A scattering of tales from the Story Weaver ...

 Telling tales at the ATKV "Radio Schouwburg" evening in November 2016

A Karoo Tale: A Fishy Story

The tourist stood on the pavement, a broad hat shaded his face but his puzzled expression was clearly visible. Behind him his fellow travellers filled the windows of the small bus carrying them on a Christmas holiday trip through the Karoo.

Air-conditioning explained the closed windows which transformed their conversation into mime – fingers pointed, eyebrows raised, their perplexity was clear to see.

The object of their speculation was a frangipani tree, or rather the plastic bags suspended from its branches, each filled with water and a glistening, glassy-eyed goldfish. A closer look revealed that the flimsy fins and iridescent scales were plastic.

As the tourist raised his camera to record this strange sight the front door of the house behind the tree opened and the owner emerged.

“Hello,” said the tourist, "We’re all wondering about this here tree, what’s it about?"

“It’s our Christmas tree, we decorate it every year.”

“Right, but what’s with the fish?”

“Oh, they’re there to catch the tourists.”

The visitor turned and stepped towards the bus; he opened the door and stood on the step:

“They’re there to catch the tourists!” he reported.

The bus erupted with laughter and the passengers poured out to take their own photos. Frangipani, fish and the family, all preserved for posterity in pixels, a most unusual Karoo scene to be shown to friends and family in England.

“Best Christmas tree I’ve ever seen, mate,” one said as they clambered back into their bus …

An extract from “Of Fish and Flies”, a story from a book in the making by The Story Weaver.  

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  A Karoo Tale: Vygies and Fossils


Story Weaver quote in Storyteller's journal
Gordon’s Koppie is one of the few sites where the vygie Bijlia cana is to be found. This rare plant which takes its name from Deborah van der Bijl, who discovered it. The van der Bijl family story is a little Karoo treasure:

William van der Bijl was born at Stellenbosch in 1866. Serious health problems meant that he spent only two years at school, but he studied on his own at home, eventually writing his matriculation exams. He soon headed for the gold fields of the Witwatersrand and made and lost two fortunes before returning to the Cape to manage John X Merriman’s farm, Schoongezicht. He married Deborah Malan and the couple eventually came to live at Abrahamskraal – a farm in the Prince Albert district. It was a barren place with a two-roomed shed and a single fig tree, but nothing deterred William and he set up a chain of fifteen dams and developed extensive wheat and lucerne lands.

William and Deborah built a gracious home, raised a large family and enjoyed entertaining visitors. Some fascinating people came to stay: the Struben brothers who had discovererd the Witwatersrand gold reef, the famous palaeontologists Sidney Haughton and Robert Broom, botanists from all over Europe and the opera singer Cecilia Wessels. 

Deborah and William were an amazing couple, besides running the busy farm they each developed their own particular hobbies to the extent that they became acknowledged international experts in their fields. 

Deborah was fascinated with Mesembryanthemums - that’s vygies to you and me - the little succulents which thrive in the Karoo. She established a vygie garden at Abrahamskraal and struck up a correspondence with Mr. Brown, the Curator of Kew Gardens. As she discovered new plants, she sent him specimens. Several had not been scientifically described, so they received her name, or the names of her children, which is how we come to have the Bijlia cana. Deborah was a member of the Cactus and Succulent Societies of Great Britain and the USA and submitted many articles to both their journals. She corresponded with the great South African botanist Bolus, after whom the herbarium at Kirstenbosch is named and the family papers include some delightful letters from a palaeontologist at the University of Tübingen who made several trips to the farm to collect fossils and took back a great number of plants for the Botanical Gardens in his home town. 

Mentioning fossils brings me to William. His mild interest in the fossils which regularly turned up on the farm developed into a passion and he became an acknowledged expert. Dr Robert Broom wrote about him in his Great Book of Fossils

“I succeeded in getting Mr. van der Byl to pay less attention to Pareiasaurs which were well known, and more to the Dinocephalian specimens even though imperfect; and as a result, while very little was known about those giants twelve years ago, now our knowledge is fairly satisfactory and almost all we know is due to Mr. van der Byl...” 

