Report-back Richmond Symposium 2

12th Annual Symposium: Heritage South Africa 2014

Hosted by Richmond Heritage Society (N-Cape Province)

In the Saddle Horse Museum

16 – 19 October 2014

This must have been one of our more worthwhile trips, once we had got off the N1 which has been turned into a conduit for trucks. Since the railways are no longer the first choice of transport, goods are being transported from the north to the south, and back again, resulting in our national roads not only becoming dangerous but also tedious. One is not only held up by the slow-moving trucks, but challenged when overtaking four or five trucks driving bumper to bumper, or slowed down by a truck slowly overtaking a number of other slow trucks. The real danger lies in impatient drivers who take incredible chances. No-one seems to remember the reason for a solid white line! Our national roads are also being churned up which means that one is held up further by constant stop-and-go roadworks.

After a particularly long wait (roadworks again) shortly after we had taken the right fork of the road at Three Sisters, we saw the turnoff to Richmond with relief. We had booked into the An-Ra Guesthouse and had a room on the main road through town. The main road is flanked by beautiful Karroo townhouses, most of which have been restored. Unfortunately, Richmond, like too many other small towns, has become a ghost town with very few people living in these houses. The only bank in town (Standard) was busy closing down; there is a Chinese shop (of course) and one supermarket; the hotel is presently being refurbished (they didn’t make it in time for the symposium) and there are one or two places where one can get something to eat or drink – when they are open, of course. There is also a retirement home on the main street, where the elderly sit, drinking tea and chatting on the stoep. We wondered what they talk about since nothing much seems to happen in Richmond anymore. Besides the last day of school for the matrics, though, which coincided with the symposium. A retinue of school children lined the main road waiting for the lucky school leavers who had congregated in the bar!

We did not attend the AGM which took place on Thursday morning and we also missed the Versatility of Venison, a cooking class with Annatjie Reynolds, co-author of Karoo Venison, but Cathy Raymond and Margaret Young did attend. They roasted a Springbok neck which was apparently delicious. We managed to get there in time for what was heralded as an ‘evening under the stars’. Since it bucketed with rain, we neither gazed at the stars nor sat under them, but we tucked into our lamb potjie and roosterkoek at the Karoo’s largest art gallery (MAP or Modern Art Projects) with relish.

We then listened to a fascinating talk on the architecture of Richmond and Hanover, explained by Prof. Wally Peters from the University of the Free State. His talk was well illustrated with slides (punctuated by intermittent electricity cuts and thunderous rain on the tin roof). His project had been to take a group of his architectural students to Richmond during which time the architecture was described, documented and exhibited on the evening. Even though Tom knew what the difference was between the different roof shapes, namely a catenary roof (resembling the curve that a hanging chain or cable assumes under its own weight when supported only at its ends), a lean-to (a mono-pitched roof attached to a taller wall), a catslide or bellcast roof (a steep, multi-sided roof) or a bullnose roof (a vertical wall which swells outward in the form of a bullnose or type of moulding, the upper surface of which slopes steeply upwards), I certainly learnt a great deal.

During the night, we dreamed we were sleeping on a racetrack. Trucks do a detour off the N1 and race down the main road, supposedly to offload drugs and pick up prostitutes, literally doing a roaring trade. Despite the fact that our guesthouse was a dinner/bed and breakfast establishment, no-one turned up to serve breakfast the next day (or anything else for that matter), so we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the Vetmuisplaaskombuis across the road where, as you took your seat, you were presented with a cooked breakfast with all the trimmings. No need to order from a menu! A plaaskombuis knows what a good breakfast is meant to be.

Friday and Saturday were packed with excellent talks in the Saddle Horse Museum Hall. A highlight on Friday was a talk on Josephine Dale Lace (pictured on the left) by a very entertaining Neil Viljoen, curator of Northwards in Johannesburg. The beautiful and scandalous Josephine (aka Josie, the Bird of Paradise and SA’s most famous ghost), was born in Richmond in 1869 and certainly got tongues wagging with her exuberant exploits. Northwards is the Herbert Baker-designed Parktown home overlooking the Magaliesberg, commissioned by Randlord John Dale Lace and his wife, Josephine. Len says this is worth visiting.

Other speakers were Dr Judy McGuire, a Karoo anthropologist and a key role-player in Prince Albert’s conservation success and Peter Whitlock, a second generation Karoo architect. Len also led a panel who explained how one could save one’s town’s heritage. Between talks, we were able to visit the Saddle Horse Museum, one of the best museums I have visited in South Africa.

On Friday night, we attended the Heritage SA 2014 annual gala evening and awards ceremony at the Richmond Country Club (I am not exaggerating!) where we were treated to classic Karoo cuisine (Springbok, of course), enjoyed Juno’s wines (yes, from Paarl) and applauded the award winners. Dr Judy McGuire was a worthy winner of a gold medal for her contribution to heritage.

On Saturday, we were treated to an excellent talk on Karoo Evolution given by the very erudite and knowledgeable Prof. Bruce Rubidge, a palaeontologist at the Bernard Price Institute for Paleontological Research at the University of the Witwatersrand. Prof. Rubidge is a son of the Karoo, raised in Graaff-Reinet and co-author of The Story of Earth and Life. His talk was followed by an equally interesting talk by Dr David Morris, an archaeologist at the McGregor Museum. He spoke on how the Bushmen of Colesberg, Hanover, Middelburg, Nieu Bethesda and Richmond lived. A third member of this array of illustrious speakers was the well-known Graham Viney, author of Historic Homes of SA and Colonial Homes of SA, who spoke to us about Cape Dutch to Cape English – the influence of the picturesque movement on Cape domestic architecture. A fitting end to an excellent symposium.

After a very lively demonstration of sheep-shearing of two terrified sheep (a veritable demonstration of seeing the whites of their eyes) on the stage in the hall, and a gift of a down-filled duvet for our heritage champion, Len, we were very lucky to have our very own knowledgeable Len take us on a walk through the town. The Karoo has a unique style of architecture, with a clear European influence, with many of the typical Karoo houses being simplified versions of the popular Regency, late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian styles of the time. Typical characteristics include a façade and a flat roof and quite often a prominent covered veranda as protection against the harsh sun. These houses were built of local materials such as stone and handmade bricks and plastered with a breathable mud plaster. Shutters cover the windows to keep out the heat in summer or keep in the warmth in winter. In the countryside, one comes across corbelled houses built by the Voortrekkers (again a style found across Europe).

A perfect ending to a remarkable weekend, was a brief night’s stay in Nieu-Bethesda, where we were joined by Chris and Margaret Young for a braai under the stars. I shall definitely be buying an I LOVE THE KAROO bumper sticker! And a huge thank you to Mr and Mrs Heritage themselves, Len and Cathy Raymond, for always walking the talk.

Cathy Robertson

25 February 2015

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