The Indigenous Plant Use Forum (IPUF) will hold its 2008 conference at the Volkskool, in Graaff Reinet, from July 7 to10. The main theme of this conference, the 11th of its kind, will be “Value Adding.” In addition to enhancing knowledge of indigenous plants, their conservation and cultivation, the seminar will cover the use of indigenous plants in ethno-veterinary medicine, Sutherlandia as a multi-purpose tonic, and aloes for health and beauty. Several other medicinal plants and their uses will be discussed on a field trip to a nearby farm led by three local experts. A variety of products relevant to indigenous plant use will also be displayed and sold during the conference. David McNaughton of Karoo Connections will take delegates on a tour of the historical buildings of Graaff Reinet, as well as to the museum and other places of interest on July 9. Later that day delegates will visit the Agava Distillery to taste a drink similar to tequila. This is the only place outside of Mexico where this drink is produced. Further details are available from Bernard de Villiers, Department of Botany and Plant Biotechnology, at the University of Johannesburg.

Note: Launched in 1993, the IPUF is a networking program supported by the South African Foundation for Research Development (FRD). The programme grew out of a 1992 workshop attended by 40 people from South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique. Its establishment provided the impetus for the drafting of a basic document aimed at the conservation, promotion and sustainable use of Southern Africa’s indigenous flora, as well as research into its cultural, socio-economic and scientific benefits.


An ancient iron bedstead on the road from Graaff Reinet to Aberdeen has suddenly sparked a great deal of interest. Embedded in the harsh dry Karoo earth this bedstead marks the last resting place of a Karoo pioneer and, while it has been there for over 150 years, few travellers of this route notice it. Despite the fact that this unusual grave dates back to a time when this piece of road was part of the wagon route, no one is sure just who is buried here. “Some say it’s the grave of a Voortrekker woman who died suddenly after a brief illness. The story goes that her husband was devastated and did not want to leave her in an unmarked grave in such an isolated spot, so he used their iron bedstead as a grave marker,” says Aberdeen historian Wendy van Schalkwyk. “Another group say it’s the grave of a child who died of fever, yet others declare a mother and child are buried there and some insist it’s the grave of an early traveller who died in childbirth. While the true facts will now probably never be known, almost everyone who sees this grave is touched by it. Most find it a fitting memorial to a person who died along the old wagon route.” The grave is on Trenly Spence’s farm, Kriegeskraal. “If you’re travelling from Graaff Reinet to Aberdeen, it’s about 29 km from town and on the left-hand side,” says Wendy. Tony Nunn’s Illustrated Historical Guide to Graaff Reinet gives its exact GPS co-ordinates as S 32° 21′ 31.0″ / E24° 03′ 49.3″. Trenly does not believe that this is the grave of a child. “To my knowledge a woman was buried here about 150 years ago when the farm belonged to a Mr Luckhoff,” he says. “I regularly receive requests from people who wish to ‘restore’ this grave. One enthusiastic group painted the bed silver and placed plastic red roses on it. Fortunately, they blew away and the weather ‘softened’ the paint job. No matter who is buried here, I feel that since they have rested quietly for so long, they deserve to be left in peace.”


The elusive Karoo mermaid has caused many to travel untold dusty routes in search of her. One of the investigators was Wendy Hardie who last year with a TV crew made a trip through the Karoo in search of this legendary creature. They found traces of her in many places, some in arid areas and others near pools in places like Meiringspoort. This led to an interesting and popular documentary. They’ve now followed it up with a booklet and DVD explaining how to get these spots, where to stay, who to contact and what to look for. “We hope those who enjoyed the documentary and stories behind the legend will be inspired to investigate and here and there pause to enjoy a cup of tea, or maybe something stronger, with the locals.