All William’s discoveries were sent to the South African Museum.  

Abrahamskraal has been renovated and is now a guest house and a popular wedding venue, filled once more with visitors, no doubt Deborah and William would be delighted. It’s good to remember this happy couple, whose interest in the stones and tiny plants which flourished among them, brought them such satisfaction and contributed new scientific knowledge to the world.  

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A Karoo Tale: Gordon's Koppie - a gentle stroll

 

Gordon’s Koppie lies behind the village. As Summer settles into our memories and the cooler days of Autumn beckon, more folk will set out for a stroll along the koppie. A brief clamber takes you to the top of the low hill with its well marked path, which affords a gentle walk with magnificent views across the village and the Great Karoo. 

The views are captivating, yet Gordon’s Koppie has more to offer: a quietness which might be touched, tiny vignettes made up of stones and tough little plants, flowers in due season and a sense of space and time which evokes infinity.

In May 1999 the koppie was officially named after Captain Robert Jacob Gordon. The South African author and poet Patrick Cullinan unveiled a granite slab bearing Gordon's name and the date 1778, the year in which he sat on this hill to paint the view to the East, which included the farm Queekvallei. The painting is part of the Reijksmuseum collection in Amsterdam, a copy hangs in our Fransie Pienaar Museum.

Patrick was the obvious person to perform the ceremony, since he is the author of a comprehensive biography called Robert Jacob Gordon 1743 - 1795 The Man and His Travels at the Cape

Gordon was a 'Renaissance man', a Dutch soldier of Scots descent with an intense curiosity about local flora and fauna, whose journals record the intricacies of the land he explored. He commented upon the geology, weather, topography and even the atmospheric pressure. Gordon had an aptitude for languages and was able to converse with the African peoples he met on his journeys, showing great interest in their customs and ceremonies. He eventually became the Commander of the Castle at the Cape and his life came to a dramatic and tragic end when he committed suicide after the British occupied theCapein 1795. If I have whetted your appetite, read Patrick’s book for more about this fascinating man.

Back to the koppie: after rain it brings forth new life. Bright splashes of colour demand attention. Tiny florets appear on dry wooden stems, fleshy leaves cradle clumps of yellow petals beneath the protection of thorny bushes. Gordon's Koppie is one of the few places where the mesembryanthemum Bijlia cana flowers. Daisies seem to grow out of solid rock, making one wonder how their roots find purchase and seek out water. Prehistoric, leathery leaves spread across barren land, send forth flowers and seed as swiftly as possible, then dry back into obscurity until the next rains.

Climb the koppie in the morning when all is still and sounds carry over a great distance. You might hear bleating from the sheep grazing the scrub beside the Weltevrede road, or a dog barking down at the dairy. The church clock chimes the hour and the village stirs.

In the evenings a cooling breeze sweeps down from the Swartberg, rustling the leaves and stirring the air, while the rocks still hold the heat of the day. Sit on the same hill as Robert Gordon to watch a fiery sunset, then head down towards the village in the last lingering light, before sky darkens into the grandeur of star-filled night. 

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One of my children's stories ...

 

Katinka Klipspringer – the Ballerina of the Berg

 

I am Katinka Klipspringer, the ballerina of the berg, I dance in the mountains, springing up and up and up to the highest crag. 

I balance on my little rounded hooves, just like a ballerina on point, about to soar into a jetté which will take me to the next rock. 

You might have seen me in the Swartberg Pass , but perhaps you drove past me and my family and never noticed me at all, because I am a mistress of disguise. My coat is dappled grey and brown, with just a touch of yellow and when I stand still, as still as can be, I simply disappear into the background - isn’t that clever? 

There’s something magical about my coat – every hair is hollow. So in winter air is trapped in each hollow and my body warms it up and my coat becomes a luxurious blanket keeping me warm on the coldest days. In summer the layer of hair and air keeps me from getting too hot under the baking sun. 

I am a glamorous lady, a mysterious lady, a lovely lady and I celebrate my glamour and mystery and loveliness in dance. 

Every season brings something to celebrate with a dance of joy! 

