Booktown, Richmond’s BookBedonnerd book festival, is back on track. It was rescued when the Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of the Western Cape, announced that MadibaLand would move to Booktown Richmond and happily become part of that festival forever. And, there is even more great news. John Banville, the Irish Booker Prize winner, has agreed to open the festival. “Who would have thought it possible that such a great writer would open a festival in a small Karoo town? ” asks Darryl David, one of the organisers. The dates have had to be pushed back by a week and the festival will now take place from Wednesday, November 2, to Saturday, November 5. The programme is, as ever, jam packed with top notch speakers, some very interesting new releases and the Independent Publishers Gala Dinner. Live talks will be streamed around the world and, as promised the patron, Athol Fugard, will be honoured.


A group of keen Karoo explorers will visit the Karoo from October 6 to 10. They will discover the dramatic historical heritage and political history of Graaff-Reinet, visit several museums and fascinating paleontological sites and discover more about the haunting Valley of Desolation. There will also visit the Olive Schreiner House and the Great Fish River museums. Guided tours of Ganora Farm’s fossil and archaeological collections as well as San rock art collection, will be given by farm owner, JP Jan-Peet Steynberg, a paleontological enthusiast. On the adjoining Wellwood Farm, home of the Rubidge family since 1838, the group will meet Professor Bruce Rubidge, director of the DSI/NRF Centre of Excellence: Palaeosciences, University of the Witwatersrand, who has relocated to Graaff-Reinet. He will provide a background of the area’s world-famous fossil heritage. The group will visit the Camdeboo National Park, a conservation area that virtually surrounds Graaff-Reinet and provides access to the spectacular Valley of Desolation. Then, it will be on to seethe Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre as well as the Owl House in Nieu-Bethesda. They will also visit Doringplaas a remarkable fossil site which hosts a very prolific vertebrate and invertebrate fossil, collection including fossilised fish scales, the fossilised burrows of ancient creatures, a variety of ancient skeletons and frozen-wave patterns. Bruce’s grandfather, Sidney, was one of the first people in South Africa to begin the epic task of collecting and documenting the Karoo’s unique and now world-famous 300- million-year-old fossil heritage.


The Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre honours James William Kitching. It was set up over a decade ago to commemmorate James Kitching, who grew up in Nieu-Bethesda and had an amazing ability to find fossils. This earned him the epithet ‘the man with X-ray eyes’. James was employed at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1945 as a technician in BPI Palaeontology. He undertook extensive fieldwork, and in the Karoo found and described specimens of ancient Karoo fossil fauna and drafted a bio stratigraphic scheme for the Karoo. With special permission of the University Senate since he had no undergraduate training, James submitted a PhD on the distribution of Karoo fossils. He was director of BPI Palaeontology prior to his retirement in 1990. While in Nieu Bethesda visitors will also visit the Owl House.


Do you live there? Did you live there? Are you interested in this beautiful little southern Free Stare town with its rich history. Then join the Philippolis Heritage Society’s newly established Whatsapp group – Philippolis Legacy. More from Doreen Atkinson – 071 401 2583 – see also


Music hit some high notes in one of Marthinus van Bart’s research projects, since leaving the cultural heritage pages of Die Burger. During the past ten years, while researching the origins of Afrikaans folk music and boeremusiek, he has stumbled across many amazing – generally unknown – stories. Mostly these came from travel diaries. He explained: “Boeremusiek is actually a sub-genre of Afrikaans folk music. It grew out of a need for instrumental music with or without songs suitable for playing at dances, weddings or birthday parties. I looked out for the instruments generally available to the country people (trekboere) in the mid 1800’s. From the diaries of quite a few travelers I found that people with musical skills often formed themselves into little groups. These consisted of people who mainly played violins, flutes or recorders, guitars, which were mostly homemade and accordions, imported from Germany. The latter were operated only with buttons. The violins were usually owned by the school masters, who mostly played them at religious gatherings to accompany hymns sung by the congregation, or to teach the children how to sing hymns. On some rare occasions seraphine (serafyntjies), were used. These were portable organs with a foot-operated bellows pedal. These early keyed wind instruments emitted sound via the action of air being blown across metallic reeds. The sound was something of a cross between a reed organ and an accordion. When available these interesting little instruments were was added to the orkes, the little folk music bands. Transport, in those days before the railways were built, was only by ox wagon and it was a hazardous undertaking to transport piano-like instruments into the hinterland. Some transporters, however, succeeded, and sometimes a piano was also available to the musicians. Women mostly prided themselves on being proficient at playing the piano.


In his travel diaries Thomas Baines tells how he bought the first imported accordions (German and Italian) in the early 1850’s from ships’ captains in the harbours of Durban and Port Elizabeth. These shipments were actually mostly on their way from Germany to America, but some seafarers were willing to trade a few instruments for elephant tusks (ivory). These accordions, however, were very delicate, that only a few eventually found new owners in a usable state. Most fell apart during trips on South Africa’s rough, rugged, inland routes. Research revealed that the Voortrekkers were very keen to trade ivory for accordions, but many instruments did not survive the demonstration sessions. Some of the young men who acquired these instruments were far too enthusiastic to show off their prowess and handled the instruments far too roughly for their delicate construction, writes Baines. In addition to being an explorer, naturalist and a very capable all-round artist, Thomas Baines was also quite a musician of note. He could play the accordion, violin and piano. He is also said to have danced very well, performing Scottish and Irish jigs and reels astonishingly well. Girls loved to dance with him.


