Touws River-based photographer and author, Jonathan Deale is writing a book on the Karoo. Published by Struik it will be available next year. The Karoo so captivated Jonathan when he moved to the Touws River area a few years ago, that he acquired ground, started the Gecko Nature Reserve and began to photograph and study the region in depth. “For me the lure of the Karoo lies not only in its uniqueness and the special aspects of each little town and village, but in the very challenge of determining where it actually begins and ends, where its cultural, geographic and historic boundaries lie,” says Jonathan. “In Timeless Karoo I have tried to tell the story from an ordinary person’s viewpoint, to bypass the middle-of-the-road tourist attractions and take the reader through a kaleidoscope of fact and folklore. Tackling my research in this way enabled me to discover some truly remarkable people and this enabled me to present a rich and intriguing historic tale with much to interest tourists.” Timeless Karoo tale takes readers from Niewoudtville to Hopetown, from Worcester to Wolvefontein. It is designed to assist tourists, to encourage them to pause, enjoy the region’s unique fauna and flora and to meet the special people who make the Karoo. “Let my camera show you some special people and places,” invites Jonathan. “Then, perhaps be encouraged to amble the bye-ways in search of these.”


“I was interested to learn that Burchell used pelargonium paltatum as a paint,” writes Karoo expert and author, David Shearing. “This is new to me. I do, however, know that he made a yellow ink from the flowers of Gnidia deserticola (‘Tkorbos). He used this in some of his paintings. In Common Names of South African Plants C A Smith, states ‘it was formerly used by Hottentots for dyeing leather, known as Hotnotsverfbossie and recorded by Burchell (1811).’ He used warm water to extract a yellow pigment from the dry flowers. He used this as ink for painting and in 1822 records that it was still ‘without a sign of fading’.” I have tried this, and it makes a very acceptable ink. You might also be interested to know that two of our asparagus species, Asparagus capensis (Wag-‘n-bietjie) and Asparagus burchellii (Katbossie or Katdoring) were used by Van Riebeeck as vegetables when he first set foot in Table Bay. These stories, as well as many others, appear in my book Karoo: Wild Flower Guide no 6.


A new Succulent Karoo Eco-system Project’s (SKEP) will take a closer look at porcupines. Christy Bragg, who recently made these little creatures the subject of a Master’s Thesis, will study their distribution and foraging habits in an area of high geophyte diversity in the Bokkeveld. She selected a study site near Nieuwoudtville in the Hantam/Tanqua/Roggeveld for this “Porcupine Project,” which is being funded by the Critical Eco-system Partnership Fund (CEPF). Christy chose this spot because it has one of the highest geophyte species diversities in the world and is home to many endemic and endangered species. “Porcupines play a major role in maintaining local geophyte richness and distribution,” she said. “There is evidence that their selective feeding habits may lead to alterations in geophyte distributions and diversity, but this has not yet been studied. I, however, feel that the role of porcupines as ecosystem engineers has been underestimated. Sadly, they are widely hunted throughout the country and little attention is paid to their potential value in the dynamics of eco-system development. We hope to change this. We also hope to raise awareness of porcupines and to determine how hunting affects population density and reproduction. GIS collars will be fitted to some animals to enable us to track their movements and foraging patterns, to study any damage they cause and to suggest ways in which farmers may deal with problems caused by porcupines,” said Christy


Round-up brought back happy memories for Brenda Riontini in the United States. After reading a recent issue she recalled some childhood trips through the Great Karoo. “When first we went from Cape Town to visit our grandparents in Durban we travelled on the Orange Express. Then, as the roads improved, in fact even as construction was nearing an end, we started driving through the Karoo. This was exciting because we often had to take detours through farms and ford streams. My sister and I kept logbooks of what we were seeing and noted “the hundreds” of gates we opened and closed. I am sure that if these survived today, they would be Africana. Later we drove along The Garden Route and saw Knysna where my maternal grandfather was rowed ashore with his family in the 1870s. He was only seven years old at the time. His father died young and he quickly had to learn to stand on his own feet. He did some pretty exciting things, among them was running a transport wagon into the interior. We visited the Cango Caves, explored Seweweekspoort, Tradouw Pass and Meiringspoort and drove across the Swartberg Pass. Wow! What an experience. The road at times seems to be held up only by stones. There are sheer drops down into the valleys. My mother insisted on being in the driver’s seat and each time she complained of not being able to see because the tilt of the car’s bonnet was blocking her view, my father sat up straighter and nearer to the edge of his seat. He didn’t say a word, but we returned to Cape Town through the Great Karoo.”