In the Spring many of the little succulents that we eat send forth new shoots. They are crisp and juicy and delicious – so I dance for joy! What do you like about the Spring? 

In the summer the days are hot and our large, lovely ears act like little air conditioners to keep us cool – so I dance for joy! What do you like about the Summer? 

In the Autumn the mountain fynbos glows with colour as the proteas and erica’s flower, the sunbirds flit among the blooms and the bees have a feast day – so I dance for joy! What do you like about the Autumn? 

In the Winter snow covers the highest peaks and we must dig through its icy crispness to find shoots to eat – but the sun shines and melts the ice – so I dance for joy! What do you like about the Winter? 

What ever it is that you like about the Spring and the Summer and the Autumn and the Winter make sure that you celebrate it with a dance of joy! 

Nature has given us another present – another reason to dance for joy – Water. We don’t drink it like you humans - we get all the water we need from the delicious little shoots we eat. No, we enjoy water for the sparkling light it gives us in the mountains. There is rushing water and seeping water and gentle flowing water. 

Have you ever played in a mountain stream? The silvery water rushes over slippery rocks and sparkles in the sun. It makes a happy sound and it makes our hooves glossy and shiny just like jewels. 

Sometimes the water seeps gently from the rocks and the rocks change colour from a soft pink to a rich orange and little plants that are food to eat grow at their feet. 

Sometimes the water flows across the land like a silver necklace among the green, ‘biessies’ grow at its side – a place for us to hide and nibble tasty little titbits. 

Water makes us dance for joy! 

Next time you visit the Swartberg Mountains keep a look out for me and my family. My husband Ivan is a handsome fellow. He has two small horns between his lovely large ears. He can dance just as beautifully as me, climbing effortlessly to the highest peak. 

When you see us you might think we are kissing each other – but what we are doing is sniffing at the lovely scent that comes from little brown pockets just beneath our eyes. I carry my scent all around me like an expensive perfume so that Ivan always knows where I am and I can raise my lovely, elegant nose and take a sniff – and know that he is near. 

Last Spring we had our first little fawn – we called him Boris. While we were waiting for him to be born and while he was nursing, I had to eat lots of food – can you guess what Ivan did? He stood guard, watching out for our biggest enemy – leopard, while I ate my fill. Our males never eat as much as we girls – nature is clever that way. 

If you see us on a rocky slope stand still and listen. If Ivan thinks you are too close he will whistle – and if he is really worried he can ROAR!  And if he roars we head for a higher peak – leaping into the air with our four little feet tight together - landing so gracefully all on point. For we are klipspringers, the elegant, glamorous, beautiful, dainty ballet dancers of the berg!

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A Karoo Tale: Memories of a gabled houseThe Heritage Quilt can be seen in our Library

There are many gracious old homes in Prince Albert. Those built by Carel Lotz between 1850 and 1860 bear his particular signature, a gable, unique to each house, although collectively known as the Prince Albert Gables. Onse Rus, in the main road, is one of Carel’s designs. 

Another story on this page tells of fourteen year old Almaro Oosthuizen crossing the Zwartberg Pass in a mule cart with teachers from the local school, a journey which ended in a hurried descent of the zig-zags to avoid driving in the dark. Years later Almaro’s son (named after his father) recorded some recollections of life at Onse Rus with his grandparents. He had many happy memories of the house where he spent the school terms. In those days it was a rambling old place and Almaro’s favourite room was the pantry, a small room at the end of the passage which his sisters reckoned should have been a bathroom, but because it was fitted with shelves it was used as a pantry. Imagine the many delights to be found there – jams and preserved fruit, biltong and biscuits, a treasure trove for a young, growing lad. 

Growing he most certainly was and these were the days of the Great Depression, so there wasn’t any spare money for clothes. When Almaro needed new clothes he had to bring a pair of tame springbok from the farm to sell to local shopkeeper Piet Doppies for money to buy a suit, which was made for him by the tailor, 'Man Rank', who rented a room off the long front stoep at Onse Rus. In those days the stoep was covered, but the façade has been returned to its original state. 