Researching her family Joan Flood discovered her grandfather was not a popular man. Patrick Joseph Fallon, who born in Manchester, England on March 22, 1871, was referred to as tough, inflexible, stubborn, obstinate and a difficult man. Most, it was said, gave him a wide berth. Few dared to disagree or cross him. Yet, one lass saw a different side to him, fell in love and married him. Her name was Emma and, for a brief time in the late 1800s they were happy. Patrick and Emma had three lovely children before he answered a call to serve his country at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in October 1899. Among the first to enlist Patrick joined the 3rd Battalion of the Kings Own Royal Lancashire Regiment as a sergeant. Before long he was on his way to South Africa. Sadly, as fate would have it, he was among the early casualties. According to Emma most men serving under Patrick found him hard and difficult to get along with. “As a matter of fact, she said many serving under him hated him and some swore he’d never return to England alive,” says Joan. Their words were prophetic because Patrick died at Luttig Station, near Leeu Gamka in the Karoo, on November 1, 1901. When the news of his death was broken to Emma, she was told he’d “fallen from a train.” His death certificate recorded his death as “accidental.” Emma said she was never able to claim an army pension. She was told this was payable only to men who had been killed in action or who’d died of wounds. Devastated and destitute – she had three young toddlers, all under the age of five, to raise – she realized she had to “turn her hand to something.” So, being a resourceful woman, she ran a coal yard and theatrical boarding house until she married again. This time to Patrick’s younger brother, John. They had seven children. Emma died in 1954. Some months after the end of the Anglo-Boer War, returning comrades called on Emma and told her that Patrick had been murdered. He was pushed off the train, they said. Apparently, he fell directly onto the railway lines and the train ran over one of his legs, severing it almost totally. He bled to death before anything could be done for him. Emma was shocked, but knowing how some men felt about him, she believed the story. “No one was ever able to substantiate it,” said Joan. Whatever the story, some must have liked and respected him because a lovely marble stone was erected in his memory by comrades from the battalion. Joan recently wrote to Leeu Gamka as her mother, one Emma and Patrick’s three children, is turning 80. “She’s never seen the Karoo, nor her father’s grave and I thought this may be a fitting birthday present.” Information officer Charlotte Bothma sent a photograph to her.


Bloemfontein historian Joan Abrahams was amazed to read of the Colletts, Jordaans and the farm De Keur in Rose’s Roundup April issue. “It was like meeting old friends again. Fred and Rosemary Jordaan of De Keur often call or stay with me when they visit Bloemfontein and they’re always happy to accommodate me if I go to Cradock. Fred and I were ballroom dancing partners! Then, way back when I was a teacher at Rocklands, in Cradock, I taught many members of the Collett family. Sadly, I never met Pam Avis, but she seems to have been a wonderful person. I am glad she, like pioneer heart surgeon Chris Barnard, came home to rest when her life on earth was done.”


A horrid ‘lady’ has arrived in South Africa. This dreaded invasive insect, Harmonia axyridis, or harlequin lady beetle, as it is commonly known, has been spotted in the Western Cape, Free State, Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng. This insect, originally from central and eastern Asia, is one of the world’s worst invasive pests, according to the January to March 2008 issue of Plant Protection News. Unlike the ladybird beetles, which are beneficial, these harlequins are voracious feeders which prey on all other soft-bodied insects and arthropods. Sadly, until fairly recently there was considerable trade in these beetles in Western Europe and the USA where they were considered biological control agents. This mistake has been realised and rectified.


The final stage of the African Arachnida Database is now live on the ARC website. This database will eventually contain information on more than 6000 species. The main focus is currently on spiders and scorpions, but the site also includes information on solifugae, opiliones, amblypygi, pseudo-scorpiones, palpigradi and schizomids


An early Eastern legend states that the gods once gave the handsome hoopoe a crown of pure gold. Sadly this led to this strikingly beautiful creature, which many gardeners consider the clown of the bird world, being hunted and killed. Then, some other creatures of the wild asked King Solomon – who could understand the language of animals – to help the hoopoe. The king knew exactly what to do. He had the hoopoe’s golden crown replaced with a crest of feathers. Now the hoopoe periodically raises this crest in memory of his crown.