In the 1890s De Vos’s Hotel was a popular stop for visitors to the Cango Caves visitors. Only two hours from Oudtshoorn by coach, it was well-placed for those “wishing to enjoy more than a flying visit”. “But these caves, discovered in 1780 and considered the finest stalactite caverns in the world, are being vandalized,” states the 1896 Guide for Tourists, Sportsmen, Invalids and Settlers. “Sadly, tourists have painted their names on the milk-white walls, smashed off, battered down and carried away, all within their reach and even the Bushman paintings near the entrance have been ruined.” Forced to take action, authorities placed an iron gate across the entrance “to stop this wholesale destruction”. A custodian, who lived at the foot of the hill, kept the keys and found guides as well as assistants to carry candles “for a small gratuity”. Serious visitors were advised to bring along magnesium ribbon “as no number of candles can illuminate the large halls and the yellow glare of candlelight makes it impossible to appreciate the exquisite creamy pink and yellow colours of the rocks”. Would-be sightseers were warned they were in for “a bit of a walk” as the entrance, halfway up the hill, had to be approached by along a steep path. “Near the entrance, a long iron ladder descends into a large hall from where numerous passages branch off to chambers on the right and left. Everywhere, the roof and walls are covered with deposits of lime-impregnated water which over the ages has slowly filtered through the rocks to form the most magnificent stalactites and stalagmites. Some are so slender that the slightest touch will break them. Others have formed into massive columns. Bizarre shapes that look like drapes or curtains sprinkled with crystals and diamonds so that they will sparkle in the dim light. It’s breathtaking. The more remote the chambers, the more fairy-like the beauty of the caverns. The vandalism is regretted. Hopefully in the depths of the mountain secret grottos exist and will remain untouched by the tread and hand of Man. Hopefully, these will be preserved.”


Sir Thomas Upington, once considered the best dressed man in Cape Town, was prone to “donning the most extraordinary costumes,” during the “away” Circuit Court sessions. Judge Victor Sampson loved to tell a tale about a day when the Circuit Court was in Prince Albert and Sir Thomas decided to “do a private inspection” of the Swartberg Pass He chose to do this on the day before court officials were to be taken on an official visit. In My Reminiscences, Judge Sampson writes: “Wearing a fearful grey suit with checks each about four inches square he wandered off to the Pass, then being constructed by convict labour. To his bizarre costume he had added a battered hat, like most great men he loved old hats. Sir Thomas came upon the guard sitting smoking about 100 yards away from the convicts, his rifle against a rock yards some distance from him. Sir Thomas asked to see how the work was progressing. ‘It’s agin regulations,’ said the guard, without looking up. Fine fellow you are to speak of regulations, thought Sir Thomas, but repeated his request. ‘Agin the regulations, I tell yer!” said the keeper of order, in a much fiercer tone. A little more insistently Sir Thomas repeated ‘I’d like to see the works.’ ‘Well,’ countered the guard, ‘yer see that farm down there; go and steal a sheep and yer’ll see the wurks, for sure.’ He strode off. Next day, during the official visit, the guard caught sight of Sir Thomas, this time very elegantly attired. His jaw dropped, his face went red and his rifle almost hell from his hands.”


Bread was not always easy to find in the early hinterland. “However, South Africans soon learnt how to grind corn between stones, make their own yeast from veld plants and bake bread in pots, clay ovens or converted ant-heaps,” writes Leslie Faul in Bread. There is no doubt that this bread was good. In 1890 in Home Life on an Ostrich Farm, Anne Martin suggested all settlers should learn how to bake bread “in the Boer way” and not to rely on any old “fly-infested” offerings that came their way. She writes: “If there ever was a competition for bread-makers of all countries surely the Dutch women of the Karoo would bear away all the prizes for their delicious whole-meal bread, leavened with sour dough and baked in large earthenware pots. There is nothing quite like it. It is delicious, beautifully sweet and light.”


