From: John(e) Sent: 31 March 2009 To: Neil F Subject: Keerom recce Dear Kneel and Miz Ellie, Started writing this letter to you, but soon realised that, for peace’s sake, I had to broaden its scope, to include other members of the family who made various threats and passed snide remarks about the all-male composition of the Recce. Therefore there is a lot of background int. that you already know, or personally generated. I have a collection of some300 photos, taken by Keith, Garrick and Adam, which I am busy culling through and, when finished, will scan a few on to you. Any questions of requests you might have, just fire away. KEEROM TRIP Following in the steps of Hugh & Annette some 18 years ago, and then you, Elwyn and Clara in 2002, who were unfortunately unable to travel the last seven and a half kms to Keerom homestead, the intrepid Fletcher Male Family Recce left for Keerom, to seek out our ancestral spooks. If I may remark myself, it was a fine-looking body of men left Cape Town and headed up the West Coast towards Springbok at 6.30am on Wednesday morning, 4th March, 2009! Keith Garrick, Adam and I comfortably reclined in Keith’s Audi, with air con, turbo-charger and all-surround sound, plus some other features, which, I am sure, Keith the engineer did not fully understand himself; however, I agreed with Keith that the turbo-boosted power was very useful for getting out of tight spots. We both also agreed that these occur more frequently these days, with the steady deterioration in the standard of other people’s driving. It was significant that the same 550 km journey, about 150 years ago, in an ox-wagon, would have taken Great-Grandfather Patrick aka Peter, a month at best, however we were still faced with 6 tough air-conditioned hours. We turned off the national road at Kamieskroon and headed west 22 km into the granite kopjes to Skilpad, where the HQ for the Namaqualand National Park is situated. On the way we drove up behind a donkey-cart, carrying 2 wizened Nama fence-builders, who were very happy to be photographed by Adam and Garrick. Garrick then felt embarrassed by the comparison in our respective modes of transport, and so shared his breakfast sarmies with them and added a really nice one of mine, which I thought was a little over-the-top. We arrived at Skilpad, where we were expected by Bernard van Lente and his wife Elanza. As you know, I had previously corresponded with them, when we learned that Keerom Farm had been incorporated into the Nam. Nat. Park, which is only 12.5 years old and growing rapidly. They were particularly helpful and very grateful for the copies of photographs of GG Patrick and Jean’s historic photo of Keerom homestead in the mid-1860s that she sent out to you. They are busily collecting as much cultural history as they can of the old properties that the Park now encompasses. Bernard is a qualified marine biologist and keen fisherman, but prefers the sea of the east coast. [Skilpad. Afrikaans = tortoiseTortoise in road near etc By pleasant coincidence, Keerom has been chosen as one of the properties where the present old stone house is being refurbished for rustic sell-catering accommodation for the wild life, birding and botanical enthusiasts. I have promised to let them have further bits and pieces of Keerom history as it becomes available. They do not disturb a single stone on any building or ruin of a building deemed to be more than 60 years old, so the remaining few walls and foundation of GG Patrick’s original house will remain intact. An interesting feature at Skilpad HQ was approximately 10 Anatolian Mountain Dogs, which resemble very large rangy cream-coloured Labradors. They are an interesting breed, originating in the mountains of Turkey, where they live out permanently with the flocks of sheep and goats and protect them from predators. They are fed about twice a week and otherwise left completely alone with their flocks. National Parks are placing them locally, accompanied by the requisite training programme. So far it is producing very successful results. The old completely unselective methods of trapping, which take a heavy toll of many harmless species, has ceased where the dogs are located. They are not slim coursing dogs, so are physically unsuited to hunt themselves, all they do is herd their charges closely together and drive them away from danger. They will attack any predator that comes in range. The dogs at Skilpad were all about 9 months old and there is a no-contact, no-feeding rule, but they were outwardly very friendly and crowded against the wire to greet us. They apparently make incredible companions for children, but severely restrict access to them! Modern career Moms could probably lose touch with their kids. The Van Lentes gave us directions and permission to visit Keerom and so we travelled back to Kamieskroon and proceeded north to Springbok. We located Oom Jopie Kotze (pronounced Joopie) and his Springbok Lodge, which covers a couple of blocks in the centre of