The odds are stacked against the riverine rabbit surviving another 10 years. It recently became South Africa’s most endangered mammal when its conservation status was raised to critical. “Its survival appears even more desperate than we previously believed,” says Cape Nature Conservation researcher Chrizette Kleinhans. “These furry-footed little leaf-eaters, among the world’s rarest animals, will disappear from the face of the earth within a decade unless drastic steps are immediately taken.” The riverine rabbit is indigenous to the Central Karoo and found only in Beaufort West, Loxton, Carnarvon, Calvinia, Sutherland, Victoria West and Fraserburg districts. They live in the ganna bush and soft soils of seasonal riverbeds. Riverine rabbits are often confused with the shrub hare, rock rabbit and Cape hare, but they have distinctive long ears, a black-brown stripe on the lower jaw, and a dark fluffy tail, clearly visible as they bounce away. “The species breeds very slowly. Current research shows there are no more than 250 adult riverine rabbits left in South Africa, and only 500 worldwide. Numbers are dwindling rapidly. No satellite populations with more than 50 adults exists anywhere. In the entire Western Cape, for example, surveys undertaken regularly since 1999 show only 41 riverine rabbits,” says Chrizette. Ten other species are regarded as critically endangered. These include the black rhinoceros, four kinds of mole, two bat species and red bush squirrels.


‘n Gewilde Beaufort-Wes gastehuis brei uit om die mark beter te kan bedien. In ‘n stil, rustige en voëlryke deel van Beaufort Manor se pragtige tuine word agt ruim, self-versorgende chalets nou gebou.. Hierdie ten volle gemeubileerde en uitgeruste chalets, wat binne die volgende twee maande beskikbaar sal wees, bestaan elk uit ‘n oopplan sitkamer, slaapkamer en kombuis. Eienaar Trudie van der Westhuizen sê: “Hulle sal ons in staat stel om die groot aanvraag na familie-akkommodasie te bevredig. Daar is ook ‘n groeiende mark van seniorburger, vegetarier en gesondheidsbewuste reisigers wat verkies om hulle eie kos voor te berei. Mettertyd sal ons ook karavaan staanplekke hier aanbring.”


A popular Beaufort West guest house is expanding to better meet the needs of the market. In a quiet, bird rich part of its gardens Beaufort Manor is building eight spacious, self-catering, open-plan chalets. They will be fully equipped, furnished, and ready for occupation within the next two months. “This will enable us to meet our demand for family accommodation as well as the growing senior citizen, vegetarian and health conscious markets, where many prefer to prepare their own meals,” said owner Trudie van der Westhuizen. Caravan parking places are also soon to be introduced at this venue.


The Laingsburg fossil trackway continues to draw world attention. A British film company, Wall to Wall, has scheduled a trip to Laingsburg to capture details of the giant sea scorpion’s spoor for television. Accompanying the film team will be British palaeontologist Dr Simon Braddy, of Bristol University. Dr Braddy, a world-renowned expert on eurypterids, or water scorpions, will collaborate with Dr John Almond, of Natura Viva and the man who discovered the now famous trackway, so that real progress can be made on the completion of the scientific research. As part of the filming exercise, the team hopes to excavate further portions of the trackway. This may reveal the true dimensions of the monstrous animal that left it behind on the ancient Karoo sea bed.


The crisp, clean air of the Great Karoo has been a drawcard since the 1800s when people streamed to the region from Europe in the hopes of being cured of respiratory ailments. Sanatoriums sprang up in virtually every town. They ranged in price and quality from merely adequate to luxury. Mrs D’Oliviera’s Sanatorium at 67 Donkin Street took “only English-speaking patients, preferably ladies of independent means.” The lovely double- storey home of Thomas Watson Maddison, Beaufort West’s first mayor, on the banks of the Gamka River in the New Street area, was converted into a sanatorium. Two of today’s popular guest houses once served those with chest complaints. A retired magistrate and former Transkei health inspector named Levin, and his wife, who was a nurse, ran one at Matoppo House from 1920 to 1930. T B Butt, who in 1885 owned Lemoenfontien farm just outside Beaufort West, started a sanatorium there. It was taken over by a Mr Allhusen, and later, during the Anglo-Boer War, a Mr Winterton turned it into a recuperation centre for British Army officers. Winterton, an Englishman, had been one of its first patients. He arrived “at death’s door” in 1885 but claimed to have been “miraculously cured” at Lemoenfontein. Major the Hon A V F V Russell, writes in his memoirs of recuperating at Lemoenfontein. He paid 8/6d a day, excluding drinks.