Way back in the 1950s a farm implement demonstration near Fraserburg had people fleeing for their lives. The tale is told by Gerald Hall, a one-time salesman for International Harvester Corporation (IHC) “In the 1950s wool prices were good and to Karoo farmers lucerne was king. It had, however, to be preserved for winter and as drought fodder. The best way to do this was of to cure and bale it.” Fraserburg with its “saaidam” system was a lucerne paradise, so it was here that McCormick International decided to stage a Farmers’ Day to launch their new model 5OAW baler. Turnout was excellent. Farmers milled around admiring the great red machine, huge, as only Americans could make them. Smoke from “braai” fires curled into the air. “A four cylinder ‘Continental’ petrol engine was needed to drive a huge flywheel mounted on the plunger crank,” says Gerald. “This supplied the brute force needed by the mighty plunger. The local dealer, resplendent in red dustcoat, with IHC logo on the pocket, started up this engine. It puffed, belched, roared, then ran up to a sweet note. It also set up a heavy reciprocating action causing a rocking motion to be transmitted to the towing tractor, a paraffin model Fordson Major. The tractor driver looked as if he was riding a horse. The tractor itself looked frail and nervous in front of this bucking red machine. One wag suggested that the ‘eyes’ (headlights) of the tractor should be removed so that it would not ‘see’ the hard work ahead. However, these fears seemed unfounded. At a thumbs up signal the tractor driver slowly engaged the flywheel and everyone knew the moment they’d been waiting for had arrived. This machine might be just the thing to save some sweat and toil and prevent crop losses.”


Things happened quickly. As the tractor driver engaged the flywheel, belts squealed into grip, the crank drove downward, then forward in its rocking arc and the tractor bucked off like a stallion. “In order to understand what followed it is necessary to describe the build of the baler,” says former salesman, Gerald Hall, who retired from IHC in the 1970s. “The main weight was carried by two large wheels, however, to counter the weight of the bales forming in the chamber, considerable weight was also borne by a small caster wheel under the front drawbar. Ground clearance was sufficient to allow the crank to sweep through its arc under the belly of the baler.” The tractor “waddled” off down a bulky windrow. The baler began to swallow this up and feed it into the bale chamber where it was compressed and formed. Excitement rippled through the crowd as they waited for the first bale to fall. A suddenly loud crash and clatter made them jump, but the local dealer calmly explained this was simply the tying process. A bale emerged and plopped gently to the ground. It was beautifully formed and securely tied. Farmers nodded with satisfaction. Like a comic-book dragon the red machine rocked on down the windrow dropping bale after bale. Then, the caster wheel failed, the front of the baler dropped, and the plunger crank hit the ground. The baler leapt into the air with every crank stroke. Pandemonium followed. Farmers leapt out of range. The tractor driver fled. The red-faced dealer, salesmen and technical support crew knew the machine had to be stopped. But how? No one wanted to risk being crushed by tons of leaping steel. They decided the only hope was to break the spark distributor on the engine, so they began hurling rocks at the machine. Not easy because they had to find safe point of attack, hurl a rock and hope to hit the strategic part. Not one rock did. Then, an old farmer strode over to his bakkie, reached into the cab and returned with a shotgun. ‘Gee pad voor!, out of the way!’ he yelled as he raised the 12- bore shotgun to his shoulder. He followed the flight of his quarry and let off both barrels. The baler gave one last convulsive leap and crashed to a hissing standstill. Silence reigned. He lowered the rifle, saying: ‘Kom kêrels, waar’s die bier.’ (Come lads, where’s the beer).” A great party followed. The Demo Day became a legend in the Sak River area. “The face of farming may have changed, many farms may have been deserted as folk have moved away, but the stories linger on. If you dig in the old scrapyards you might even find the remains of some 50AW balers. They too became legends,” said Gerald.