Springbok. Every time a downtown house comes up for sale, he buys it, and paints it yellow and white and converts it into one more annexe. I think he has a connection in the Roads Department as that yellow paint is very high quality and lasts for years in all weathers; very cheery. He remembers Hugh and Annette’s visit. Oom Jopie is difficult to completely summarize, as something new bobs up every 3 minutes. Here goes…….. He is the original town, district, area heavy. He holds or has held every position, chaired every committee, sat on every board in Namaqualand. He is inn-keeper, local historian, ex-farmer, miner, recognized mineralogical authority and noted collector and trader of mineral specimens. He is the keeper of the keys of the original Jewish synagogue in Springbok, so his roots and the history of those of his faith, who helped colonise the region, are preserved by this large, bluff old man. Walking into the reception area of the Springbok Hotel, is a little bewildering, as it combines a packed souvenir shop, alongside beautiful mineralogical displays and tubs of thousands of brightly-tumbled stones, which sell by the kg. This swings around onto packed bookshelves of every map, brochure and book covering Namaqualand, its people and especially the famous Spring flowers. This large room is split by a partition with tables and slip-in benches for meals, etc. Every single foot of wall space in the entire room is covered from floor to ceiling by historic photographs of early Springbok and Namaqualand history. It would take a whole day to fully examine Oom Jopie’s reception domain! Commanding this area, along one end wall, is his reception counter behind which he sits, like a captain on the bridge of a battleship, complete with a microphone in his hand. Below the counter level is a bank of CCTV screens which beam back every nook and cranny of the area, plus the whole of the kitchen, there is no hiding place from Oom Jop, “Hoor my, hoor my, Sannie! Bring meer koffie taffel nommer drie, gou, gou, asseblief! ............" When I checked in with the rest of the team, he slid the guest register over to me, which normally takes 5 minutes to fill, as one has to search for passport and ID numbers, etc. He was very relaxed. “Ag just fill in one name for everyone and don’t worry about that other rubbish.” Oom Jop steadily grew on us. I had previously emailed his daughter Annelise Erasmus, so they were expecting us (Kneel has corresponded with her over GG Patrick’s history). I also gave Oom Jop photos of GG Patrick plus the 1860 photo of Keerom homestead. He was delighted as he said the burghers had never had a picture of the Engelsman who originally surveyed the town of Springbok, and as far as he knew, no photo of the original Keerom homestead had existed and no man living had seen it! He was a fund of information about Namaqualand and its history. Garrick and Adam located a subterranean night spot/restaurant, where we had a pleasant supper, apart from a small wait of 1½ hours, while it was cooked. Maybe the builders went underground like Namaqua lizards to escape the summer heat; I can think of no other cogent reason to go underground in Springbok. Garrick defended their choice of venue by saying the other place they recce’d had the feel that the next Hottentot Baster rebellion could break out there after 10 pm, which I thought ironic as Garrick jolls every day with the Joburg jetsam. We left early on Thursday morning in our hired 4 x 4. Adam had assumed the task of driver shortly after we left Cape Town the day before, which comforted me as I had taught him to drive and we have already discussed Keith’s need for sudden power earlier. Fourteen kms south of Springbok, we turned off SSW onto the start of the Messelpad, Keerom and eventually Honderklipbaai. As you know, the whole area is very rough and rolling with massive granite outcrops and boulder-strewn kopjes. Some of the vistas are very similar to the Matopos, but with less trees. However, the region is covered with a large variety of unusual succulents, which can vary from slope to slope. It definitely has its own strange beauty, that turns into a rolling sea of colour in the Spring. We descended down long winding roads, to the bed of the Buffels River, which the road parallels for a few kms, where we found the first dry stone walling, which GG engineered and had built with convict labour. The road then crosses the river onto the south bank and gradually winds up kms of the steep hillside. This is where major dry stone walling occurs. It is quite unbelievable that thousands of ox wagons made their way loaded with copper ore up those gradients, which were built entirely by hand and animal draught power, plus the help of some explosive. On the down slope edge of the wall, huge boulders weighing a tonne or more were placed at regular intervals to keep the wagons back from the edge. Today’s replacement would be a small white concrete pillar, with a reflective square on it! We all stood there and marvelled