Almaro had another delightful memory from those cash-strapped days. The local bank manager, Mr. Erasmus, was a resourceful man and he devised a scheme to help keep the local economy ticking over. Everyone in town was to get a few chickens so that the eggs could be sold to a guaranteed buyer – the Egg Circle in Cape Town. Almaro reckoned that there wasn’t a single moment of the day or night when the sound of a chicken laying an egg couldn’t be heard in Prince Albert! He and his sister raised over 300 chickens on the family farm, which brought in a tidy sum. 

Almero left us in 1999 and as the years pass, memories fade and stories are lost, but the few that are preserved bring back wonderful pictures of days gone by. As you stand on a quiet evening gazing on the gables, the white-washed walls and thatched roofs of houses like Onse Rus, whispers of the past beckon you to find out more.

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A Karoo Tale: The opening of the Swartberg Pass

On the 10th of January 1888 a jubilant parade passed under three triumphal arches stretched across Church Street in Prince Albert, heading for the summit of the Zwartberg Pass and the official opening ceremony.

Thomas Bain had worked with some 230 convicts, building the pass with shovels, pick-axes and sheer muscle-power. Huge rocks had been heated with fire then doused with water, splitting with resounding cracks, followed by the crash of sledgehammers as the convicts broke them into yet smaller pieces. 

Thomas must have walked or ridden across the pass hundreds of times, directing the construction of the dry stone walls which support the road as it winds its way through the mountains. When viewed from below, the walls which carry the road up the twisting zig-zags on the Prince Albert side of the pass, might be mediaeval ramparts. 

What an exciting occasion it must have been. More than a hundred pony-traps and mule carts made their way up the mountain, accompanied by men on horseback. Ladies wore their best frocks, their colourful hats and parasols protecting them from the fierce sun. Flags were paraded, bearing the words: Labor Omnia Vincit – work conquers all; Aanhou Wen and Never Despair. At the former workstation site the crowd mingled with guests from Oudtshoorn, the Union Flag was hoisted and Colonel Schermbrucker, the Commissioner of Crown Lands performed the official opening.  The Oudtshoorn Courant reports as follows: 

“Colonel Schermbrucker, in a pronounced German accent said: “Mr Bain is a wonderful man. Show him an easy place to make a road, he shakes his head and says: “No”, but show him a place where a monkey can’t get out and he will jump at it like a cat!” 

“Mr Bain’” asked the Colonel: “Are you ready to hand over the Pass?” 

“I am ready.” was the reply.” 

The Colonel’s daughter, Gertrude, shattered a bottle of champagne against a rock and a twenty-one gun salute echoed across the pass. Colonel Schermbrucker, with a Victorian sense of the dramatic, proclaimed:  

“We stand here as conquerors today – we have conquered nature, which at one time appeared insuperable!” 

The celebrations continued with breakfast served by the Divisional Council of Prince Albert followed by a luncheon for the guests of honour, provided by the Oudtshoorn Divisional Council. The excitement spilled over to the next day when a large crowd visited the Cango Caves and another celebratory meal was enjoyed.  

Today people stop for picnics at the site of the grand celebrations, where a commemorative plaque was unveiled a hundred years later, as Colonel Schermbrucker’s great-granddaughter did the honours with a champagne bottle. Gazing across the sweep of the mountains visitors can follow the line of the road, a swirl of dust indicating more travellers taking advantage of Bain’s foresight and engineering skill. It is a tranquil place, where Black Eagles soar and the wind, stirring the pine trees, whispers a blessing upon Thomas’ name.  

 

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A Karoo Tale: Children of the Stars 

In days gone by Bushmen lived on the plain which lies beforePrince Albertand they wandered the foothills of the Swartberg. Their touch was gentle, even the softest breeze might blow their footprints from the dust and carry away the sounds of their splashing through the sparkling waters at the foot of the mountains.  

Here and there they left signs in ochre and black and white pigments: a pair of eland on a rock face at Weltevrede, small handprints in a cave, a hunter poised to throw his spear; at Scholtzkloof a swallow, who soars between this world and the next, carrying spirit’s cry and human’s questions into eternity. 

