Wonderful news for the preservation of our rich Karoo Heartland culture and heritage is the newly formed Walter Battiss Foundation in Somerset East.
Walter Battiss was a South African artist, who called Somerset East and Karoo his home, and is generally considered the foremost South African abstract painter, known as the creator of the quirky “Fook Island” concept.
Born in 1906 in Somerset East, Battiss travelled extensively and his open-minded approach perhaps shocked more conservative viewers in his lifetime. He has been described as the “gentle anarchist” with a joy of life, appreciation of beauty and sensual treatment of the human form.
The Foundation wants to ensure the Walter Battiss legacy in perpetuity, and become a self-sustainable entity. The foundation is inspired by what Battiss stood for, and wants to create an awareness within an individual to be able to express themselves through art. The Walter Battiss Art Museum boasts the largest permanent exhibition of his artworks.
The team at Kuzuko Lodge, a member of Legacy Hotels & Resorts, are pleased to announce that Sylvester the most loved lion in South Africa and his lioness mate Angel, are officially parents of two lion cubs. The courtship happened during the first week of March this year.
Sylvester, who rose to fame after escaping twice and after walking more than 370km outside of the Karoo National Park and whose future was uncertain, has been at Kuzuko for more than two years and settled into a tight knit coalition with his male counterpart Fielies. Now, the proud father of two lion cubs, Sylvester and his lioness Angel, have showed us the true power of Mother Nature and defied all odds to become 100% integrated lions in the wild.
“We have two lionesses in the reserve with whom the two male lions have established a close bond,” states Gerhard de Lange, Reserve General Manager at Kuzuko Lodge. “Although both lionesses were on contraception we started to suspect that Sylvester’s lioness, Angel, had given birth between 15 – 20 June of this year.
“Angel showed all the signs of having cubs suckling her, but as lionesses keep their babies ‘hidden’ for quite a period while they are very young – we hadn’t been able to spot them. On Monday, 10 September our suspicions were confirmed, as Angel and her two little cubs started moving around together and we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of them.”
According to De Lange, the cubs are approximately 12 weeks old and in good health. Their mother Angel, is another Kuzuko success story as she herself was rescued at five months old with her sister as an orphan and instead of being tamed or raised in captivity, De Lange and his reserve team raised them to be 100% wild.
This lion and lioness are an incredible conservation story. Sylvester, who was during his ‘great escape’ almost euthanized because people simply didn’t understand that he was running for his life and needed a territory of his own and a coalition partner to join up with. And Angel, who by all rights shouldn’t even be alive, are now parents.
“Sylvester never fails to surprise me. Since I first heard of him through his jaunts through the Karoo – causing havoc during his time out of the protected wild – till today where he is completely integrated at Kuzuko, he is living proof that conservation, when done right, is always the preferred option.
“I can confirm that Sylvester himself has paid the mother of his cubs a few visits since they were born, so we are sure that Sylvester and his coalition partner will provide them with the protection they need. We can also confirm that the two little cubs have adopted their father’s good looks and are fit and healthy,” says De Lange.
De Lange also wants to thank SANParks for allowing him the opportunity to bond these four special lions together and this exceptional outcome is a reflection of their conservation vision.
Kuzuko Lodge is built high up on a hill in a 15 000ha private game reserve located in the Malaria free greater Addo area in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. This reserve is perfectly situated to start or complete a trip along the Garden Route. Guests are housed in 24 chalets of which three are wheelchair accessible. Children of all ages are welcome. Kuzuko is part of the Legacy Hotels & Resorts Group and is a member of the Inqo Investments Social Impact Investment Group, which combines job creation, conservation and social transformation.
‘Passenger accommodation is provided on the following goods trains when run: 09h02 Mondays, Wednesdays, Friday: Rosmead – Schoombee — Hofmeyr’ proclaimed the South African Railways Intercity Train Time-Table. Being a steam buff and holidaying on a nearby farm in the Middelburg district, the invitation was impossible to resist and shortly before the appointed departure time we found ourselves on the platform at Schoombee station – where the branch line to Hofmeyr started — together with assorted milk cans, some sheep and a variety of farm implements vying for places in the few goods trucks which made up the ‘mixed’, with ‘white’ passengers (prior to being covered in soot) being accommodated in the rear of the guards’ van.