The people of Lossiemouth, on the Firth of Moray in Scotland, have made their living from fishing since 1500. No wonder then that boat building was a thriving industry in and around the village as each yard strove to make a better and safer vessel. “In the 1800s most boats were clinker-built ‘Scaffie’ types, ranging from 25 to 35 ft long,” says John Imlach in Memories of Lossie, which he wrote for his grandson Brian Ogilvie. In the late 1800s William “Dad” Campbell built a revolutionary new boat. After drawing his designs, he discussed them with his wife, the daughter of a Fraserburgh fisherman. She wasn’t shy to offer advice. Her brothers, she said, set great store by boats with straight stems and straight sterns, while her father thought nothing could compare with a vessel with a curved stem and slightly raked stem. In the light of this he compromised, altered his design and built a boat with a straight stem and long raked stern. He named her ‘Nonesuch’ and she was an instant success. She was proud and powerful. She out-sailed and out-manoeuved all the rest. The Anglo-Zulu War was being waged in South Africa at the time and news of it was reaching ‘home,’ so this powerful boat became known as ‘Zulu.’ Soon, most fisherman needing new boats plumped for the ‘Zulu’. As time went by ‘Zulus’ increased to as much as 70ft in length and were carvel built. By the 1890s most boat yards in Seatown, right next to Lossiemouth, were turning out ‘Zulus’ by the score. Then in 1900 steam drifters came in and the era of the ‘Zulu’ drew to a close. They were laid up in disused parts of the harbour and in estuaries along the River Lossie. Then came the Great War of 1914 – 1918. Fishing came to a halt as the government found work for the steam drifters, commandeering them for patrol and mine-sweeping duties. Old men, not fit for service, resurrected the ‘Zulus’ and went fishing again. These once proud and powerful boats again came into their own and made a much-valued contribution to the food supplies and the economy of the area. John Wood, the last of the men who’d built the first ‘Zulu,’ died during the war years.


Some claimed that a Cape Malay leader, born in 1834, could trace his roots to “Scotland’s greatest poet, Robbie Burns.”. What ever the case, Abdol Burns’s father certainly was a Scot. He came to the Cape as a soldier and married a Malay woman. Abdol was educated at St Stephen’s Mission School and in 1849 apprenticed in Somerset West as a saddle maker. He qualified but didn’t really like the work, so he became a cab driver. However, this in no way reduced the influence he had on the Cape Malay and Coloured people, writes Eric Rosenthal in South African Dictionary of National Biography. “As their official spokesman he virtually controlled the Malay vote. He was also a close friend of Saul Solomon. When riots broke out in 1886 after authorities decided to move one of the Moslem cemeteries too far away for bodies to be easily carried there for burial, Abdol Burns intervened. In his usual calm and well-spoken way, he persuaded them to modify their plans, develop a new scheme and so order was restored before too much damage could be done.”


Motorists may be forgiven for believing that traffic congestion is a modern-day Festive season problem in Beaufort West. Not so. It began way back, soon after the town was established. Church festivals and the wool clip led to ox, horse, mule and donkey-drawn vehicles solidly jamming the main road. At times the noise level was said to be deafening as stressed animals, lowed, neighed and bellowed, or took fright causing further havoc. Another problem was animal “deposits” in Donkin Street. This meant that in crush times pedestrians had to take great care when dashing from one side of the road to the other. Developments to the north, the discovery of gold and diamonds, all increased the traffic. Then, by 1877 bicycles added to the confusion. Young gallants of the day loved nothing more than showing off their skills on Matchless cycles, which came to town in 1880, the Rudge, which appeared in 1883 or French Velocipedes, which were hot on their heels. By October 1896 the magistrate issued a proclamation warning that “reckless riding, and failing to alert pedestrians, would result in stiff fines.” A by-law was passed making bells and lights compulsory on bicycles. On September 5, 1894, according to the Beaufort West Museum newsletter, The Courier announced a new menace on the roads – a horseless carriage. Some considered these motor carriages positively dangerous as they could travel at speeds of 9 to 10 miles an hour. G B Wilkinson, the local doctor, became the first man in Beaufort West to own a car. He could barely move it without drawing a crowd. Soon others arrived and by September 4, 1911, the town set its first speed limit – 10 miles an hour. By November 19, this was increased to 12 mph with a limitation of only 6 mph when turning a corner. This compounded the problem. As cars slowed down to turn a corner, so too did all other traffic and once again draft animals became stressed or took fright, but their days as kings of the road were over. Motor vehicles had come to stay.

“Life is like a ten-speed bicycle – most of us have gears we never use.”

Charles M Schultz, who in 1950 created “Peanuts,” one of history’s most successful cartoons. He studied cartooning after graduating from high school in 1940, then after serving in WW11 worked as a cartoonist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Saturday Evening Post.