At Tierberg ostrich shell beads and chipped stones tell the tale of a people who lived as one with the land, understanding its every breath and  relying upon it for food, shelter and clothing. 

Sometimes, in the gentleness of Karoo morning, or the stark, shimmering heat of full blown day, mind’s eye watches a line of brown hunters running across the veld, following the signs which show the passage of a herd of buck. 

But it is at night that the spirits of the Bushmen fill the Karoo. When a million stars arch in splendour across the firmament I am reminded of their belief that they were children of the stars. Each pinprick of light in the blue-black sky the essence of a beautiful child who lived in harmony with the earth. Sit quietly beneath those stars and listen for the crackle of the fire, the click of conversation and laughter, and rejoice in a blessing from a gentle people, custodians of the earth and keepers of the Karoo.    

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A Karoo Tale: Almero Oosthuizen crosses the Pass

In the early days of the Zwartberg Pass many mule carts and pony traps took advantage of the splendid new route across the mountains. Almero Oosthuizen was born and raised on Droogekloof, a farm near the village, as was his father before him. Almero once related this tale of a trip his father (also named Almero) took over the Pass when he was a youngster of fourteen. 

During the school terms Almero boarded with Dominee Adriaan Hofmeyr and his wife at the parsonage. One day during 1892 the lad was asked to drive three lady teachers from the school to a meeting in Oudtshoorn. Bright and early he buckled the mules into their harnesses, eased them into the shafts of the cart and set out on an uneventful trip through the Pass, down to the bustling town of Oudtshoorn. While the teachers attended their meeting, Almero enjoyed a lazy few hours sitting in the shade, eating his lunch and chatting to people, then wandering around, admiring the shops and the fine horses and wagons in the busy streets.

The hours ticked by and Almero began to worry that they wouldn’t make it home before dark. Eventually they started for home, but by the time they began the descent from ‘Die Top’ it was dusk. The young man yelled lustily and cracked his whip, for he had no wish to descend the zig-zags in the dark, and the mules set off down the pass at a brisk pace. They got to Droëwaterval  at the foot of the zig-zags just before darkness fell and arrived home by moonlight.  

The tale was often retold over the years and young Almero asked: “Weren’t you frightened?” “Oh no,” replied his dad –“you know the road is fairly straight from there, but I’ll tell you what bothered me, son, it was the shrieking and screaming of those silly teachers - it was loud enough to wake the dead!”  

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A Karoo Tale: Thoughts on a sunny Saturday ...

It started small: a few tables on the dusty square, a few people's enthusiasm and drive carried it forth. Dried fruit here, pies there, veggies from gardens and a smattering of crafts. Then a braai fire appeared, spluttering as roosterkoek swelled and browned. We ate 'bazaar pudding' in summer and soup in winter and sometimes the sizzle of sausages scented the air and tummies rumbled in anticipation.

R5.00 a table – was that really all it cost? Yet how far that money has gone: first the 'biesiedak' rose to provide shade; then a proper bridge replaced the planks over the furrow. Trees were planted and a banner advertised the Saturday Market... 

A place to buy local produce, cakes and meat; somewhere to find the little extra’s like nuts and scented posies and moist meringues; to enjoy a cup of coffee and – oh most fulfilling of facts – catch up on the gossip! It’s not REALLY gossip, just the village news, the current topics of discussion, concern for one’s neighbour – oh alright, gossip!

So we gather, baskets in hand, chatting away, pouncing upon the plenty and celebrating what the village has to offer. To greet friends not seen for seven long days, smile at visitors and enjoy their delight at the variety of jams and olives and biscuits and rusks. To tap the beat as musicians frolic through boeremusiek. To taste the cinnamon sprinkled on a pancake. To savour the scene, the buzz and the sense of satisfaction that is the Saturday Market in Prince Albert. 

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A Karoo Tale: "Die Oog"

Prince Albert lies stretched beneath a long, low hill called Gordon’s Koppie. A well marked path threads its way up and along the top, giving walkers a bird's eye view of the village and providing a look-out across the Great Karoo. It makes a wonderful place for a sun-downer. As you lift your glass of wine you can watch the sunset creating a fiery spectacle in the western sky as lights flicker on in the village and a swirl of dust rises on the gravel road to the East. 

