DISCOVER THE KAROO’S NATURAL HISTORY

Discover the secrets of the Great Karoo – book now and explore the unique natural history of this fascinating arid zone at Rietfontein Private Nature Reserve, near Matjiesfontein. The first trip, from August 10 to 13, is a three-day and three-night programme of veld walks and talks, led by Dr John Almond. These cover a wide spectrum of Cape and Karoo natural history with topics ranging from rocks and fossils through soils, climate and ecology to archaeology and the glorious Karoo night skies. Veld walks each day explore the diverse natural attractions of the Rietfontein Reserve, from the rugged Witteberg Mountains to the gentler slopes of Ghaapkop. “The programme begins on Thursday at 17h00 with a short walk followed by supper under the stars at the Baviaans River,” says John. “On Friday and Saturday participants enjoy longer hikes into the hills and along lovely Karoo valleys. We return for afternoon tea and time to relax before the pre-dinner slide show. On the last day the whole morning is spent in the veld and the group will be free to depart by 15h00. Although no strenuous walks are envisaged and we do stop frequently, all participants must be reasonably fit and able to walk in rocky veld for a few hours to enjoy the programme to the full. Visitors may bring their own 4×4 vehicles, however, Landrover transport is provided wherever necessary.” Fees for this full weekend excursion are R1 500 per person sharing a bedroom and R1 950 per person for those who do not wish to share. The tariff covers accommodation in fully equipped and serviced two-bedroomed cottages on Rietfontein Private Nature Reserve, field guided trips, lectures, an illustrated handout and delicious dinner each night. Participants must provide their own breakfasts, lunches and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic).

MURRAYSBURGERS ON THE HISTORY TRAIL

Three Murraysburgers are diligently gathering the history of the village. Their aim is to produce a book. The man behind the idea of capturing the history of this little Karoo village is Sakkie Malherbe. Charl Conradie, a farmer, who wrote a book on the happenings in Murraysburg during the Anglo-Boer War, and retired teacher, Alida Pienaar, are assisting him. “Things are moving well, but slowly,” says Sakkie.

LEEU GAMKA CHOSES THE SNAKE FLOWER FOR JULY

Leeu Gamka Indigenous Nursery chose the Bulbine Frutescens or snake flower as its plant of the month for July. “This is a vigorous, spreading succulent plant requires little attention. It grows 30cm long and has orange or yellow flowers. Plants look great when grown with dwarf blue agapanthus as both flower simultaneously,” says information officer Charlotte Bothma. “The snake flower is ideal for coastal gardens. It likes well-drained, sandy soil, and grows well in windy conditions. It is also tolerant of poor, dry soil. Leaf juice is said to have excellent healing properties and to relieve stings, burns and rashes.”

VISIT THIS BLOGSPOT AND SHARE IN A NEW BOOK

Authors Taffy and David Shearing are busy working on a new book. It covers Paulet Street in Somerset East where Taffy was born. “We’ve already found quite a lot of material, but as usual there are holes, “she says. “I returned to Somerset East in 2005 and that set me off on a book about my childhood, my parents and the residents of Paulet Street during the 1930s and 1940s. The story will all be set against the history of Somerset East.” Taffy has set up a database of erven in Paulet Street, collected material at the Cape Archives, Deeds Office and National Library. She has appealed to the municipality for help. She would love to hear from anyone who has information.

BIRDS OF THE ORANGE RIVER ESTUARY

A book on the birds of the Orange River Estuary has just been published. Written by Mark Anderson and illustrated by Maggie Newman, this 92-page book forms part of the Bright Continent Guide Series published by the University of Cape Town’s Avian Demography Unit (ADU). It was funded by BENEFIT, Working for Wetlands and the Northern Cape Department of Tourism, Environment and Conservation. The estuary, the place where the Orange River meets the sea at the corner of South Africa and Namibia, near the mining towns of Alexander Bay and Oranjemund, supports more than 20,000 water birds. Its importance as a wetland for water birds was recognized in the early-1980s. While the book contains information on human occupation, geography, climate, vegetation, and mammals, it concentrates on the history of ornithological work at the estuary and changes in bird population. It includes a comprehensive annotated species list. The book costs R52 (excl p & p).