As deel van Prins Albert Munisipaliteit se verfraaingsplan het burgermeester Dawid Rossouw tydens ‘n onlangse geselligheid struike en bougainvilleas aan huiseienaars van Noordeinde oorhandig. “Ons moedig mense aan om hulle langs grensheinings te plant om die ingang van die dorp en toerismeroetes te verfraai.”


As part of a municipal scheme to beautify the town, Prince Albert’s mayor Dawid Rossouw recently presented flowering shrubs and bougainvilleas to North End house owners. During a function he said: “We are encouraging people in this township to plant these along their garden fences so as to beautify the start of the new township tourist route and this entrance to town.”


Every man needs a little madness, so he can cut the rope and be free, was the philosophy of that unforgettable film character, Zorba the Greek. In the 1860s, James Alexander Thwaits, Beaufort West’s eccentric and greatly acclaimed land surveyor, appeared to have the same approach to life. Tall, slim and imposing, this bearded Scot, with steel blue eyes, laid out the town and served on the Council from 1858 to 1867. A wealthy, forceful man, James had a great passion for lawsuits. James often indulged this passion in the courts and was quite undaunted by the loss of a lawsuit. “Strategy and pursuit afford a thrill equal to victory,” he once said. James was a brilliant mathematician, with “an eye like no other for direction and distance,” it was said. He aspired to Parliament and was elected, but his career was short lived. A heckler at his first public meeting so annoyed James that he leaped from the platform and landed a mighty blow on his tormentor’s chin. This wild swing flattened the heckler, but it also dealt a knock-out blow to James’s political career. James Thwaits was the source of much amusement throughout the Karoo. He was once unable to find a house large enough to accommodate his family of 15. No trouble to James, he simply purchased a hotel and turned it into a private residence. He was at times absent-minded, which his family attributed to the fact that “he lived in a maze of figures.” James stunned Beaufort Westers one Sunday morning when he strode into church smartly swinging his walking stick, resplendent in an old nightgown and bedroom slippers, a top hat perched rakishly on his imposing head and with Bible and psalm book in an elegantly gloved hand.


The lovely Miss Bantjes eventually stole the heart of James Alexander Thwaits, and they were married in Beaufort West’s Dutch Reformed Church. She was a direct descendant of Jan Gerrit Bantjes, of Winschoten, a Hollander who came to South Africa as a junior officer with the Dutch East India Company, but who deserted in 1755 to become a Cape burgher. His heartbroken father never forgave him. He had hoped that Jan, an only child, would one day return to run the family business. In his anger the exceedingly wealthy old man made an astonishing will. He cut Jan out and left his fortune to any of his descendants who might be alive 100 years after his death. In 1894, a century after old man Bantjes’s death, a notice appeared in South African newspapers calling on any Bantjes who felt he had a rightful claim to the inheritance to identify himself. By that time the fortune was said to have grown to £10 000 000. The news caused a considerable stir, and James was convinced the children of his first wife would qualify, so he cut them out of his will. He died shortly afterwards, leaving them destitute. By the 1930s South African members of the Bantjes family were still trying to claim the family millions.


She rode into town in July 1899, and treated Beaufort Westers to a show that “mesmerised and paralysed” them. She was Annie May Abbott, described in an early newspaper report as a “slip of a girl” and “a picture of curls and frills.” As Annie stepped from a coach at the Royal Hotel, male knees went weak. This beauty was “The Little Electric Magnet,” billed to appear in an “old style American Frontier spectacle” at the Lyric Hall. Within hours the show was booked out. That night when Annie stepped on stage, she demurely challenged any young man who thought he could lift her up to step forward. There was a rush. “But one after another the young men returned red-faced to their seats,” reported The Courier. None could lift Annie, nor throw her to the ground. She then “glued” children to the ground and no one could “wrest even the tiniest from his spot.” Annie then packed six burly fellows onto a chair which she effortlessly lifted. Between tricks Annie recited poetry and “sang in the sweetest voice.” The art critic of The Courier hailed her performance as “a great show.” But the Beaufort beaux gave Annie a wide berth until she rode out of town.


