ROUND-UP – A MAGNIFICENT JOURNEY!
The first issue of Rose’s Round-up appeared in early January 1993. Its aim? To inform six town clerks of what was happening in the fledgling Central Karoo tourist office. In those days not many believed in tourism in the Karoo. In fact, when the CEO of the then Central Karoo Regional Services Council appointed Rose Willis as tourism co-ordinator he warned there would be almost nothing to co-ordinate. Time proved him wrong, but to be fair, he had a point – way back then few saw the Karoo as a destination. Most rushed down the N1 at night. Fortunately, that changed. Guesthouses, offering quality stopovers, popped up across the region to complement the tiny hinterland hotels. Farmers joined in and offered excellent eco-stays and adventure holidays. Festivals celebrating anything and everything – books, wool, venison, olives – sprang up to tempt people to visit. Then, books detailing the foods, lifestyle and awesome beauty of the Karoo began to appear. Now virtually every little town has its own web-page and each actively encourages tourism using clean fresh air, silence, hospitality and, even a tombstone route, as a drawcard. Round-up has been there every step of the way, faithfully soldiering on bringing news and interesting snippets of information and history to readers. It’s been a magnificent journey!
OLIVE SCHREINER AND JAMES BOND IN AUSTRIA
There’s a curious link between Olive Schreiner and James Bond. Back in 1924 Phyllis Bottome, a British novelist and short story writer, wrote a biography on Olive Schreiner, then during that same year she and her husband, British diplomat Alban Ernan Forbes Dennis, (known as Ernan) started a school in Kitzbühel, Austria, to teach languages and study the psychology of writing. They shared an interest in psychology, which she studied under Alfred Adler. The writing school was intended to be a community, an educational laboratory. And its aim was to determine how psychology and education might cure the ills of nations. One of the school’s more famous pupils was Ian Flemming, author of the James Bond novels. In 1960, Fleming wrote to Phyllis stating: “My life with you both is one of my most cherished memories. Heaven knows where I should be today without Ernan.” Perhaps Fleming got some of his ideas from Ernan, who worked first as a diplomat in Marseilles and later as a passport control officer in Vienna. It was later discovered that this was Ernan’s “cover” – his real role was MI6 station head for Austria, Hungary and Yugoslavia.
Leslie Howard, author of two winning books on the Overberg – Overberg Tapestry and Country Roads and Quirky People –has launched a new book. Entitled Barrydale Unplugged – Discovering the Klein Karoo and a remarkable village, it has been an instant success. The first print almost sold out on delivery. A second edition is on the way. This delightful book tells the story of the area from its earliest times. It covers the settlers of the late 1700s and early1800s, their trials and tribulations, mountain routes that eventually became passes, like the picturesque Tradouw Pass which leads to Barrydale, a village named for entrepreneur James Barry. The well illustrated book covers the Boer War and escapades of Boer commandant Gideon Scheepers. Margaret Jones did the photography and local resident Andrew Thom provided some superb line drawings. The book, which costs R190, is available from some local bookshops.
KAROO PARLIAMENT CREATES A NETWORK
The Karoo Parliament, held in Phillipstown in October, was a most successful experiment in regional debate and reflection says organiser, Prof Doreen Atkinson. Centre for Development Support at the University of the Free State. “The aim of this conference, which attracted 120 delegates, was to bring together towns from across the arid zone and enable them to discuss a range of subjects from tourism and crafts to agriculture, solar energy, the SKA and infrastructure. They shared insights about innovations and projects. We wanted to provide a platform for towns, often hopelessly divided by provincial and municipal boundaries, to network, link-up. We also wanted to ‘soften’ political boundaries and create meaningful regional economic zones and we succeeded. There were gripes about municipal performance, but two municipalities, PixleykaSeme District Municipality and Laingsburg Local Municipality, reported excellent service.”
SOUTH AFRICA’S NUMBER ONE SOCIAL PROBLEM
Hanlie Snyman’s address on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) during the Karoo Parliament, was an eye-opener. “The effects are horrendous and can never be reversed, yet, FAS is totally preventable.” she said. “FAS is a life sentence of destitution and destruction. Sufferers are not only doomed to poverty; they have dreadfully distorted features, inhibited growth, weak reasoning, poor emotional intelligence and no self-discipline. They suffer temper tantrums, perform very badly at school, destroy their families and communities, grow up to neglect their own children, act violently and in the end produce another generation of FAS children. If this problem is not addressed, pity the families of the future. Pity the teachers. Pity the communities. No programmes address this problem. There’s no guidance for pregnant young girls – nothing discourages drinking. Most see pregnancy as a way to escape abject poverty. Young girls deliberately get pregnant simply to obtain child grants – three children nets R600 a month for the poorest of the poor. More appalling, however, is the fact that many young hinterland girls often set out to deliberately create an FAS child because the social grant for such a child is almost R1200 a month. Without doubt FAS is South Africa’s No 1 social problem. It must be stamped out.” said Hanlie.