Research showed Marthinus that music knows no boundaries or barriers. It is not inhibited by race, class, war or peace. He mentions Victor Pohl, who in his biography, The Adventures of a Boer FamilyWedervaringe van ‘n Boeregesin, tells how his parents taught him and his two sisters to play the piano. Victor’s love of music inspired him to try his hand at the violin. He fell in love with this instrument. He was only a youngster of about 14 the Anglo-Boer War broke out and he was arrested as a Boer spy. His mother had sent him to the nearest trading post to buy some groceries when British soldiers spotted him, arrested and carted him off to Green Point Camp in Cape Town as a spy without even informing his family. “He was destined to be deported to an overseas concentration camp.” writes Marthinus. In the camp Victor found an old weather-beaten violin, managed to fix it and started practicing the lessons he could recall. His eldest sister, a teacher, intervened and he was not deported, but banished, on parole to Grahamstown to live with her. There he met an Englishman, Harry Brislin. He was so touched by this young Afrikaans boy who was so very dedicated to trying to master music on this bashed-up violin, that he took out his prized Irish Perry violin, (the Irish equivalent of the much sought-after Italian Stradivarius), and gave it to Victor as a present. The boy could hardly believe his eyes. He treasured this violin throughout his lifetime. In time he became a truly accomplished violinist, and also taught others to play on this instrument. Marthinus would love to know more about Harry Brislin? Was he an 1820 Settler, or a first generation of the settlers? If anyone knows more contact at

MUSIC OF THE PLAINS – During the Anglo Boer war Joseph Adamstein played his violin at the old Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein. Many patients recalled the emotive sounds of this instrument echoing plaintively across the lonely plains, particularly at night.


A mystery surrounds one of the exhibits in the War Museum in Bloemfontein, says Marthinus. On display is an instrument said to be a “Stradivarius violin”. It was allegedly found hidden in the wall of a sheep kraal just after the Anglo-Boer War. Some violin experts doubt the provenance of this instrument. Several experts say that many cheap East European fiddles were imported to South Africa shortly before the war broke out and that some of these were actually labeled “Stradivarius” to mislead the unsuspecting public. Close examination of photographs of the “Stradivarius” in the museum has raised sharp suspicions that this instrument could be one of those fakes. “Some experts say it just does not look like an instrument made by Antoni Stadivarius.”


Another interesting question is how and when mouth organs came to South Africa, and how they came to be integrated with the other “traditional” boeremusiek instruments. The oldest German manufacturer, Hohner of Trossingen, exported their very first diatonic mouth organs to America in 1896. Some of these instruments are said to have ended up with the Boers of the Transvaal and Orange Free State Republics just before the Anglo-Boer War broke out in October. 1899. “I would love to hear from any Round-up reader who has more detailed information on the history of this instrument in South Africa,” says Marthinus, who can be contacted at or 072 740 5203. On display in the War Museum in Bloemfontein is a diatonic harmonica called the Tremolo Echo-Harp, said to have been played by a Boer on commando during the Anglo-Boer War. “This can’t be because the Tremolo Echo-Harp was only manufactured by Hohner in 1925.”


Each boeremusiek band in South Africa, has a unique musical style, depending on the combination of instruments, types of concertina, accordions, harmonicas and guitars in the mix. Over the years, this traditional South African style of music has become popular right across the country. On his travels Farmer’s Weekly journalist, Roelof Bezuidenhout met a farming couple, Theo and Riekie Slabbert of Bloemhof farm, near Klipplaat in the Eastern Cape. who claim that old “stamper” (percussion) drills and vastrap concertinas were the music of the arid interior. This couple operate three Dreyer percussion drills and have a band called Theo en die Noorsvelders, one of SA’s most popular “barnyard bands”. In Roelof’s article published on June 20, 2008, Theo states that the first decent concertina dates back to 1880, a time when cable and tool drilling rigs started operating in the Cape. “This makes boreholes and boeremusiek about the same age.” This couple owns 24 different traditional musical instruments including four concertinas. “They really know their boeremusiek,” says Roelof. “It’s a sound that grows on you,” said Riekie. Theo quipped that he often practises his concertina to the beat of a 1950 16-horsepower Deutz engine when drilling.


Theo explained that the vastrap, a truly South African rhythm and dance, was most functional. It dates back to the pioneering days when farmhouses had mud floors and parties were the only entertainment, he said. “Before a family moved into a newly-built home, they would invite the neighbours for a vastrap to stomp down the fresh soil used for the floors. The polka was too quick as it would kick up too much dust. So they did the slower vastrap because the characteristic ‘hopping’ helped to compact the floors.” Roelof added that President Franklin D Roosevelt is reported to have enjoyed boeremusiek so much that he ordered a few records via General Jan Smuts. “Research reveals that five American presidents – Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Rooseveldt, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisehower and Ronald Reagan played the harmonica. Reagan took up playing this instrument while recovering from an assassination attempt.”