Alan Winerton, from in Harare, is searching for information on his great grandfather, Albert, who once lived in Beaufort West. In the late 1800s Albert Winterton fell seriously ill with pleurisy in England and his doctors advised that the only place where he could expect to be cured of this disease was in the clean dry air of South Africa’s Great Karoo. So, Albert departed almost immediately leaving his wife, Dora, with her mother in the Britain. He travelled to Beaufort West where he booked into Lemoenfontein Sanatorium, a wonderful place nestling on the mountain side on the fringe of town. Albert’s health improved rapidly and as the sanatorium “was being given up” he decided to take it over. He sent for Dora and together they ran the sanatorium receiving many an accolade from British officers sent there to recuperate during the Anglo-Boer War. Albert and Dora acquired the land surrounding the sanatorium and tried their hands at farming. They were quite successful and much of their home-grown produce graced the tables at the sanatorium. The family later moved to town when Albert bought the Wesleyan Parsonage in Donkin Street. His daughter Evelyn bought and edited the ‘Beaufort West Courier’ until she, for some sad reason, committed suicide. She was only 19 years old when she acquired the newspaper and so was one of its youngest editors. Albert continued to run the paper for a while after she died, but then sold it and took over the chemist shop in the village.


Johan Abraham Nel, was a proud man on July 10, 1768. His wife had just given birth to their second child, a son. They decided to call the baby Jacobus and Johan planted an almond tree to honour his birth. Johan and his wife, both previously Stellenbosch burghers, had moved into the Karoo only a short while earlier in search of new farm, but because “her time was near,” they stopped at this spot, near the Sak River. “Then they decided this would be a good place to settle because it had a good, strong fountain, and they called their farm Amandel- boom (almond tree),” said Joachin E P Nel of the Hantam, one day in an address to community leaders on the farm. “The tiny sapling grew into a giant tree. It became an ‘oasis’ in this arid, treeless wilderness, near the Kareeberge (karee mountains) yet, oddly, the tree never bore fruit.” In 1845 Rhenish missionaries Johann Heinrich Lutz and Frederich Wilhelm Beinecke, who both had nursing and teaching experience, pitched their tent near this strong fountain on a farm named Rietfontein, and founded a mission station under a huge almond tree. They also named their mission station Amandelboom. These two men instantly began regular mission work, started a school and solemnised the first marriage on December 12, 1845, between labourers Jan Rooi and Lena Dins. The Word of God spread gradually and within short the little village of Williston was established at Amandelboom. By 1850 large numbers of people in this area had joined the church. Water was scarce, and in an effort to address this problem, Dominee S H Kuhn decided to use dynamite to blast open the mouth of the fountain, in the hopes of increasing its flow. The almond tree vanished in the explosion.


Some people still remember the post office on the farm Elandsvlei, which lies where the Tra-Tra and Doring Rivers meet, halfway between the Cederberg Wilderness and Tanqua Karoo National Park. Many people insist it was always there, but others argue that it was only there for a hundred years. This sets up an argument because some claim it only came in 1871. But they all agree that it was an efficient place, managed by only one family, the Houghs. Lydia Hough, Oom Franz’s wife, ran the post office until 1913 when “Ouma” took over. She stayed till 1930, then her son came and after him Oom Pieter and then Aunt Moutie ran it till it closed in 1987. And, as the locals share stories of this postal agency the name of one woman always comes into the story. She was simply known as Anna Pos and she will never be forgotten in this area. As regular as clockwork, once a week, Anna set off from this office on a 50-mile (80 km) route carrying her post bag over the mountains, across valleys, come rain, hail, or shine. And, every letter reached its destination on time. This was her proud boast. The post was never late! Anna made her way on foot from Wuperthal, through a pass in the Cedarberg, down the course of the Tra-Tra River to Elandsvlei where she spent the night. Early next morning she was off again on her way back. She carried a bugle and used this to sound a mighty blast as she approached any farm for which she had mail. Neither swollen rivers, nor predators deterred her – the post always got through.


When Alan Veasey purchased Rietfontein, the most easterly farm once owned by Matjiesfontein’s legendary James Douglas Logan, all he wanted a getaway, a place to rest, relax and unwind. Then he fell in love with the Karoo and created a superb nature reserve. It is a popular stop in the Karoo today. Here visitors can learn more of this diverse area which has a wide-ranging diversity from succulent Karoo through riverine vegetation to mountain fynbos. “We soon discovered that this was a very special world,” says Alan. “We love sharing it with visitors and groups of students.”