FROM CHOCOLATES TO ‘NO MORE BOOZY BREATH’
Scottish-born James Wilson began making sweets in East London just before the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War. His products sold well throughout the war years. So well, in fact, that James’s brother Robert, a naval architect, came out to South Africa in 1902 to help him run his burgeoning business. Within two years The Daily Dispatch declared that Wilson and Company was “one of the most important manufacturing companies in the Eastern Province.”. The company it said was “producing a kaleidoscope of colourful sweetmeats from tempting chocolates to jaw-breaking billiard balls” which travellers carried to almost every store in the farflung Karoo. The brothers then introduced a “contrivance” into which a paste was poured and within two seconds it emitted a lozenge stamped with XXX and the company’s name. The Daily Dispatch reported that this extra strong minty “sweet” was most popular with men as it effectively allowed them to disguise their drinking habits from their wives. James returned to Scotland in 1938, but Robert continued and in time formed an alliance with the Rowntree Chocolate Company of New York.
SEEING WILL BE BELIEVING!
“Many thanks for another enjoyable edition of Round-up,” writes Richard Tomlinson. “I was especially intrigued by the Somerset East Airport story which talks of tarring the road to Addo. I looked at my road atlas and the most direct route between the two dorps is the gravel road marked R335 which runs past Ann’s Villa (a mid-19th century ‘service area’ on the wagon road to the north) and over the Zuurberg Pass. Are they really intending to tar this road? If so, we shall soon have another fine tourist route, as the original pass was constructed with convict labour in the 1850s and work was interrupted by the 8th Frontier War. It is years since I drove through this historic pass, which has spectacular views on both sides. I understand the gravel surface is rather rough now. I’ll believe it when I see it tarred!”
‘HEROS’ OF THE OLD KAROO STREETS …
Hinterland towns amused A G Hale, Daily News Boer War correspondent. “In one of the Boer towns I noticed a group of local lads, dressed in old clothing, patched or ventilated according to the wearer’s taste. One fellow wore a pair of pants that had once belonged to a man four times his size. The part, usually hidden when a man is sitting in the saddle had been worn into a huge hole. This young man had picturesquely filled it by tacking on a scarlet shawl. As the pants were made of navy blue serge the effect was unquestionably artistic, especially as the amateur tailor had done his sewing with string and the stitches ran from an inch to an inch and a half in length. The street was filled with army mule-drivers. Almost all sported a military jacket, field service cap of sorts and other bits of mis-matched military apparel. They looked appalling as they swaggered around treating everyone else as beings of an inferior mould. They told such tall tales of individual acts of heroism that the author of Deadwood Dick would have turned green with envy.”
… AND, THE PAGEANT CONTINUES
“Serving girls clustered round these young swains like flies around a western water hole in midsummer,” wrote Hale. “Their shrill laughter makes the air vibrate as they bandy jests with the cheeky herds. The girls, rather pleasing in appearance, are far from pretty. As a rule, they wear clean print dresses and white aprons; they never wear hats of any kind but coil a showy kerchief around their heads in coquettish fashion. They are not particular as to colour, red, blue, yellow, or pink, anything will do as long as it is brilliant. The skins of the girls are almost as varied as the headgear. Some are very dark, almost as black as the record of a first-class burglar, while those of Bushman origin are like river water at flood time. Almost all have bright eyes, which they roll about as a kitten rolls a ball of wool. Each has a mouth as boundless as a mother’s blessing, as limitless as the imagination of a spring poet in love. When they are vexed, they purse it up into a bunch until it looks like a crumpled saddle-flap hanging on a hedge. When they smile the mouth opens and expands like an India rubber portmanteau, but, when they laugh one sees their beautiful teeth, the whitest ivory showing as clear as fresh tombstones in an old cemetery on a dark night. It is amusing to watch them flirting. They try to look coy, but soon fall victims to the skilful blandishments of the vain-glorious ‘warriors’ and, after a little manoeuvring, put out their lips to be kissed.”
The world of Katie Meintjies
WHEN TIME TRAVELLED MORE SLOWLY
Reminiscing about the good old days of her childhood in the Northern Post of January 15, 1925, Katie Meintjies, felt that life back then moved at a slower pace. “School was no big thing. Now and then a governess or tutor took us in hand. Some were strict, thought us ‘countrified’, and delivered smart smacks to palms and backsides, others who were Dutch or German were difficult to understand, English was a foreign language to them, and yet others constantly took ‘medicine’ from little bottles which they kept in their pockets. Mostly we enjoyed music, books, painting, hunting and riding. Our farm was far from everywhere – it was a 3 ½ hour cart journey to Colesberg, the nearest town. There were no railways. All travelling was by Cobb and Company’s coaches. Carts carried passengers and post – heavy bags were dropped off to be sorted at the field cornet’s house. Post carts were cheaper than the coaches, so most people travelled in bruising discomfort smothered by dust and bespattered by mud. In wet weather mud holes trapped the wheels and passengers had to get out and push. When the wheels spun free, they spewed muddy water onto the helpers who then had to complete their journeys shivering with cold or slowly baking dry in fierce sunshine.”