THE LEATHER TROUSERS THAT CAME HOME

There’s an unusual tale attached to a pair of leather trousers in Prince Albert. For the past few years they have been worn with pride at the Oktoberfest by organiser Bodo Tolstede. However, they “lived” in Prince Albert long before he acquired them. The tale starts in 2003 when a story on Prince Albert’s Oktoberfest appeared in the German magazine Echo. Ulla Bockstette, who lives in Parow, saw it and called Bodo. She told him she had a pair of leather trousers that had belonged to her deceased husband Herman, who had once lived in Prince Albert. Herman had come to South Africa from northern Germany in the 1950s to work on the railways. He fell in love with South Africa and particularly the Karoo, so he saved hard and bought the farm Rietfontein, near Leeu Gamka. It was a dream come true, but he had little time to enjoy it before his wife became seriously ill. Within short they had to move to Prince Albert, but sadly this did not help, her condition worsened. They moved to Cape Town so that she could be nearer to specific doctors and specialists, but she did not get better and Herman was forced to sell his farm to meet the medical bills. Then, his wife died and was buried in Prince Albert. Herman met Ulla in Cape Town, they were happily married until he died. She said after reading the article she felt the leather trousers ought to “go home,” so she donated them to Bodo.

Note: The Prince Albert Octoberfest will be held on Saturday, October 28, this year.

HERITAGE CONSERVATION HIGHLIGHTED

Members of the National Heritage and Paarl-based Drakenstein Foundations recently visited the Karoo to highlight architectural conservation. They viewed buildings in Victoria West, Philipstown, Petrusville, Bethulie, Hanover and Richmond to create awareness of the Karoo’s architectural heritage. They were also able to give advice on home restorations, educate interested parties about new legislation pertaining to South Africa’s heritage and explain how to start a heritage society. “The tour was a great success,” reports Marina Beal of the Nama Karoo Foundation. “Historical Societies are now being established in all six towns. This can’t happen soon enough because almost every week a historic building in the Karoo is illegally stripped of wood for re-sale or for sale as fuel.” Also, as a result of this effort a guideline on restoration and care of Karoo homes is being compiled with input from experts like Len Raymond. “This document is available, to those interested in architectural preservation.

IS THE KAROO FACING A SILENT SPRING?

This year the brown locusts hatched and created the great biomass event unique to the Karoo. “Millions of birds accompanied by bat eared foxes and even sheep enjoyed the feeding frenzy while plants enjoyed an even pruning,” says Marina Beal of Nama Karoo Foundation. “Sadly, many Karoo farmers still believe this problem can be solved with poison. So once again tons of chemicals have been sprayed throughout many districts in the Karoo. We have had reports of flocks of birds, like lesser kestrels, eating the sprayed dead hoppers. Chemical companies tout synthetic pyrethroids as perfectly safe, yet they are highly toxic to bees, all aquatic life and the 90% of the creatures living in our precious Karoo soil. Free State farmers do not embark on expensive chemical campaigns with devastating long-term effects when Wrusper Moths break out, so why do Karoo farmers naively poison their soil, plants, meat, water and families by spraying? The National Disaster Relief fund spent R48-million on the previous locust campaign – more than the cost of compensating farmers for veld damage. So, we ask whether the time has not arrived for the Karoo farmers to try an alternative means of control.”

VISIT THE CEDERBERG AS A “FRIEND” IN SEPTEMBER …

John Almond of Natura Viva will guide a long weekend trip to the Cederberg in September for the Friends of the South African Museum (SAM). “The programme for this trip, which has proved popular in the past, includes an eclectic mix of geology, fossils, botany, landscape evolution and possibly even a little basic star-gazing. Moderate fitness for rocky terrain is required,” he says. Participants stay at the well-appointed, Mount Ceder Chalets on the Groot River for three nights. As accommodation in the Cederberg is difficult to find in September those interested should e.mail Maxine Davies (samfriends@iziko.org.za) to book. The costs of this fully self-catering trip is around R1 000 per person sharing. “To take advantage of this special discounted price you need to have been a Friend of the South African Museum for at least three months, however, if you join in July you will qualify,” says John

… AND THEN TAKE IN THE KLEIN KAROO

John Almond is also planning two multi-disciplinary natural history weekends for those interested in the Klein Karoo. Dates for these are October 24 to 27 and November 2 to 5. “The programme will be based at the unforgettable Red Stone Hills Guest Farm, near Calitzdorp,” he says. “It focuses on several aspects of the Klein Karoo’s colourful natural history.”