at how many hands and crowbars it took to emplace just one stone. We eventually swung up out of the river gorge, past the ruins of the old stone jail below, which used to house the prison labour, who built the road. Approximately 6 kms beyond this a road forked off to the left of the Messelpad, with a battered sign saying “Kanariesfontein”. We travelled 2½ kms along the Kanariesfontein Road and then another left fork, which took us the last 4½ kms down to Keerom in the hollow. As we crested the last hill and looked down to the SE on Keerom, backed by large granite dwalas, it was all so familiar because of Hugh’s and Jean’s photographs. We found the stone-walled ruins of GG’s old house, with the old ox-wagon parked under the shade of the pepper-trees on what was the front verandah. You can clearly make out the extent of the SE foundations and the original walls still exist on the western end. We were greeted by a large troop of rowdy baboons on the surrounding dwalas. There is a coloured building crew working on the main house renovations, but they were not present the day we spent there. Adam and Garrickwalked up the big dwalas behind the house and Adam decided not to go down into the bush ravine between them, as Karl Van Lente said a female leopard and two cubs had taken up residence locally! Keith and I located the old threshing floor in front of the house and Keith acted out the part of the 1860 photographer and endeavoured to place himself and me in exactly the same spot as the photographer and GG all those years ago! You can see the result in the accompanying photo. We located the “put” or well, where GG obtained his water. There were about 200 bright green beautiful frogs living in it, but I moved them aside and tasted a handful of water. It was very clear, cool and sweet. We all sat down in the shade for lunch and mused about our GG. This country, 150 years later, is still a very isolated, harsh, rugged semi-desert. When he settled down in those far-off days, it was even more remote and time was governed by the pace of the ox. He then brought [*] out his diminutive wife Agnes from Paisley in Scotland, and by all accounts she got on happily with her life and produced our grandfathers, RA and Pater, among those granite walls. There is a good case to be made for Keith and Garrick’s grandfather Tom to have been born at Keerom also. Lionel says Tom’s birth was registered at Port Nolloth, north of Springbok. That could have been purely administrative, as RA and Pater’s births were registered in Springbok Town. Yes, our forebears were very strong, determined people and Namaqualand was as tough as it could get. Stock farming in that whole area is now hardly commercially viable, thus government is becoming the land purchaser of last resort. Fortunately they are converting the area into a huge National Park, which is wonderful, as it is a botanical treasure trove. It has grown from 5000 hectares to 350,000 hectares in just 10 years and they cannot move the game fences fast enough. At midday we decided to continue on to Honderklipbaai to see where the copper was finally loaded onto the sailing ships.We had heard at Skilpad that it had very few attractions, but that an artist lived there, who sometimes hung pictures of naked women on his fence. Adam and Garrick immediately red-flagged Honderklipbaai as a must-see on our tour. We rejoined the Messelpad and travelled SW over some more extensive sections of stone-walled road until at last we crested an escarpment and looked down over a vast expanse of flat sand veld that stretched away to the coast. We drove down into a curtain of totally unseasonal rain which left pools on the road and provoked an invasion of tortoises from the low scrub either side of it. We passed 14 of them on the way to the coast, plus some gemsbok. We arrived in Honderklipbaai where all roads led to the harbour, such as it was. There is one small café, which had no electricity, but the young proprietor got the primus going. Next door was the bottle store, where big Koos sat wedged in a heavily barred cage, “Cause these donners like their dop and jus’ moer my door broken.” The water temperature was 13 degrees compared to Simonstown’s 22 degrees. We drove around the block and Garrick discovered the pony-tailed artist’s caravan and one-room house, where he lives with his tattooed girlfriend....... He goes by the name of Villain, ... a very engaging guy, who trotted out dozens of oil paintings, plus a host of very funny stories ..... His paintings were mostly of the Namaqualand spring flower explosion and some were good. Adam bought a small one for R300, which brightened Villain’s day. When I asked him why, of all places, he settled in Honderklipbaai, he replied, “When you are down on your luck, in Joeys, you just eat plain pap, day after day, but when you are down on your luck in Honderklipbaai, one day you eat pap and perlemoen, the next day pap and stockfish, the following day pap and crayfish. At least there is variety here, ou