Prince Albert has plans for a delicious, fun-filled weekend in May. “Our olives are world famous and health conscious people love our olive oil, so we have scheduled an Olive, Food and Wine Festival for May 6 and 7, 2005,” says tourism officer Charlotte Olivier. “Visitors will be able to tour to the olive farms, taste olives and enjoy olive cooking demonstrations. Restaurants and guest houses will serve olive-based cuisine. There will also be visits to fruit and fig farms, outings to Gamkaskloof, The Hell, The Swartberg Pass, the old gold mines and San rock art sites. We advise visitors to book early.”


George will be 200 years old in April 2011. Long term planners are already considering just how best to celebrate. “Perhaps a really good, major festival,” says Linda Labuschagne Principal Museum Research Curator: Regional History Southern Cape. “George was declared a separate district in a proclamation, issued by the Governor, Earl Caledon, on April 23, 1811, and Adrianus Gysbertus van Kervel was appointed magistrate in June. He and surveyor J H Voorman, quickly planned and laid out a new town, named to honour George III, reigning King of England. A church was built, a school followed and soon houses mushroomed around these creating, a town destined to play a major role in the Garden Route.” Linda is collecting historical items and would love to hear from anyone who can make a contribution.


The natural gardens along the road verges are being unwittingly destroyed throughout the Karoo. Drs Sue Milton and Richard Dean of Prince Albert, both experts on Karoo vegetation, have issued a plea to local authorities to take more care of indigenous vegetation alongside roads which they service. “In the Beaufort West, Prince Albert and Merweville areas these reserves are invaluable sources of seeds, while medicinal plants, such as Sutherlandia, grow prolifically along the verges in the Victoria West area,” said Sue. “In the Worcester area the last fragments of Renosterveld are being removed and valuable seed sources for palatable plants are destroyed before the seeds set.” Sue and Richard also warned that systematic clearing of indigenous vegetation provided opportunities for alien plants and grasses, such as ‘fonteingras’ (Pennisetum setaceum) and Bromus species, locally called ‘ripgut’ and ‘predikantsluis’ to spread. “These burn easily and make it possible for fire to spread into the veld. Vehicles spread seeds for up to ten kilometres, yet they are unable to grow in veld with a good cover of karoobossies. Bird and wildlife species that struggle to survive on farms also find valuable sources of food along verges. Among these are the Black Harrier, Pale Chanting Goshawk, and Booted Eagle, which patrol verges in search of lizards, mice and insects.” Sue suggested a better service could be provided by removing roadside rubbish, clearing alien vegetation and collecting seeds from indigenous plants for sale.


Jonathan Rolfe of Prince Albert’s Fransie Pienaar Museum is on the trail of old public water taps. “In 1902 this Municipality received £5000 from the Government to install a drinking water system. Fifty street taps were erected to serve the houses to which water could not be laid on. Five cast iron water pumps with lion head taps were also placed at strategic spots. Two have survived and now serve the Municipality as gate posts,” said Jonathan. “We would like to have one transferred to the Museum, where we could share its history with visitors. If any one remembers where public taps and water pumps stood, I’d love to hear from them. We have a photograph of a pump on the corner of Leeb and Church Streets.” Similar water pumps, made by Kennedy of Kilmarnock Scotland in about 1910, were installed at Jagersfontein in the Free State. They have been declared historic monuments.