COME AND SEE THE CORBELLED HOUSES

The Vernacular Architecture Society of South Africa will visit the corbelled houses of the Karoo in September. Newsletter editor Andre van Graan says: “For our “away weekend” this year we plan to visit Carnarvon (from September 22 to 24) to see the corbelled houses in that area. Local guide Henk van den Berg, who is passionate about these houses, will lead the tour. Henk has spent much time researching these houses and gathering extensive information on their locations. He has compiled an interesting itinerary.” The tour starts promptly at 09h30 in Carnarvon. After a brief introduction Henk will take visitors to the corbelled houses at Klerefontein, Klipkolk and Droëputs. Lunch will be at Goraas and the group will spend the afternoon at Stuurmansfontein. Dinner is planned in Loxton for that evening. On Sunday the tour will visit Klipgat and Lelyfontein, followed by lunch at Pampoenspoort and, in the afternoon, they will visit Jakkalsfontein where the farm buildings illustrate how farmhouses have evolved over the years. The group will dine at Jakkalsfontein. On Monday, the group will visit Elandsfontein, Celeste Burger’s farm, between Loxton and Beaufort West.

A LOCAL CRICKET CLUB OR NOT?

A boy born in Beaufort West became one of South Africa’s top criminal lawyers. He was Henry Hyman (Harry) Morris KC, who defended Daisy de Melker, 46, on three charges of murder in 1932. A slip of the tongue during this trial led to an amusing incident, reported by Joel Mervis in The Wit and Humour of Mr Justice Greenberg (Rand Daily Mail, June 25, 1954). During the course of proceedings Morris asked, “Was your son a member of “X” Cricket Club?” “Yes,” replied Daisy. “Before or after his death?” asked Morris. Mr Justice Leopold Greenberg immediately interposed. “Mr Morris, I thought this was a local club,” he said. According to the Jewish Times, September 13, 1978, at another trial, presided over by Mr Justice Greenberg, an attorney turned to the bench and said: “May the Almighty strike me dead if I am telling a lie.” After a short pause Judge Greenberg said: “Until there is a suitable reply to that invitation, we have no alternative but to proceed …” Harry Morris appeared in many well-publicised cases. His name leapt to world prominence in 1941 when he successfully defended Sir Henry Jock Delves Broughton in Nairobi, Kenya, for the murder of Josslyn Victor Hay, the 22nd Earl of Errol and Baron Kilmarnock, the trial caused a sensation by exposing a promiscuous and sybaritic lifestyle of a set of debauched and degenerate members of the British aristocracy living in Kenya at the time. As one writer said: “To call them hedonistic would be to insult the word!” This trial led to the film White Mischief.

THE END OF THE ISRAELITES

Israelites are not only associated with Israel. In 1921 a sect of Black people established themselves at Bulhoek on the outskirts of Queenstown and gave themselves this name. Their leader was a man called Enoch. Efforts were made to remove them from what was little more than a squatters’ camp, but they ignored all requests. Eventually the authorities had to use force, writes Eric Rosenthal in Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa. In the end a considerable number of Israelites were killed or injured.