Trollip Siding (our destination) was shown in italics in the Time-Table and was therefore bereft of resident staff. This meant that the train would stop ‘on request only to pick up or set down passengers’ who were charged with the responsibility of ‘advising the conductor or guard beforehand of their destination in order that the necessary stop may be arranged’. Unearthing this worthy, who was busy counting sheep and milk cans, was difficult, but eventually convinced by our story (Trollip being a siding where only post was occasionally ‘set down’), he held a lengthy conversation with the train driver and we were assured that the necessary stop would be made.
Now we were faced with the challenge of buying tickets, which meant tracking down the station master, who carried out all duties at Schoombee – including ensuring that the crew of the mixed were adequately stoked up with ‘moer koffie’ for the arduous journey to Hofmeyr. After being found studying his signals intently — to ensure he didn’t send the train back to Rosmead — and clearly puzzled by a request he had never been faced with before, he nevertheless carefully wrote out ‘two second-class single’ tickets to Trollip and then directed us to the guardsvan together with the milk cans, while the sheep and farm equipment were allocated trucks of their own.
Seated resplendently on the green leather seats which separated us from the blue of first class, (third class ‘non-white’ passengers en route to shearing duties in Hofmeyr had an antiquated balcony coach of their own in keeping with the spirit of the times), we waited anxiously for the ‘right-of-way’ whilst partaking of some rather dubious ‘refreshments’ purchased from the kiosk at Schoombee, which was manned by the station master’s wife who was summoned from her house on the odd occasions when trains passed through.
The time-table – such as it was – was now in considerable disarray by the disruption of normal proceedings, aggravated by the unwillingness of some of the sheep to board the train. Finally, with much whistling and letting off of built-up steam, our Class 24 engine shuffled out onto the branch line with its motley collection of passengers, animals and farmware. With only 120kms to cover for the return journey to Hofmeyr and a day to do them in, it soon became apparent that no attempts were going to be made to make up time, but with a pristine karoo morning to enjoy and the steady beat of the engine to reassure us of some progress, we sat back and let the experience (and the soot) wash over us, together with wafts of yet-to-be-shorn merinos.
The unexpected stop at Trollip undoubtedly played further havoc with the timetable as the driver obviously hadn’t ‘set down passengers’ in years – only post and the occasional sheep who’d forgotten to buy a ticket in Schoombee and been asked to leave the train after failing to respond to the time-honoured cry of ‘Alle kaartjies’. After another intake of ‘moer koffie’ however – possibly fortified with just a dash of Klippies — the crew and engine had gathered sufficient strength to respond to the guard’s green flag, and the train puffed slowly away towards the fleshpots of Hofmeyr, leaving us to contemplate our journey together with the post. Our only regret was that there had been no dining-car to savour ‘Fried 74’ and ‘Cabinet Pudding’, those perennial SAR favourites which had everyone clamouring for less in days of yore.
How sad it is to pass Schoombee now and see the line weeded over, the station deserted and a general air of melancholy and decay pervading over what was once a bustling little community. ‘Those were indeed the days’…
Mount Melsetter is home to Great Karoo Safaris, and advertises itself as Plains Game Outfitters. Plains Game are soft-skinned antelope and gazelles. Each year, over a number of years, Mount Melsetter has hosted two groups of hunters. The glue that keeps these two groups together is that they all went to the same school together – The Grey, Port Elizabeth, in the South, and Pretoria Boys High School, in the North. Not only do they come to hunt, but also to reconnect with each other and have fun.
The groups have never met each other, but each have heard of the other group, and their prowess in hunting. In 2013 the Grey Boys started a tradition by writing a poem in our Visitors’ Book to the Pretoria Boys, to which the Pretoria Boys were moved to reply. Since then, they have continued to write to each other, via the Visitors’ Book, bringing in something that they may have heard about their opponents’ hunt.
