Leslie Howard’s new book, Barrydale Unplugged, is a treasure trove of stories. The tale begins 500-million years ago, when the Karoo was an inland sea, and tells of tiny creatures that left fossilized remains for experts to study. It moves on to the earliest indigenous inhabitants and from there travels through time bringing the town and district to life as it tells of the first farmers, the road builders and dwellers around the warm water springs. Fauna and flora are central to the theme. Then comes the village, its residents and churches. Skirmishes and clashes of the Anglo-Boer War follow as commandos race across the veld tearing families apart by conflict. Barrydale Unplugged is an absorbing read – it’s full of wonderfully anecdotal stories and, it doesn’t stop way back when, the stories carry through to the modern day. The book is beautifully illustrated by Margaret Jones’s photography and Andrew Thom’s sketches. Margaret, now a local resident, has a long history as a professional photographer. She provided material to newspapers, such as The Daily Telegraph and to ecological magazines when she lived on the Turks and Cacos Islands before her husband died. From her Klein Karoo base she now supplies material to photographic libraries. Illustrator, artist, historian and former teacher, Andrew Thom’s sketches are delightful. Also, a local resident (and book collector) Andrew has a never-ending thirst for knowledge of the area’s cultural history. Barrydale Unplugged costs R190, from local bookshops.


Several conservation organisations recently joined forces to study the river fish of the Karoo. The aim of this Cape Critical Rivers (CCR) Project, which was funded, sponsored and assisted by several environmental agencies, was to study freshwater fish, biodiversity, conservation and water resource management in the Olifants-Doring and Breede-Tradouw catchment areas. Newly appointed field officer, Alwyn Lubbe, who led the research teams, said: “The Olifants-Doring river system is particularly important because a remarkable 43 species of fish thrive in its waters. Ten of these are endemic, but sadly eight of these species are listed as ‘threatened’, mainly due to the spread of predatory, invasive, alien fish species, pollution and loss of habitat loss due to an increasing demand for agricultural land and water for domestic use.” The CCR also conducted an extensive survey of the Doring River, between the Tanqua Karoo and the Biedouw Valley, collecting invaluable information on indigenous and alien fish species. Although the team caught hundreds of chubbyhead barb, (an indigenous fish species), they did not find any yellowfish; and while they caught 60 sandfish during this survey – more than double the number caught in the 2011 – this sadly was not enough for the ongoing viability of the species. The CCR will implement conservation strategies in an effort to improve the population of this species.


Lindi Baird has revised and updated A Reflection of My Past, the biography of John Baird, the first deputy magistrate of Beaufort West. “I have given the book a major facelift,” she says. “ The revamped version now has information on some previously unsolved mysteries based on more research and some information that I intentionally left out in the first book as well as some additional educational facts. The new version also includes details on some property deals to which several families feel they have a claim. The revised edition will be launched in February 2014 under a new title, A Time To Remember.


Many people have shared special memories of former president Nelson Mandela. One is Taffy Shearing, who as a member of the Beaufort West’s Peace Committee, was invited to breakfast with him at the Oasis Hotel in 1994 at the start of the ANC election campaign. Looking back Taffy said: “We took our seats, but oddly Madiba did not appear and breakfast wasn’t served. An ad hoc choir started to sing and we asked a waiter what was happening. He said that some khaki-clad men, had driven up in bakkies and surrounded the hotel. We soon heard they were far right-wingers from the Northern Cape. The local police – caught short – were in vans in the back streets. Someone asked me what I was going to do. I didn’t fancy pushing my way through a right-wing mob, so said I was sitting tight. Anyway, I’d not yet had breakfast. Next, we heard that Mandela, who was in a room upstairs, had sent for the right-wing leader – a chap called Macdonald, who couldn’t speak any English. We caught sight of him as he jauntily strode upstairs, Huge black ostrich plumes danced in the band of his khaki hat. They say Mandela’s bodyguards removed a dagger from him, but I don’t know if that’s true. He and Mandela had a brief chat after which the same guy, now holding his hat, his bravado gone, meekly walked down the stairs and out of the hotel. Going up to each squad, parading outside, he ordered them to go home. “Ons behoort nie hier nie,” (We don’t belong here), he said and they left. Minutes later Mandela and his entourage appeared. As he moved to take up his seat at the main table, Madiba said: “I’m sorry. I got a bit delayed. I’m sure we’re all hungry, so let’s have breakfast.” The tension blew away as we all burst out laughing. Taffy sent this story to the Cape Times. They published it under the heading” Madiba has MacDonald for breakfast”.


