Millwood story is similar. In 1890 a town mushroomed. It had six hotels, and a variety of shops but it only lasted for five years. Then it also became a ghost town when fortune hunters flocked to the Transvaal. – Rambler No 4 April, 1995


There have been times when gold fever in the Karoo ran high – it still simmers. People as far away as Calitzdorp have reported that from time to time prospectors have been seen on their side of the Swartberg and Gamkaberg. A glint of gold at one time excited prospectors at Groenfontein and The Spa, but now all that remains is a tantalising glint after rains. Nevertheless, they say, there are locals who still keep the claims that they registered safe – just in case. – Rambler No 5 May,1995


Greeff Heydenrych, the well-known Karoo farmer who wrote Venison Made Easy is to hold a series of courses in the Central Karoo aimed at improving venison dishes in the area. These courses will be held in Murraysburg, Beaufort West and Prince Albert on June 7,8 and 9. A course is also planned for Laingsburg. The courses will cover how to effectively prepare venison for braais, roasts, pies and stews. He will also discuss the best marinades and how to make biltong. The courses will be attended by those in the tourism industry who prepare food. – Rambler No 5 May,1995


Man’s relentless quest for the exotic causes the extinction of many animal species said Henriette Engelbrecht, information officer at the Karoo National Park during a talk on endangered species. She listed the shambles, the ceremonial daggers of the Yemen caused as each had a handle made from a single rhino horn, Then, she said there was blue fur coats made from pelts of black leopards that died in agony and the passionate desire for Bengal tiger skins In her talk she sketched work throughout the world by research conservationists to stamp out cruelty and senseless killing. She also covered research on ostrich farms to ensure that birds suffer no stress, Henriette highlighted the Karoo National Park’s in resettling the endangered black rhino – the park has three of the 20 left in South Africa – and a breeding programme for riverine rabbits endangered by loss of habitat. – Rambler No 6 June, 1995


Archaeologist and curator of the rock art section of the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, David Morris, recently discovered a stone age site near Beaufort West “ It is a rich scatter of artifacts I found tiny thumb-nail stone scrapers that were used for working skins to make clothing and a stone adze obviously used for working wood. The site is near a spruit that would have provided much needed water.” Mr Morris was engaged in research on behalf of Eskom, which is installing a 400 KV power line from its Droërivier site south of Beaufort West to De Aar. Eskom wants to ensure that this project causes no environmental damage to the Karoo as the region is considered one of the most important pre-historic sites in the world. “All artifacts should be left where they are found,” he said. He quoted an American researcher who likened the Karoo to a rich tapestry. “He said that removing an artifact is like unpicking a stitch. Laying a road is like pulling out a thread and creating a settlement is equal to a moth hole.” – Rambler No 6 June 1995


Two rare cats of possibly the world’s smallest feline species have been set free again after bring cared for in the Karoo National Park. Probably abandoned by their mother, the black footed kittens (Felis negripes) were found by a local farmer who brought them to the Park. “The black footed cat is the smallest feline in Africa, and according to some in the world,” says Henriette Engelbrecht, information officer at the Karoo National park. “it is a rare, shy endemic species which looks rather like a domestic Egyptian blue cat, but of course it is wild and vicious. It was wonderful having these kittens in our care for a year; because it gave researchers fantastic study and photographic opportunities. A Beaufort West farmer, , Mr A Jackson, wrote in 1919 that he had seen one of these felines 45 years earlier. He thought they were extinct as it was the only one he ever saw. Because e of its beautiful fur Mr Jackson called the cat a tiger cat. “Even now it seems that few Karoo farmers know that these little creatures live on their farms. Some are not even aware of their existence. – Rambler No 7 July, 1995.

Note: St the end of July it was announced the Garden Route, Klein Karoo and Great Karoo Regional Tourism Organisation would wind down and become part of Western Cape Tourism Board.