The Pretoria Boys are about 10 years older than the Grey boys; their emphasis is perhaps more on the après-hunt, while the Grey Boys are probably more serious about their hunting. Have a read through the past five years’ poetry:
We walked, we laughed
We ran, we drank
It’s Mike and Candy, we must thank
A great time was had by the magnificent seven.
To the Pretoria Boys:
You gave the nation John*,
The rest seems a bit of a con
We laid 4 gnus to rest
We challenge you to beat the best!
*John Smit, Springbok Rugby Captain
Here we meet, as before
(Every year since ’94)
The Boys High Boys have shown their SALT
By bagging buck – despite the MALT
Melsetter Mount has served again
To tightly bind our souls as men
‘Tis here – and now – we do acquire
The SPIRIT to which the Grey Boys do aspire.
A coolbox of beer and box of ice cheer
We ragged and we joked
Some cheroot we smoked
Remembering memories of long time ago
Some boyhood agility we may have let go
But experience and wisdom we did not have then
Have come in its place and we’re nearly men
The game that we hunted and stalked with our crew
Is the reason we come here!
Pretoria Boys remember
We are younger than you!
Assembled again from afar and asunder
Melsetter Plains were made to thunder
Youngsters all in bodies of men
The Boys High Boys are here again!
Tales will be told until we are old
Of Babies, of Bokkies with DAMARA tags,
Finding their way into Hunters Bags.
To the youngsters from Grey:
All we can say is THE MEASURE OF MEN Is not what’s to come
But what has been done!!
Thanks to Mike of Melsetter and its stories of kills
To Candy for sustenance and remarkable culinary skills
We visit the Karoo as we visit our past
The more often we remember the taller shadows we had cast
New adventures we’ve had
And opportunities we took what we could
Unlike the visitors we shot what we should
If the measure of life is what is already achieved
The fact that the Grey again beats Boys High leaves us much relieved!
Again assembled in the cold
The Boys High men but NOT SO OLD!
Stories were heard of those who sashay-
To neighbouring farms, there to shoot*.
Could these be the lads from Grey?
Thinking that another’s buck they could loot
Fun was had –from the Saddlebum Straddle
To more painful Mike and Warrie – waddle
Then this we must right now declare
In 2016 we return, for fine food fare
And to make the fields ring again and again
WITH THE TRAMP OF THE OF THE BOYS HIGH MEN.
*During the previous Grey Boys hunt, one of them crossed one of our boundary fences into the neighbour’s farm, hence the lines in this poem. Our bar area is called The Saddlebum, where a couple of saddles are placed on some wooden rafters. These are often climbed onto in the early hours of the morning! Warrie is one of our horsemen who fell off his horse while springbuck hunting.
To Candy and Mike, Hosts Extraodinaire
Thanks for meals delightful and the cold beer
A time for us Grey Boys to remember and reflect
On Great times in the past and new Grey hairs to detect
Our bodies are painful, but our minds are alive
Because of this bond, we don’t merely live….but thrive!
Pretoria Boys……Welcome to the East Cape
Once a year only, but well worth the wait
Pathology. Urology….Radiology too
Are important skills within your crew
These remarkable professions will help you at home
But here they can’t tell you where the antelope roam.
Arrived at Melsetter to find sewerage in disarray*
Thanks to the excessive bowel moves of the Grey.
But lets not fret, the comfort and cuisine were as usual fine,
Especially combined with music and wine.
A shock to the system for Rob newly ordained
When witnessing Oom Rohr** by Hot Lips being maimed,
As he was pulled off his mount on the bar wall
And bore down on the culprit in wide-eyed appal.
Now to the matter of the springbok hunt……..
We must be polite and give our Grey friends a punt
To our tally of 19 they added their one, makes twenty
Thanks to all old boys for a combined bag of plenty!
*When the Pretoria Boys came this time, we were in the process of sorting out our sewerage lines, separating the grey water from the sewerage water. During the previous Grey Boys hunt, they were very successful with their Walk and Stalk hunting, but during their Springbuck hunt, only managed to shoot one springbuck.