CAME IN SEARCH OF A DIFFERENT TREASURE

When most people flocked to South Africa in search of gold and diamond, one man came for fossils. He was Robert Broom and author A P Cartwright considers him “the greatest of all the gifted men that Scotland gave to South Africa.” Many, particularly the people of the Karoo, agree. Broom’s energy and vitality at times stunned the locals. “Even in old age he moved at a trot and spoke at 200 words a minute,” writes Cartwright in South African Heroes. In 1928, when the Royal Society awarded Broom a medal for his work he was hailed as “one of the few living scientists who could be termed a genius.” This incredible man was an anthropologist, geologist, archaeologist, zoologist, biologist, medical doctor and surgeon. He also had a gold medal in midwifery. Broom, a staunch Presbyterian, was also a philatelist, a connoisseur of art, a Shakespearian scholar, and he knew the all works of Robert Burns by heart. Born in Paisley in 1866, he was a sickly child and not expected to survive. “His scientific career started when he was six. Fish in a homemade aquarium caught his eye and sparked an interest in botany. He was an expert at the age of 11. At 17 he was appointed junior assistant to the professor of chemistry at Glasgow University, and his life revolved around test tubes and Bunsen burners. His job involved laboratory analyses for the police, and this developed in him an interest in forensics that he never lost. At 21 he passed his B.Sc in chemistry with honours. “Had his parents been wealthy, he may have stuck to pure chemistry,” says Cartwright. “However, he had to earn a living, so he studied medicine and by the time he was 23 he had qualified as a doctor and surgeon. In search of better health, he went to Australia, where he married a childhood friend Mary Braid Baillie.” Then, he heard of fascinating fossils finds being made in the Karoo. He packed his bags and ever after claimed that when men from across the globe were flocking to South Africa to dig for gold and diamonds, he was the only one rushing here to search of fossils.

A WEATHER ‘COCK’ THAT THREATENED TO FLY

A century ago renovations to Aberdeen’s Dutch Reformed Church were completed. A clock graced its steeple and pride of place was given to a weathervane. From its perch 55m above the ground, it proudly swirled about announcing wind direction for 20 years. Then, it took a bad turn and threatened to plummet down bringing over 100 kilograms of metalwork with it. The church council immediately advertised for someone to fix it, but no one wished to risk the dangerous climb. Months went by and there was no reply. Then, in October 1927, an old Aberdonian came to town to visit family and friends. J C G “Jan” Muller, a bit of a gambler and daredevil. When he heard of the problem, he instantly offered his services at a “reasonable fee.” The job was dangerous and the good churchmen, who were desperate to get it done, agreed to his price. Within short locals saw a temporary platform slide out from a small ventilation hole about 6m above the clock. It seemed almost to hover in mid air. A while later a 12m ladder slid out, swirled upwards and gently came to rest on the platform. Then out came Jan followed by another daredevil, Klaas Duimpies. For days, according to a story in the Kerkbode of November 30, 1927, locals watched from the pavement below as these two climbed up and down carrying out the death-defying repairs. Then, the job was done. The church council did not doubt this, but still, they needed to be sure. So, Jan F Scholtz, an elder and the oldest member of the building committee, agreed to do a once-off inspection of the high and dangerous site. Up he went, watched by a crowd in the street, out onto the ledge he stepped and up the ladder he climbed. He paused for a while at the peak of the steeple, pondered the weathervane and then carefully step by step descended. After a while he appeared at the church door and announced the weathervane was so well fixed, it would surely never again threaten to fall. And, it seems he was right!

LIGHTS ARE STILL THERE

Carel Schouten grew up in Beaufort West. He loves the Karoo and maintains a close contact with the region. The article on the Klass family’s Britstown hotel (Round-up May 2006) brought back many happy memories “In the 1940s my Dad was doing work in various towns near Britstown and, because of the wonderful service provided by Jack Klass, he stayed as often as he could at the Central Hotel. It was a treat. During the school holidays I went to some of the building sites with him and as a youngster I was truly intrigued by the staircase and upstairs passage lights in this hotel. They were placed against the walls about two metres apart and about 30cm above floor level. Thought had gone into this lighting and it was most effective at foot level. Britstown’s Central Hotel was and still is a great place. Old Jack certainly set a high standard. Whenever we pass, we always stop for a drink and a meal. The lights are still there!”


When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the man who created the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in 1887. Holmes became so popular that some viewed him as a real person. He had a cult-like following. Bored with Sherlock in 1893, Conan Doyle “killed” him, but fans took this so badly that he had to develop an ingenious plan to bring him back to life a year later.