Every Boer believes himself to be a born musician, stated The Hampshire Telegraph and Naval Chronicle in Portsmouth, England, in 1900. Every Boer homestead possesses some musical instrument, as a rule a concertina. The concertina is in use every day and at all hours of the day across their farms. When a Boer goes away on a transport journey he takes his concertina. From every wagon trekking along the dusty road you will hear strains of this instrument breaking out on the quiet air and if you give a back ward glance you will see him stretched out on his mattress grinding out some world-forgotten tune. When night closes in he plays himself to sleep.”


Calvinia-born automotive engineer, Edsell Keith Helfet, became the principal stylist at Jaguar Motor Corporation in the 1990s. He says he lost that odd first name, chosen by his dad Arthur, who was a Ford dealer in his day. Keith produced some iconic car designs and his work was greatly admired by Sir William Lyons, who had shaped the character of design at Jaguar for decades. Keith, the son of Edna and Arthur Helfet, designed the high-performance Jaguars, Type XJ-220, XK-180 and the stillborn Jaguar F-Type concept car, which was to be aimed at a sporty market and claimed by Automobile to be: “Gorgeous from every angle.” Keith graduated from the University of Cape Town with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1974. He then turned to art. He had a natural affinity for automotive design and was accepted as a student, into the most prestigious automotive styling programme in the world, at the Royal College of Art in London. He joined Jaguar Motor Corporation in England in 1978 and became the principal designer in the Styling Department in 1999. Keith later established his own company, Helfet Design.


Keith’s grandfather, Leon Helfet, was a well-known and respected business man in Calvinia. Born in Poltava in the Ukraine in 1879, he emigrated from Russia to England with his family when he was 17. The family settled in Liverpool. Leon then joined an evening class at the Jewish public school to learn English. There he met and fell in love with his 16-year-old teacher, the beautiful Sarah Ann Levin. He proposed, she accepted and they were “betrothed”. The economy in England was so depressed in the 1890s that Leon left for South Africa, shortly after his 19th birthday to “see if he could better himself”. He told Sarah that he would send for her as soon as he managed to establish himself. That was to take seven years. When he arrived in Cape Town he discovered that jobs were scarce, but he was accepted into the local Jewish community, advised, mentored and trained in business practices. He went to Worcester and started selling picture frames, but this did not work out. He then heard of good business opportunities in Calvinia. It was an enormous district and men who were willing to take their merchandise to the farmers, to also buy their produce, could do well, they said. This sounded attractive to Leon so he set off, settled in Calvinia, started a small shop in Water Street, and served the outlying area. In time this became one of the largest businesses in the North West Cape.


During the Anglo-Boer War Calvinia shopkeepers were kept very busy supplying the British forces with foodstuffs, tents, wagons, mules, horses and all other needs. Business was brisk and profitable and Leon was soon able to afford a home for his beloved Sarah. Leon designed the house himself after studying some of the beautiful Victorian houses in Cape Town and adding some design elements from his memory of Ukrainian homes. He contracted two Russian Jewish brothers to build it for him. Construction began in 1904 and he named the house Carmel Villa after Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. He did not spare on costs of material nor fittings. He wanted only the best for the girl he loved. Only once this beautiful house was finished did he send for her. They were married in the Old Gardens Synagogue in Cape Town in 1905. After a brief honeymoon they set off on a five day, 250-mile (402-km) journey to Calvinia. They travelled first by train to Eendekuil, 150-km (241-km) away, then by a light, covered and sprung wagon drawn by four horses. They were jolted about on the rough rugged roads and bashed by suitcases, boxes of wedding gifts and trunks containing Sarah’s trousseau.


It was mid-summer and extremely hot. Sarah was dressed in a fashionable, gaberdine summer dress, but it was frilled, high-necked and long-sleeved. Also, she was wearing corsets, bloomers and petticoats. She was far from comfortable. The beauty of the veld was lost on her as they zigzagged up the Pakhuis Pass and bumped along through the hot, dusty Karoo. At one stage she asked for the carriage to be stopped, went and lay down at a rock and sorrowfully said: “Leon you carry on and leave me here to die, I have had enough!” She was encouraged to proceed. The hardships were forgotten when she reached the gate of Carmel Villa. It took her breath away. And once she was carried over the threshold and up the long passage to the dining room where a huge mahogany table groaned under “goodies” brought by locals to welcome her, all the tribulations of the road were forgiven. This was a warm-hearted community and she felt instantly at home. They had six children. Their first, a son, Arthur, arrived on February 17,1907. He was Keith’s father. He died in New York in 1989.

The Forgotten Highway Horse Cavalcade sets off from Sutherland on October 22 – Remember

There’s a Chinese proverb that says: ”Don’t listen to what they say, go see.”