** Very sadly, one the very special Pretoria Boys died of a heart attack while out cycling the previous year. This was an enormous loss to all who knew him. He was affectionately known as Oom Rohr. This Grey Boys Hunt was part of a celebration of their having left school 30 years before. Two of their group flew in from Australia, one being the poet for the poem, and another from the USA.
Tria Juncta in Uno, Virtute et Labore,
Values we are proud to share –
About the Springbuck hunt, do not despair
Thirty times since, we’ve circled the sun
We had finished, but barely begun.
We came to Melsetter to laugh, reconnect and reflect
To your Oom Rohr we offer our respect
Though PBH is a new school, you are a lot older
We are now all of The Grey and inconveniently bolder
Springbuck in the valley, who’s keeping count
We toiled with a Gemsbok on top of the Mount
Cricket we played as if we were young
And then drank a toast to the setting sun
From the four corners of the world we came
I’m sure for you it was the same.
Shoot true and shoot straight
For a year is certainly a long time to wait.
The Boys High Boys have raised the bar,
Brought their boykies from afar*;
So it seems that Schoombee Station,
Will yet resound to another generation!
To our brethren boys from Grey
(Some may ask who are they?)
We braved the cold and bagged our buck;
We held our own, as in the ruck.
But all we say is just in jest-
This light heart rivalry is quite the best!
*The Pretoria Boys came with three sons this time.
We’ll look forward to the prose of upcoming years as these two groups continue to return to Mount Melsetter for their annual reunions!
Elephants have returned to Samara Private Game Reserve after a 200-year absence, marking a conservation milestone and entrenching Samara’s status as one of the leading conservation areas in the Karoo.
Samara is delighted and privileged to welcome these gentle giants back to the Plains of Camdeboo, as part of our vision of recreating a fully-functioning Great Karoo ecosystem. Thank you to everyone involved in this historic translocation.
Sarah and Mark Tompkins, owners of Samara Private Game Reserve, explain that when they first established the reserve in 1997, their aim was to restore the area to the wildlife haven it had been before species like cheetah, rhino, Cape lion, springbok and elephant were eradicated by early farmers and settlers. “This is an extremely important area from an ecological point of view,” Sarah explains, adding that the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Thicket, where Samara’s 27,000 hectares of scenic wilderness are located, has been designated as one of the world’s 36 Global Biodiversity Hotspots.
The Owl House, iconic treasure of the Karoo Heartland’s Nieu-Bethesda is finally set to become a South African National Heritage Site.
This is excellent news for those who have visited or long to visit Helen Martins’ bizarre and beautiful Owl House in the village hamlet of Nieu-Bethesda.
Since the 1980’s and through into the 1990’s, several attempts have been made to have the Owl House awarded the status that it deserves, with it being provisionally declared a National Monument in 1990 and extended in 1995. Now, following a nomination by members of the public to have the Owl House and the Camel Yard declared a Grade 1 National Heritage Site, the wheels have finally been set in motion.
South African National Heritage Resources Agency’s intention to declare was announced at a public meeting held in Nieu-Bethesda on April 11, 2017, as part of the Mayoral Outreach programme, during which the Budget, IDP and other matters of mutual interest or concern were discussed with the communities.
The Owl House, home of reclusive artist Helen Martins, is a place of wonder to anyone who visits. In life, Helen Elizabeth Martins was a shy, retiring figure, rarely seen outside on the streets of Nieu Bethesda. But this recluse was the custodian of a magical inner kingdom that she breathed into life – a monument to Outsider Art. outsider art refers to the often controversial works created by dedicated, if not obsessive artists, who are untrained, and who have not been influenced by any schools, galleries or museums. Outsider artists are mostly self-taught individuals, who in many instances often remain obscure until their deaths.
During the twelve years that she actively worked, Helen Martins created hundreds of sculptures depicting mermaids, camels, pilgrims and bottle-skirted hostesses. She painted the interior of her home in bright colours, overlaid with a layer of crushed glass, making them gleam in candle-and lamp-light.
Today, the Owl House Foundation is the custodian of Miss Helen’s vision, and it is through the foundation’s efforts that the magic of the Owl House can touch many more lives.
Book a stay in Nieu-Bethesda to visit the Owl House