A poignant note of love and loss marked the end of 2004 for Amanda Vermeulen, of Beaufort West’s Little Green World. In November a miserable-looking, abandoned Barbet chick appeared on the lawn of the veterinary surgery where she works. Its plight touched her, and she decided to adopt it. “According to our gardener its parents ‘just vanished,’” she said. “This little fellow must have crept out to find out why his food supply had been cut off. He was in dreadful shape with blood in his nostrils and one eye swollen shut. I didn’t have the courage to wring his neck, so I took him home, named him Woody and fed him on a honey and water mix – his favourite – and puppy food. Woody made a remarkable recovery. He accompanied me to the office each day and sat on a thorn tree branch, which I wedged into the corner. Woody became very tame and flew from room to room searching for me whenever he heard my voice. He was a real charmer. Everyone loved him. In the afternoons he enjoyed flitting among the trees in my garden and scratching on the ground. My dogs did not scare him, nor did the garden birds which at first tried to chase him. He would land on my shoulder or flirt with the gardener, by flying round his head and briefly perching on his hat. The kitchen cupboards were Woody’s favourite spot at night. Then suddenly he was gone and that was that. We never saw him again. To my horror I was told that five semi-wild cats lived at the bottom of a neighbour’s garden. I can only imagine dear, friendly, confident little Woody landed there and got caught. I was terribly upset. In vain I called “Woody, Woody,” in the garden for days, then consoled myself that this is the price of falling in love with a wild and free creature.”


 On the plains of the Great Karoo lies a grave with an intriguing inscription. “Here rests a noble secret, which only eternity will reveal” (Hier rus ‘n edel geheim wat net die ewigheid kan openbaar) is inscribed on the tombstone of Airwoman Milly le Grange, on Dalajalon, outside Beaufort West. Milly, a beautiful, fun-loving young lass, born on November 24, 1910, worked as an administrative officer at a Cape Town airbase. “She was not killed in action,” says present-day farm owner Martin le Grange. “A strange mystery surrounds her death. Late on the evening of April 4, 1942, as Milly returned to the base after seeing a film in town with friends, a shot rang out. She was hit in the head and died instantly. It appeared that the gun of the guard at the gate had gone off unexpectedly causing this dreadful tragedy.” Milly’s devastated family arranged for her body to be brought back to the Karoo for burial near her parents. They were too grief stricken to ask questions. However, as time passed mystery and intrigue began to cloak the circumstances of Milly’s death. Furtive whispers raised suspicions among family and friends. “Investigation revealed Milly and the guard had for a while been involved in a serious relationship, even considering themselves in love,” said Martin. “Then, Milly broke off the liaison. The young man took it very badly and made several threats, but did he kill her? Nothing could be proved. Accidental death was the final verdict, yet the air of intrigue surrounding this grave never faded.” For years another young airman was often seen standing at Milly’s grave. It was rumoured that he too had fallen in love with this lovely lass. “No one ever found out for sure,” said Martin. “He too just became one of the fascinating mysteries surrounding Milly. We look after her grave and all others on the farm.” Dalajalon, purchased by Martin’s great grandfather in 1902, has been in the family for five generations. “Initially called Dale-Ajalon, and the centre of a huge region west of the Gamka River, this farm was named after the Biblical place where the Israelites asked God to let the sun stand still, so that they could kill the Philistines. “It is the lowest spot on the plains between Beaufort West, Leeu Gamka and Prince Albert. On a hot Karoo summer’s day, one could easily believe that the sun does stand still at this spot!”


The earliest owner of Dalajalon, Ernst Conradie, had a passion for horses. Way back in the 1800s he was the envy of the Beaufort West district as he rode his handsome horses across the great plains. Then, one day a horrific accident occurred. A brown horse took fright and, in its panic, kicked Ernst to death. He was buried on the farm. “The following year, on the anniversary of Ernst’s death, all brown horses stampeded from the stable and could not be controlled,” says present-day farm owner Martin le Grange. “According to local legend this happened annually from that day on until horses were no longer kept on Dalajalon. Labourers swore only brown horses behaved in this peculiar fashion. They also said that they could clearly see whip marks on the rumps of only these animals,” said Martin. In time everyone became convinced that the ghost of old Ernst had come back to wreak vengeance on the brown horses. After a while no one attempted to stable the brown horses on the anniversary of Ernst’s death, yet on every other day they all meekly went into their stalls.”