Soos vele reisigers op die N1 hoofroete deur die Karoo het Buite Burger joernalis Danie Snyman dikwels gewonder “wat lê agter Matjiesfontein se berge?” Met dié vraag in gedagte het hy en ‘n span viertrekvoertuig eienaars toe besluit om agter die berge te kom loer. En hulle het die wêreld net 230 km van Kaapstad “groot en aangenaam” gevind. Die span het besluit om die Diep en Deur roete op Kobus Oosthuizen se plaas aan te durf. Die plaas, wat ten tye ‘n blommeparadys is, lê presies halfpad tussen Touwsrivier en Laingsburg. Die roete kry sy eienaardige naam van ‘n paadjie wat van verlate hoogtes langs ‘n steil afdraend tot diep in die vallei langs oeroue rotsbanke deur ‘n vergete riviertjie loop. Die span was dit eens: “Dis ‘n asemrowende roete volop met wild, interessante plantegroei en rotsformasies. En na ‘n dag van verwondering het daar vir ons ‘n heerlike, skaduryke kampeerplek of rustige oornaghuisie met twee slaapkamers en ruim badkamers gewag.”


Like so many travellers along the N1 through the Karoo, Buite Burger journalist Danie Snyman often wondered what lay behind the Matjiesfontein Mountains. Recently, a group of four-wheel-drive vehicle owners, joined him to reconnoitre this area. They turned off the N1 at the Witteberg signpost and discovered a new wide and wonderful world, only 230 km from Cape Town. The group decided to explore the “Diep en Deur” route on Kobus Oosthuizen’s farm, exactly halfway between Touws River and Laingsburg. At times this area is a floral paradise. The route gets its unusual name from a rugged track which leads down from the peaks into the depths of the valley, and across an ancient and dry riverbed. “It passes breathtaking rock formations and through areas filled with interesting and unusual plants. And, at the end of a day of discovery there is a lovely, restful shady camp site or two-bedroomed house with spacious bathroom, in which to rest and relax,” said Danie.


Almost 130 years have passed since Jacobus Jooste’s lovely young wife, overcome with grief, tried to leap into his grave at Beaufort West. Now descendants trying to find out more about this couple have hit a dead end. All they are able to find is an obituary in The Courier of November l, 1872, which says: “Jacobus Jooste, son-in-law of Abraham de Villiers, died on Tuesday morning and was buried the same afternoon. He left a young widow and large family. There was a distressing scene at the funeral when the widow, quite beside herself with grief, tried to follow her husband’s coffin into the grave. Some difficulty was experienced in restraining her.” Researchers now ask whether any Jooste descendants know how Jacobus died.


Flashes of light and shadowy figures along Molteno Pass in the 1930s convinced Beaufort Westers that the Nuweveld Mountains were haunted. Some refused to travel over the pass after dark. Others whispered of earth-bound spirits. Then, late one night, shots rang out. The police, not fooled by phantoms, linked the “ghosts” to a spate of robberies. Diligent detective work by Sgt Wentzel and Constable De Villiers paid off. On a moonless night, they followed a shadow into the darkness of a ravine and stumbled into a cave filled with booty. There were huge quantities of linen, clothing, household provisions and tobacco. When challenged, the shadow fled, “bounding across rocks like a rabbit.” Knowing the mountains better than the lawmen did, he got away. Shopkeepers P L Nolte and A A A van Wyk identified most of the stolen goods.


An endemic succulent, found only in the Prince Albert area of the Great Karoo, recently brought two German students to the area. Nicola Wagener, of Cologne, and Ulrike Mühle, of Dresden, came to study the little known bijlia dilatata under the guidance of Drs Sue and Richard Dean. During field studies, they found two previously unknown sites within 30 km of the town. They also discovered that the plants were renewing themselves, setting viable seeds and that they attracted butterflies, bee-flies and honey bees, all of which were among their pollinators. The students, who return to Germany in August, also tried to establish whether the bijlia dilatata preferred full sunshine or shade.