Had you sat there on many an evening between 1940 and 1955 you might have seen a strange light moving across the veld to the northeast of the village. Starting as a small glow, it grew to a brilliant ball of fire which the locals dubbed 'Die Oog' (the Eye). The light would sweep across the veld and seemed to be attracted to metallic objects such as gates or motor cars. Appearing as if from nowhere, it would either rush away across the veld to fizzle out in the distance, or simply disappear, like a candle being snuffed out.    

Oom Awie Snyders told a splendid tale of his encounter with 'Die Oog'. He was a teacher at a farm school on the Seekoegat Road and one evening he drove into Prince Albert to attend a meeting. He took one of his pupils with him, young Willie Niehaus, who wanted to visit his Ouma. Once Awie's meeting was over and he had collected Willie, they headed back to the farm.

The night was clear, crisp and moonless, the stars shining in all their splendour and as they turned onto the farm road they saw another vehicle come over the koppie ahead of them, both cars were heading for the same gate. The other car stopped at the gate and as they drew near young Willie remarked that it must have a problem, as it appeared to have only one headlight. As they stopped on their side of the gate the 'headlight' started to get brighter ... and bigger .. until neither Awie nor Willie could look at it. They realised they had encountered 'Die Oog'. The light hovered on the other side of the gate and then, quite suddenly, it vanished.  At this point in his story Oom Awie would twinkle and say: "and I made little Willie Niehaus get out of the car, to open the gate!"    

Last seen in 1955, when it accompanied a motorist from the Prince Albert Road station right through to the airfield outside the village, 'Die Oog' remains a Karoo mystery... but perhaps we will learn more, for there have been whispers that it has re-appeared near Treinjiesrivier.

 

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A Karoo Tale:  An Anglo-Boer War love story 

Early in 2004 I was waiting outside the Museum for guests for the Ghost Walk when a visitor chanced by. We got talking, her name was Ann Raats and she was visiting Prince Albert to find out more about her grandmother, Marie Botes, who was born in the district in the 1870’s.                           

Marie came from pioneering stock, her grandfather was Gerrit Maritz who left the Graaff Reinet district during the Great Trek and headed north to escape British domination. As a teenager Marie married a Mr Griessel and settled in the Orange Free State. When war was declared her husband joined the Boer forces, leaving Marie and the children to run the farm, relying on black servants to help with the heavy work, until one terrible day when a contingent of British troopers rode over the koppie. 

Marie was told to pack some essentials, while the soldiers looked for any valuables. Marie and her oldest son had buried the few bits of silver and crockery they treasured some weeks before, half expecting just this sort of visit. Some of the troopers set about killing the chickens to take with them for dinner that night and once the family was assembled on a wagon before their house, they shattered the few windows, opened the door and threw burning torches into the building. As the wagon pulled away the sound of sobbing and bewildered questions from the children rose above the crackling of the fire. 

Marie, her four sons and small daughter were loaded onto a train and disembarked at a concentration camp. In this most brutal stage of the Anglo-Boer War thousands of women and children were transported to camps to prevent them supporting their menfolk who had resorted to commando raids on the British army. They struggled to survive in tents with inadequate water, too few pit toilets and too little food. Malnutrition and harsh weather brought about epidemics, soon graveyards could be seen alongside the fences which surrounded the camps. In some camps desperate military doctors did what they could with inadequate supplies and facilities but conditions continued to deteriorate and the death rate rose. 

Into this depressing scene rode Captain Soudy, a man with a conscience. An officer in the Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, he had served in the Graaff Reinet district and knew the Karoo. He had been wounded and once restored to health – albeit with a bad limp, he was transferred to camp duty. 

Captain Soudy viewed the camp with horror. He obtained more rations for the prisoners, made sure the women were treated politely and paid visits to those who lost their children. So it was that one sad day he called on Marie Griessel, whose little daughter had died in the night. He expressed his regret at her death and asked if there was anything he could do. 