Karoo hospitality impressed a Cape Mounted Rifleman in 1850. T J Lucas led a patrol to Graaff Reinet to collect deserters from his regiment and wrote “all Boers along the way were most hospitable.” He found Graaff Reinet, “primitive, but positively charming after the arid country through which I had approached it. “The streets are lined on both sides with trees in full flower One, the acacia, has lovely little yellow pom pom flowers and the other, has bright scarlet flowers, which almost dazzle the eye. This handsome tree grows to considerable size and is perfection when the blossoms and rich foliage are framed against the sky. Running streams of clean water run in paved channels in front of one-storied houses. Each has a stoep, a raised platform of stone, at the front. The houses are a dazzling white, with green doors and window shutters. Some have windows with little glass panes extending across the face. In certain light this can have a bizarre effect.” In a country “so favourable to escape” Lucas was happy to collect the deserters from the authorities and be on his way. “On the way home farmers tried to make our stopovers comfortable. They were helpful and many allowed us to bivouac for the night.” Lucas confesses he always accepted the offer of a bed indoors and an invitation to dinner, while his men placed their heavy cavalry saddles in a row on the ground in front of their horses. “They laid their saddle cloths down on the bare earth and curled up using their cloaks for blankets.” The horses were hobbled and linked together each night, while the deserters were securely handcuffed and shackled together. No one seemed too concerned that they had neither ground sheets nor covering.


Most tourists are awed by the magnificence rock formations of Meiringspoort. Few realise the area is a haven for a wonderful variety of animals and insects. “These vary from the tiniest field mice, such as the Cape Spiny Mouse to rather shy and rarely seen leopards and caracals, which come out to hunt at night,” said De Rust based botanist, Jan Vlok. Rock dassies are frequently seen basking on ledges, while water mongoose and clawless otters are often seen along the rivers. The area is extremely rich in birdlife, and small buck, such as the klipspringer, often delight tourists cruising along the winding road. Three fish species occur in the river. These are the Cape Kurper (Sandelia capensis) and two rare and endangered minnow species – the Small-scaled Red-finned Minnow (Pseudobarbus apser), and the Slender Red-finned Minnow (Pseudobarbus tenuis. “The minnows are easily recognisable by their red fins. The fins of the males turn bright red during breeding season, from October to February. The poort is also filled with fascinating insects and a range of magnificent flora. Both are subjects worthy of study.”


The Karoo has certainly seen its share of colourful characters. In the 1800s a red-bearded Scot roamed the area in Highland dress. This kilted, old Etonian, cavalry officer, was said to strike fear into the hearts of many a farming family. Most had never seen his likes before. Gordon Cumming travelled by ox-wagon and mercilessly shot game for five years when South Africa was a hunter’s paradise with scant regard for conservation and preservation. He writes of lying awake in his wagon for two hours before dawn one day and listening to the grunts of a large herd of springbok feeding around his camp. When he arose, he found it was not merely a herd, but a dense living mass of springbok moving steadily past his wagon. They were pouring through a gap in some hills “like a flood,” flowing across the plains and disappearing over the ridge. “I stood upon the fore chest of my wagon for nearly two hours, lost in the wonder of the scene,” he wrote. “”I had some difficulty in convincing myself that this was a reality, not a wild hunter’s dream.” He saddled up and rode through them shooting, until, even he, cried “Enough!” Cumming confessed he could form no idea of the number of antelopes he saw that day. “There were hundreds of thousands within the compass of my vision.”


Unsolved murders always intrigue. While searching for material for use in his book Karoo author Lawrence Green came across two intriguing cases in Graaff Reinet. In the first, a leading resident, Spiller, sat near the window of his home one night when a hand reached in and stabbed him through the heart. No one ever found out who or why. Later a young couple, called Schoeman, were found shot on the farm Oprysfontein. Again, the murder was a great mystery. Many people attended the funeral on the farm. As they walked back from the graveside, they found the rifle with which the crime had been committed, lying in front of the house. Until then there had been no trace of it. The police failed to find the murderer.