pel, but nothing else!” We were invited through into their one-room house and given tea. We also viewed the nude gallery of paintings, which were Playboy centrefold-type copies. ..... He was the sort of person we could have had an hilarious lunch with. Cousin Garrick was tempted by one or two of the more flamboyant non-botanical works, but I feel was a little inhibited by his older boet’s presence. We left Honderklipbaai and Mr and Mrs Villain and headed north up the coast to Kolingnaas, where we passed through a heavily-gated entrance into the De Beers Diamond Concession. You are meant to produce all sorts of identification, etc. We were headed about 20km north to a place called Noup, which is not even a spot on the map, but we had been given the owners’ names to drop. We were all Fletchers, which confused the be-medalled security woman even further, I became one of Garrick’s cards and the boom went up. We travelled past miles of great open-cast dumps, where they had removed the over-burden until they reached the original ocean bedrock, which in turn was overlain by layers of washed sea gravel, that contained the diamonds. The road was beautiful, tarred and heavily fenced with all sorts of dire warnings about staying in your vehicle. We eventually swung back a few kms to the coast and found Noup. Noup is a series of very unusual quaint self-catering cottages, originally built by divers, who used to free-dive off the coast for diamonds. They managed to dive an average of one day out of every 8. It’s a very rugged rocky coast, with the odd little beach, but I don’t know who would want to swim in that icy water? I remarked to Keith that this only spot would be the ideal place to chill out for a while. Keith looked at me quizzically and asked, “Yes, but what would you do after the first day?” It’s embarrassing to say, “Well nothing, actually” to my cousin, whose white fang blackberry continuously rang in the middle of the Namaqua Desert, in the centre of the road opposite the Spoegrivier turnoff. Kneel, I’m convinced that sibling rivalry still exists between our cousins; he and Garrick appear to have a quiet competition to see whose phone rings the most in the Hinterland. Adam was quickly outgunned by his older relations. Over the millennia, man has always devised tests of courage and I strongly believe that the ultimate test now for a modern yuppie would be for him to switch his cell phone off for 24 hours. Spear-chucking is over. I complained, and all they did was to turn the ring volume up. Referring to our geriatric cousins as “yuppies” is probably ripping it slightly. It was getting late and we had one more stop to make on the way back to Springbok, so we set off back over the flatlands and up the Messelpad. When we reached the old prison, we turned downhill and Adam really had to engage the 4-wheel drive, as the track was just a donga wash. We got down and tried to duplicate the positions that Elwyn and Clara occupied when you photographed them on your trip. We finally reached Springbok well after dark ........... On Friday we drove up the road to Okiep, which is another rough dusty dorp, surrounded by massive mine dumps. We decided to give Nababeep a miss. We went back to Springbok and visited the local museum which was well-kept and full of interesting artefacts that covered the whole of the colonial history. We had said goodbye to Annelise the previous evening and, as you requested, I did present her with a thank-you present for the help she has extended to you. Very nice hand-embroidered pillow cover and candles, chosen by Phee . Oom Jopie had telephoned two local historians, who were anxious to meet us, but we had to take a rain check. We left for Cape Town, as Garrick was riding in the Argus on Sunday, and need time to loosen up!! Adam had also entered, but had to cancel because of some chest bug......... Well this is a long rambling letter, but I feel I owe it to you, as you have kept the family spook story running and really should have been along with us. The onus is now firmly on your shoulders to do the follow-up. It was a good trip, with great company. Your travel-worn, but ever-tolerant cousin, John(e) ============= Adam, Johne, Annelize, Keith, Jopie Recently discovered photograph of Keerom homestead in the 1860's survives in Angus' family and sent by Peter Fletcher from Florida. Keerom Regained Hugh's letters to Peter & Neil (1990/1997) Typical dry stone walling of the Messelpad Approach road to the old Keerom homestead Original homestead ruin partly hidden in trees to the left The view in the old Keerom photo from Florida as seen today satellite view The view over the farmyard from the granite dwala An old ox wagon at Keerom of the type that would have transported copper ore on the Messelpad (Keith, Adam, Johne) "Put" is Afrikaans for well or pit. For further photographs of the farmyard link to Hugh's his letters above.Namaqualand flowers. Photos from Annelize Erasmus.
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