Long ago when the Great Karoo was “way up there somewhere,” the isolation seemed to act as a stimulant to business thinking. Over a century ago every little Karoo town had the usual general dealers, bakers, butchers and artisans. After these essentials, came the comforts. Almost every little town had a mineral water factory. There was a tinsmith who rolled iron roof sheeting with fancy designs and a bicycle designed and manufactured in Beaufort West became popular. Even tiny settlements such Matjiesfontein boasted a mineral water factory. The remnants of this enterprise can be seen in the museum there. A similar operation in Richmond was set up by a wild Irishman, Arthur Gilstain, who claimed to have stolen a kiss from Cape Governor Sir Harry Smith’s beautiful Spanish wife, Juana. Arthur came to the Karoo after his luck ran out at the diamond fields. He married a local school teacher and then made a reasonable living from Richmonds Mineral Water Works. Beaufort West Mineral Water Company was established in 1888 by A van Zyl. By 1902, he boasted that “this old established company is strong enough to defy any competition. We recently acquired new, improved machinery. Only the best chemicals are used, and our water is rendered absolutely pure by Barnard and Foster’s latest filters. We hold sufficient stock at all times to supply any occasion from formal party to picnic. Our ginger hop cannot be beaten. All beers and mineral waters are now totally machine made and untouched by hand. Our range is so widely appreciated that we have had special boxes made for country deliveries.” In the 1900s, a bicycle was manufactured in Beaufort West. Research reveals that it was immensely popular. The Beaufort bicycle was made to order from 1900 until the outbreak of the World War II. And, in 1902, a Beaufort West tinsmith, plumber and metal merchant, C A Heyne, imported special machinery to make circular tanks from 50 to 400 gallons in capacity and “stylish veranda roofs with single or double curves.” Then came progress and the bean counters.


Deesdae hoor mens tot vervelens toe van salaris onderhandelings. Dit is dus verfrissend om te verneem dat sulke looneise niks nuuts is nie. Kort na die totstandkoming van Murraysburg se kerk in 1858 is ene I Wouda as koster aangestel teen ‘n jaarlikse salaris van £30. Die volgende jaar het die kerkraad sy dank uitgespreek vir sy goeie werk. Die vent het hom oombliklik vererg, opgespring en die kerkraad mooi vertel dat daar meer as net mooi woordjies aan hom verskuldig is. Vir hom was dit heel onverklaarbaar dat hy £30 per jaar verdien het teenoor die dominee se £300, en sou bly wees om iets meer tasbaar as “dankie” te ontvang. Die kerkraad het Wouda tegemoet gekom.


These days one hears so much about salary negotions that it is refreshing to learn wage demands are not new. Shortly after the inauguration of the Murraysburg Dutch Reformed Church in 1858 Mr I Wouda was appointed sexton at an annual salary of £30. The following year when the church council passed a vote of thanks for his good work an irate Wouda leapt to his feet and pointed out that his efforts deserved to be rewarded with more than nice words. He could not comprehend why he received only £30 as opposed to the minister’s £300 a year, he said, and he felt a more tangible “thanks” should be forthcoming. The church council agreed to increase his fees.


Prince Albert’s electronic newsletter, The Olive Branch, has reunited a family. Editor Ailsa Tudhope received a request from Gerda Pieterse for information about her in-laws who once lived in the village. After doing some research Ailsa provided details about Gerda’s late mother-in-law, Elsabie Margaretha de Wit, and put Gerda in touch with Oom Antonie Steyl, who was married to Elsabie’s sister, Martha, who died last year. Oom Antonie in turn provided Gerda with details of two more sisters and a brother who had moved to Zambia 50 years ago. Gerda has now contacted them all.


Besoekers aan die Western Cape Tourism Showcase het onlangs nadere kennis gemaak met Karoo inligtings-beamptes van Beaufort-Wes, Prins Albert en Laingsburg toerisme buro’s. Verteenwoordigers van Kwa-Mandlenkosi en Prins Albert township roetes sowel as bemarkingbeamptes van Swartberg Hotel, Swartrivier Olyfplaas, Kobus se Gat en Gamkaskloof was ook daar.


Visitors to the recent Western Cape Tourism Showcase met Karoo information officers from Beaufort West, Prince Albert and Laingsburg tourist bureaus as well as representatives of the Kwa-Mandlenkosi and Prince Albert township tourist routes. Also, on the Great Karoo stand were marketers from the Swartberg Hotel, Swartrivier Olive farm, Kobus se Gat mountain getaway, and Gamkaskloof, The Hell.


The dusty corners of second-hand shops often hide treasures, bargains and even surprises for the browser. After reading the Stephen King book Needful Things, all about a mysterious little shop, Prince Albert antique restorer Cheryl Reeves decided to open a little business called Needful Things. Here visitors will find long forgotten items such as a harmonium, a carved walnut bench, a Victorian washstand, a “merry-go-round” horse and much more.