Excitement at sea, a near fatal shipwreck, the thrill of the Canadian gold rush, a small hotel and a successful elopement, all add colour to the story of the Alports of Beaufort West. In his book The House of Curious, Cecil Alport, the man who found a cure for a type of nephritis, named Alport’s Syndrome in his honour, describes his father’s trip to the Karoo and his own youth in Beaufort West. Cecil’s father and uncle, Charles, left their home in Kent, England, in 1861 to seek their fortune in The New World. A freak accident caused their ship to sink as she left port. Passengers and crew swam for their lives and fortunately no one was lost. Cecil’s father “a young man with a beautiful tenor voice comforted and entertained them all that night by singing solos.” The brothers made it to Canada and to the goldfields but did not make their fortune. Cecil’s father bought a small hotel, but Charles would not join him there. He had fallen in love with the daughter of Mark Bate, the Mayor of Nanimo. Charles asked for her hand in marriage. but the mayor refused and promptly kicked him down the stairs. He had other plans for the exquisitely beautiful 16-year-old apple of his eye, he said. But then, so did Charles. Aided by his brother, Charles abducted his bride. They eloped, married in a neighbouring town and, writes Cecil, “lived happily ever after.” In time they even made peace with her father. Shortly after the wedding the Alport brothers left for the Karoo to join their uncle, Percy John Alport, a Beaufort West shopkeeper and partner of Sir John Charles Molteno. On arrival in Cape Town they discovered that Beaufort West was 339 miles away and that there was no other way to reach it but by cart at a rate of six miles an hour. It took a week to reach their destination. . After six years in the Karoo Cecil’s father met Miss Thwaits, elder daughter of a and surveyor and farmer.” She swept him off his feet and they were married. It too was a happy union.”


In the 1880s a young man from Fenis-cowles in Lancashire left England with his young wife in search of better health and good fortune. He was Arthur E C McDuff Fielden, fourth son on Sir William Henry Fielden, who had died a while before the couple set off on their adventure. Their journey brought them to Beaufort West, a thriving little village in the Great Karoo and there Arthur accepted a post as assistant resident magistrate and clerk to the Civil Commissioner. The Fieldens found Beaufort West a friendly place and mixed easily with business colleagues and neighbours. Indeed, in the Karoo Arthur’s respiratory complaint seemed well on the way to becoming better. Then suddenly in October 1885, he was struck down by a severe summer cold. It laid him low, lingering on for a few weeks and seriously affecting his already weakened lungs. The doctors visited regularly but could do little for him. Then at 11 o’clock on Monday, October 26, 1885, according to The Beaufort Courier, “Arthur breathed his last.” He was buried the following afternoon from Christchurch Anglican church. Friends and family gathered round offering “sincerest sympathy to the widow in her affliction,” reported The Courier.


Hopetown, states The Beaufort Courier of January 27, 1885, is an exciting place. It seems that two young members of the Boating Association may have encountered a sea serpent or similar monster, in the Orange River, on January 18, 1885. While enjoying the afternoon the two young men suddenly heard a tremendous splash about 300 yards away from them. They altered course and headed towards the sound. On nearing the spot the two “beheld a large animal, which struck terror into their breasts.” “It bore the resemblance of a huge mountain,” they said. “And, after being above water for about five minutes, simply vanished.” “Some people will not believe this, while others will say it was an island. But, the young sailors, both Good Templars, could not have made such a mistake!” wrote The Courier reporter.


When Marlene van Niewenhuysen opened an old trapdoor in Badgers building, Cradock, recently little did she realise she’d be looking straight into the past. The cellar contained at least seven different Martini-Henry and Mauser rifles, cartridge cases, porridge and fish tins dating back to the mid-1800s, some 1914 and 1915 newspapers, as well as old cigarette packets and matchboxes. Mark Holden, who has a master’s degree in military science, says it seems about 20 British soldiers were involved in a skirmish in this building one night in the 1850s and that it was set alight. The building once had stables, a stone wall and small parade ground. The building became a shop in 1860and was linked to the 1914 Rebellion.

You may not find truth in the search for enjoyment, but you may find enjoyment in the search for truth.”
Dr Mardy Grothe, editor of A Weekly Celebration of Chiastic, Oxymoronic, & Paradoxical Quotations