CHASE THE DUST ACROSS THE VELD
Philipstown’s 13th Motorcycle Rally takes place on December 7. The contest starts and ends at the farm Rooipoort. This is a popular, almost 100 km event, which draws enthusiastic motor cycle, quad bike, bakkie and jeep “racers”. They gather on the Friday evening at Bokskryt to braai and socialise.
ANCIENT, INTERESTING PART OF THE DRYLAND
On the trail of the trekboers, tour guide Peter Myles discovered Ghanzi, a tiny town in western Botswana, where good rainfall can maintain the springs for as long as seven years and where the Kwebe-Gobabis limestone ridge rises out of the endless sandveld. Ghanzi’s early history is vague, he says, yet it has an interesting tale to tell. “The first Afrikaner to settle there was Hendrik van Zyl, who set up a small hunting and trading enterprise in about 1870. Others started arriving around 1897, but this has always almost exclusively been the territory of San hunter gatherers,” state Margo and Martin Russell in Afrikaners of the Kalahari. “In earlier days the Makoko, the Nharo and the !Xo, drew anthropologists and linguists to this area. A steady southward movement of other indigenous groups took place beyond the periphery of the desert and people continued to straggle to Ghanzi, which was known as ‘lion territory’ or ‘cattle country definitely not suitable for sheep.’ They did well further south near Nossop. Goats, zebra and eland shared the cattle world. By 1973 a third of the farms were owned by absentee landlords, many of them South African entrepreneurs.”
CHANGE RODE IN ON A LORRY
The first lorry arrived in forlorn, dry Kalkfontein, 130 kilometers west of Ghanzi, in 1928. It was bought by a trader and its arrival in this roadless wilderness, where deep shifting sand could at any time seize and trap it, was a great source of interest. From the outset the intrusive, destructive sand set out to kill this vehicle as it found its intrusive and destructive way into every part of the engine. Jagged limestone lurked along ridges of this inhospitable territory ready to rip tyres and snap its springs. “In this harsh world tracks are difficult to see, seasonal desert rains turn them into rivulets and the surrounding area into a mire,” state Margo and Martin Russell. “Yet, the arrival of the lorry was important. It marked the beginning of the use of cash in Ghanzi’s economy. In time more lorries came. They shortened the trip to Gobabis from four weeks to three days and they deprived donkey teams of work. Yet, life was easier before the lorries. There was no money, but after the arrival of these vehicles, cattle went for two shillings. A fat cow for fifteen. Trips to Gobabis were by ox wagon and the return journey could take months. Somehow life was freer. You could hunt, shoot, in fact, do what you liked, but the lorries changed all that. This part of the dryland is a large and lonely area.” The Kalahari basin is a flat, sand-covered, semi-desert region north of Upington. It has large pans, dry river beds and scarcely any outcrops. The dunes strike a northwesterly direction, states a simplified geology article on www.geoscience.org.za.
KEEP INTOUCH WITH HISTORY
One of South Africa’s best-known cultural history journalists, Marthinus (Martiens) van Bart, retires from Die Burger in Cape Town at the end of November. Those who enjoyed reading the historical tidbits he included in the newspaper’s regular Kultuur-Kroniek supplement, which he edited since 1992, will be delighted that he has not retired his pen. He will continue to research and write fascinating snippets of history and they will now appear on the FAK (Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge) website.
DELIGHTFUL TALES OF THE KAROO
The Karoo has inspired many artists and writers. Among the latest is Monica Thomas, a Cape Town domestic worker, who has just written a delightful little book entitled Nokkie Se Stories. The 51-year old Monica,who spend her childhood at Kruidfontein station near Leeu Gamka in the Karoo, is a natural story teller. When her employer Berna Meredith heard her tales she gave Nokkie a book and pen and encouraged her to write them down. “At first it wasn’t easy,” says Monica. “I had to find a quiet place and really concentrate.” However, six months later she had filled 4 A4 books. Berna did “some light editing”, her mother, Laura, illustrated the stories; her father, Dr Steyn van Riet, paid for the printing. It was a dream come true for Monica to see 116 of her stories, each about 250 words long, in print. Nokkie Se Stories costs R90.
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. – Albert Einstein.