Nelson Mandela’s speech that day was short, said Taffy, “Yet, I will never forget it. He said: ‘We’re all going to work together for peace. There will be no persecution of white people, and we will build this country together for a better future.’ He spoke in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa, so nobody could misunderstand him. I was stunned. Did we deserve this warmth, this kindness? I’m sad to say, I didn’t think so. Then the local ANC chairman brought Mandela over to meet the Peace Committee. I will never forget that charisma, that special smile. It lit the room. He shook hands with me and I was even more reassured. He had a very small hand for a man of his size, but from that hand poured the most tremendous warmth. This for me, was the most precious moment of that breakfast 20 years ago. My heart filled with happiness at that handshake. I thanked God, there was life in that hand and prayed that he would be with us for many years to come as we needed his leadership and his guidance.”


Springbok Atlas and Sarafies has introduced a new four-day tour. Following a route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, it offers an overnight stay in the Winelands, Oudtshoorn and Tsitsikamma and includes wine tasting, a visit to a farm school, the Cango Caves, a Meerkat tour and visit to a foliage export farm, states Travel News Weekly


When retired police constable Bob Donnell passed peacefully away in Grahamstown in July 1929, he was sadly missed by friends across the Eastern Cape and Karoo. He was well-liked and popular in sporting circles, a recognised authority on rugby and cricket and an enviable chess player. An Irishman of “sterling worth”, according to The Daily Representative of Tuesday, September 24, 1929, Robert Con Donnell was the son of Presbyterian minister, Reverend R C Donnell of Tyrone in Ulster. He came to South Africa for a visit in 1894 and loved the country so much that he joined the police in Cape Town. Within short he was transferred to East London, Queenstown and later to Graaff-Reinet, where worked as a policeman. He was captivated by the Karoo. A warm-hearted generous man he had the knack of making friends wherever he went. Bob was also a prize poultry breeder and walked off with most major prizes in the Eastern Cape region. He was survived by his wife, daughter and brother, Sam.


Fancy a change from the dryland? Durban Once upon a Time – a new book by Franco Frescura and Barbara Maude-Stone explores the port city during the post colonial era and presents a collection of romantic images from a time gone by. It includes fables, myths and social perceptions of early Durban and give context to the memories of old residents. It tells of a time when life rolled on at a leisurely pace through West Street shops, when friends met at Model Dairy on Ocean Beach for a milkshake, dressed up for “The July” or sailed to England on a mail ship. It explains why early Durban developed close to The Point, why some species of waterfowl “lived” the in lower West and Pine Streets and why the Borough of Durban, in its pioneering years, was perpetually bankrupt. The book, published by Archetype Press, P O Box 1952, Westville, 3630, costs R295.


Stanley Manong a former Victoria West resident, is writing his biography. Born and bred at Victoria West, he started out as a caddie at the local golf club and worked there for many years before leaving to attend a school in the Eastern Cape and later further his studies overseas. “I used to caddie for Mayor Bernie Kempen, Charles Taylor and also for Milton Ring, who managed Karabus Garage, the local Ford dealer. These men were among the most admired golfers in town. I am in touch with Bernie’s son, Boetie, who lives Australia, and who gave me some background on the Anstey family – particularly Isaac Anstey – even though he has lost touch with them. I would like to know more about these early families. Does anyone know whether Karabus Garage in Victoria West was owned by Dr Cyril Karabus’s father ? If so, what was his first name? What happened to Milton Ring ?


Movements of extraordinary magnitude have occurred in the earth’s crust, states Professor E H L Schwarz in South African Geology. He writes: “At Worcester in the Cape Colony, for instance, a segment of the earth has slipped down vertically 2 m. Many similar faults across the country are of great interest to geologists. Professor Schwarz also mentioned that the size of the earth was first measured by an African, Eratosthenes, a priest of the temple of Syrene in Egypt. At this place there was a religious festival on the day when the sun shone vertically at noon and consequently threw no shadows. One year, on the specific day of the religious festival, Erastosthenes went to Alexandria. He noted shadows at noon and measured the angle of these. He then compared this to the area of no shadows, where he lived and devised a formula which enabled him to calculate the circumference of the earth. “The calculation was sufficiently accurate for most purposes,” says Prof Schwarz.