Marie stood, a proud Boer woman, with her four sons gathered about her, “Yes,” she said “you can get me a coffin for my child.” 

A great tragedy of the war was that there was often no dominee to say a prayer at the graveside and there were simply no coffins. Women and children who died in the camps were wrapped in a sheet or a blanket and often even that covering was quietly removed before the soil was shovelled over the body. But Marie could not bear to think of her child smothered in the clinging soil – she wanted the dignity of a coffin. 

Captain Soudy promised he would do what he could. He limped to the farmhouse where he and the medical officer were billeted and called his sergeant. “Bring me a munitions box” he ordered. The short box would be just long enough for the child. Within the hour he stooped to enter Marie’s tent and delivered the box, which Marie lined with her blue silk dress – hastily packed as she had left her farmhouse. The child was gently laid in the makeshift coffin and carried to her grave. 

Months passed and the War ended. Marie and the boys said a last farewell at the graveyard and set off for home. The burnt out ruins of the farmhouse provided no shelter but they retrieved the few treasures they had buried and set about starting their lives again. There was no word from Mr Griessel – but cordial letters were exchanged between Marie and Captain Soudy. Word finally came that Mr Griessel had died in the war and Captain Soudy paid a visit. 

Shortly after that he carried Marie off as his bride to start a new life near Graaff Reinet - Ann Raats is their granddaughter - so a Boer War story with a sad beginning did have a joyful end.  

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A Karoo Tale: The Caveman of Prince Albert

Few people know about the “Caveman” of Prince Albert. Marie Kruger, a long-time resident of Prince Albert, compiled a book of memories for her grandchildren, among which is her tale of Hendrick Rheerders: 

During the 1930’s Hendrick, a quiet, reclusive man, moved into a cave near Eerstewater, at the entrance to the Swartberg Pass. He lived very simply and believed everyone should work hard, so every day he collected kindling and took it through to Prince Albert to sell.  

The few pennies he made paid for his food and a little tobacco and any left over were collected in an old tin. When the tin was full he would take it to Tant Hannie Kruger, Marie’s mother, a kindly soul who helped him open a post office account, and since it was his wish, to buy a grave-plot in the cemetery.  

The years passed – Hendrick continued to sell kindling and live in his little cave. Tant Hannie kept a weather-eye on him and applied for a disability pension on his behalf – it was granted, “on condition that Mrs Kruger administer the funds”. Hendrick couldn’t have been in better hands. Tant Hannie had a couple of baskets made and once a week she would buy his groceries, making sure he always had some nice dates or sweets and a tin of his favourite fish. Hendrick would collect his groceries and carry them home in his basket, leaving the empty one for the following week’s shopping. If he forgot, Tant Hannie and her husband Dirk would clamber up to his little cave and make sure he was alright.  

From time to time Hendrick would be fitted out with new clothes – but before he could try on anything at Oom Sor’s shop he had to have his hair cut, have a shave and take a bath in the zinc bath! He would head home in his neat new clothes and the next week trundle into town with his old, work-worn trousers over the new pair! 

Tant Hannie grew older and was taken ill. She worried over what would become of Hendrick. After consulting her neighbours, Oom Christie Vlok and his wife, she drew up a will stating that Hendrick was to live with them, for she knew they would love and care for him.  

As Tant Hannie lay dying Hendrick would come to visit – with tales of strangers who had visited him in the night, no-one could make head nor tail of it, and then one day he announced that he had built a gateway to heaven – his very own gate, just for him, but one other person could use it – and that was Tant Hannie. Marie remembered his grief when he visited her mother in her sickroom and knew the end was near.  

Soon the day came, Tant Hannie used Hendrick’s gateway to heaven and he moved into town – but the Zwarteberge called and he soon headed back to Eerstewater. When someone stole his few small possessions from his cave he was heart-broken. Dr van Wyk,  the local GP, realised that for his own safety Hendrick would have to be placed in care, so he sent him off to the Stickland Asylum where, a few years later, he passed away.  