By 1828 the Cape Colony was a vast, almost square, area. Oceans formed its western, southern and south-eastern boundaries, but its northern border was fluid. It was constantly pushed further and further away by pioneer farmers distancing themselves from authority and constantly search for grazing and more land. So, by the late 1820s the north the boundary followed an irregular curve from the mouth of the Buffalo River on the Atlantic seaboard to the confluence of the Riet and Sak Rivers in the Karoo and on to a distinctively shaped mountain called Pramberg. From there it turned sharply up to the Orange River in a straight line and followed the course of the River to Stormberg Spruit. When the Colony’s surveyor-general, Charles Cornwallis Michell, visited this isolated area he was not impressed writes Gordon Richings in The Life and Works of Charles Michell. “For the most part this northern border is the most barren desert to be found on the Earth’s crust,” said Michell. He felt few humans would ever really settle there, but they did. Then, as claims streamed in he found it difficult to determine whether lands applied for were within the Colony, whether crimes had been committed within its borders and exactly which Boers were entitled to claim official protection


In September 1829, road engineer Charles Michell visited the Karoo with Governor, Sir Lowry Cole and an official party. On the edge of this vast area they found only “two miserable huts in which to spend the night and both were full of Boers” who had trekked into the Karoo with their herds to search for grazing. These men good-naturedly vacated one room and a bed for the governor. His aide-de-camp, Major Dundas, slept in the wagon, while Michell and Dickson “rigged up a bivouac under the pole of the wagon and slept on the ground.” Bright and early next morning (September 8) the Governor and his party set off early into the Great Karoo and after two hours of hard travelling arrived at Pienaars Kloof, a “desolate place” belonging to Jacobus du Plessis. Here the family complained desperately to the governor about deprivations they were suffering mainly “caused by tribes of wandering Hottentots.” While the Governor listened intently Michell took time to study Du Plessis’s method of tanning achieved by soaking hides in a mixture of water and mimosa bark. The process so intrigued him that he completed a watercolour of a hide on a tanning frame. He also had time to sketch Mrs du Plessis’s San servant. After breakfast the party continued “through rust coloured country,” towards present day Laingsburg. They stopped at Stephanus Greeff’s farm Zoute Kloof only to discover that neither Greeff nor his wife were at home. As it was getting dark, Major Dundas picked a lock so that the governor could sleep indoors. Some pitched tents, but Michell decided to bed down in a shed containing raw hides. Their smell was so bad that he had to “keep his pipe going almost all night to subdue the fumes.” Next morning Sir Lowry ordered a sum of money to be placed on a table to compensate the Greeffs for his stay. He also insisted that the door be carefully sealed before they set off for their next destination.


As Sir Lowry’s party continued the day became hotter and hotter. The dry red earth and iron-coloured stones reflected this heat to such an extent that Charles Michell prayed it would “never again be his fate to travel over such a dismal waste.” Now and again they saw what they thought was a grassy spot, but mostly it turned out to be a mirage. They reached the Dwyka. River and found it completely dry. To their great relief Beaufort’s former magistrate, John Baird, was waiting there for them with fresh horses. They were horrified when told them the town itself was still two days ride away. So, they continued on “through this hell on earth.” Michell was not having a good time. He’d discovered a scorpion under his pillow. He also suffered dreadful neuralgia and toothache. Shortly before they reached Beaufort a fearful dust storm overtook them. He felt he could go no further. But soon they did reach town and a highpoint was a delicious breakfast of ostrich egg omelette. He thoroughly enjoyed meeting Baird, who like himself was an amateur mineralogist. Baird gave the governor’s party several specimens that he had collected in the area. These included a fossil that he had discovered in the Gamka River bed, some agates from the Orange River area, and some superb green stones which looked rather like “wax and verdigris melted together.” At Beaufort, they were accommodated at the home of Magistrate Meintjies, the brother-in-law of the Andries Stockenstrom, a man destined to become one of the controversial figures of the frontier. Over dinner Meintjies regaled them with tales of a murder in the Nuweveld Mountains and fearful retaliation carried out by local farmers. The son of a farmer named Kruger had been killed by a marauding band of San he said, and Kruger had raised a commando to ride against them. The commando discovered the band’s hideout in the Nuweveld Mountains, shot 15 of the marauders and later killed two more in horrifying circumstances. The farmers were arrested and when the Governor’s party arrived their trial was in progress in the village. As Michell sketched the skulls of one of the victims and six poisoned arrows extracted from the body of a Khoi-khoi herdsman, also killed by the San, he realised he was far away from civilisation.

Always try to read something that would make you look good if you died in the middle of itP J O’Rourke