The world of Katie Meintjies

More of Katie Meintjies’s reminiscences about “the good old days” of her childhood were published in the Northern Post of January 15, 1925. Katie felt that back then life moved at more sedate pace. She recalled a day when she and her siblings were sent to the field cornet’s house to collect the post. They set off on Basuto ponies and, having done this trip several times before, found the long ride “almost boring”. The trip home was, however, livened up when, in the early twilight, they spotted an aardvark digging a hole and kicking up a cloud of dust in the process. “We decided to ‘go for him’ and all four of us raced towards him,” said Katie. “He saw us coming and bolted down what he considered was a better hole. Quick as a flash my eldest brother was off his horse and he grabbed the aardvark’s tail. We all jumped off and clung to the creature for dear life. I am not sure what we thought we would do with him, but he outsmarted us. Even though we pulled for all we were worth, the aardvark was too good for us. With his strong back legs he kicked up such a storm of dust that we were choked and blinded. We had to let go and admit defeat. He vanished never to be seen again


One of South Africa’s most prolific writers once lived in Beaufort West. He was Daniel Ferdinand Immelman, nicknamed “Doc” because friends thought he resembled this Walt Disney character. Doc started writing at an early age and some of his earliest work appears in the Maitland School magazine. Writing in English and Afrikaans, he produced over 200 short stories, 12 novels, several serials and articles. Born in Cape Town in 1922, he discovered his name was incorrect on his birth certificate when he applied for a job at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in 1944. Someone had written William instead of Daniel as his first name. This was corrected and he got the job. He worked as a telegraphist, clerk and radio operator. He later moved to Beaufort West to take up a position as a civil servant. Later still he transferred to Namibia where he worked as a journalist photographer, farmer and hunter. He married Rya Senekal and they had two daughters. His hobbies included the study of arms and ammunition, travel, natural science and historic research. In addition to English and Afrikaans Doc spoke German, Portuguese and several ethnic languages.


Olive Schreiner loved the Karoo. She included a beautiful description of the night in Story of an African Farm. “The full moon poured down its light into the wide, lonely plain. The dry, sandy earth, with its stunted karoo bushes, the low hills that skirted the plain, the milk-bushes, with their long finger-like leaves, were all touched by a weird almost oppressive beauty, bathed in the silvery white light. In one spot only was the solemn monotony of the plain broken. Near the centre a small solitary koppie rose. Alone it lay there, a heap of round iron stones piled one upon another, over some giant’s grave. Here and there a tuft of grass or a small succulent had sprung up among the stones and on the very summit a clump of prickly pears lifted their thorny arms and reflected, as from mirrors, the moonlight on their broad, fleshy leaves.”


Guy Butler, a well known son of the Karoo, in Karoo Morning he wrote: “The Karoo is the eroded ruins of a world. The great lake and its giant reptiles have gone, but for a few bones and ripple marks, gone like Sodom and Gomorrah in earthquake and fire, epochs of reptilian life abolished, stone scorched and purged, and then sculpted clean and bare into noble shapes. The tactics of the elemental artist are spelt out in the fine sand of water courses, his signature clear in the cirrus clouds. You can see all of this because the air is dry, distances clear and scarcely a shrub grows higher than your knees. In that vast semi-desert it is difficult to forget your smallness; the colour and size of the shrubs are shy; growth slow and stubborn; the dinosaurs seem to be saying through the small, swift lizard, the camouflaged snake, the armour-plated tortoise, we’ve learned our lesson, we’ll stay small.”


In Ghosts of South Africa, Pat Hopkins explained that the original road from Cape Town into the interior ran through Ceres before crossing the Tanqua Karoo, the Spokeveld (Ghost country). “This road was feared by travelers. In a very short distance relatively lush mountainous country changes to sparse desolation. Add to this crystal clear starlit nights, a whispering breeze and tales of ghosts and demons and the result becomes truly frightening. To make matters worse, the first outspan on the plains is near an old graveyard at Platfontein.” Many, early writers claim never to have shut an eye at this spot. One was Major Alfred Ellis – he was convinced that he saw ghosts along this road. In South African Sketches he describes encountering a ghostly coachman who had “a face like a corpse”. He charged down the road yelling “To Hell, to hell!” Ellis states that as the vehicle in which he was travelling, approached this “burning wagon” which appeared to be racing straight at them, there was a great deal of frightening, clanging noise. The coachman passed with a yell of devilish laughter as he shouted the words ‘to hell’. After it vanished there was a deadly silence.”

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it – Roald Dahl