The asylum wanted to bury Hendrick in a pauper’s grave – but the Kruger family weren’t having that! They brought him home to Prince Albert and he was laid to rest near his dear Tant Hannie Kruger, beneath the watchful eye of the mountains in which he had lived and worked and which he loved so well.  

When next you visit Prince Albert, rise early one morning and take a walk along the Swartberg Pass road. As the sun kisses the tips of the mountain and caresses the grass along the verges, as crystal bird calls greet the new day, think of Hendrick Rheerders sitting outside his little cave, feasting on the beauty. No pauper he – with all this and Tant Hannie’s motherly love, no man could have been richer. 

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A Karoo Tale: George Rainier

 

Prince Albert’s main road, Kerkstraat, is lined with Eucalyptus trees. Many still provide shade, others bear the scars of severe lopping and stand like tired sentries, their war-weary battledress tattered and torn, a mere shadow of their former selves. These trees were planted by an illustrious resident of Prince   Albertwho contributed their shade and an even greater gift to the village – but we must head back to the 1880’s to hear the tale: 

In those days some 900 people lived in this peaceful community. Jan Luttig was the MP for the Beaufort West district and Mr George Rainier was the  Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistrate of Prince Albert. 

The main route from the Great Karoo to the harbour at Mossel Bay was through Meiringspoort. In 1858 the first wool wagons travelled the newly completed road through the poort, but heavy rain, flash floods and rock falls put it out of commission on a fairly regular basis and in 1875 it was closed for weeks. Over a hundred wool wagons with their drivers and oxen camped on the river banks near Klaarstroom, waiting for the road to be repaired. Another route was desperately needed – one that would remain open even when Meiringspoort was shut. 

Magistrate George Rainier believed such a road could be built across the Swartberg range, so every weekend he would set out on horseback to find a route over the mountains and in 1879, two and a half years before construction began on the Swartberg Pass, the Divisional Council of Prince Albert constructed a bridle-path from the village to Oudsthoorn. The Oudtshoorn Courant of 6th August 1879 reported: ‘ ... the work in Rainier’s Pass is progressing favourably.’ 

It was George Rainier who persuaded a sceptical Jan Luttig to raise funds from theCapeParliamentfor Thomas Bain to survey the mountains and establish whether a road could be built. Once construction started on the Pass,Rainierinspected the workers’ camp at Eerstewater every week. 

Before he took up his next appointment at Ceres, George planted the Eucalyptus trees, which grace Kerkstraat and the present picnic site at Eerstewater. On the 10th of February 1888 those trees watched a grand procession leave Prince Albert for the work station at the top of the pass. George Rainier was among the distinguished guests who attended the official opening of the Swartberg Pass, which might well have been named after him had he not moved from the district during its construction. 

So our fine old blue gum trees owe their presence to George Rainier and though time and modern construction have taken their toll, they remain as a tribute to the man who dreamed of a route across the mountains and who saw the Swartberg Pass become a reality.    

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Love poem mystery

Several years ago I related the story of a love poem on the SAFM program "Otherwise". The poem was found in a family Bible inPrince   Albert. If you can throw any light on either William Scott or Anna de Vries I would be delighted to hear from you! Here's the story as it appeared in our local newspaper, the Prince Albert Friend: 

During March Leon de Wit popped into the Library with a poem he and his family had discovered in their family Bible. Written in copperplate on a flimsy piece of paper the poem was composed in 1849 by William Scott and is addressed to Anna de Vries: 

Lines written to Miss Anna Cornelia De Vries

Zwarte Berg 3rd June 1849

 

What is the blooming tincture of the skin

To Peace of mind and harmony within

What the bright sparkling of the finest eye

To the soft soothing of a calm reply

Can comeliness of form, or shape or air

With comeliness of words, or deeds compare

No! – those at first the unwary heart may gain

But these, these only can the heart retain

Anna

 

Written by Wm Scott

3rd June 1849

 

Who was Anna? Does anyone know anything about William Scott – wouldn’t it be marvellous to know more about their romance – were they wed?

If anyone has any information please contact Ailsa at 023 5411 211.

© Ailsa Tudhope 2005