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A loving ode to the ‘Hidden Karoo’

Book review

Carmel Villa is a striking sight as travellers enter Calvinia. This ornate Victorian-era home was built by Leon Helfet, one of the many Jewish immigrants who came to southern Africa from Russia in the 1880s and 1890s. **Copyright in pictures: Alain Proust

Authors: Patricia Kramer and Alain Proust

Review by Garth Johnstone

Standing at the roadside near Colesberg on a freezing winter morning, taking a pull on a cigarette and trying to get a picture that adequately captures the colour and the vastness of the gorgeous landscape around me.

A car zooms past stirring up the cold air and I shake my boots trying to warm up, feeling so ALIVE.

‘Hidden Karoo’ by Patricia Kramer and Alain Proust.

This is one of my favourite Karoo memories and an example of how, in its vastness and in the detail, there’s so much to love about this place that’s so special to many South Africans. Things like the random koppies, padstals, surreal morning and evening light, abandoned homesteads, grazing sheep and goats, donkie cars, multi-link trucks that fly past scaring the moer out of you, pieces of old furniture in stunning old homes, and the people.

Hidden Karoo is a book that many archivists and photojournalists would love to have written and produced. A hefty, glossy title in coffee book format, it is so much more, filled with history, stories, stunning photographs, anecdotes and detail about the region the authors so clearly love and have detailed in a series of photo-essays.

On Tweeside Farm, about 10km outside Matjiesfontein, a telephone provided means of communication between the farm and Tweeside Lodge in the village. At the time, this was the longest private telephone line in the country.

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From photographs of the Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein, to pictures of character-filled, long-abandoned farms, to still beautiful Graaff-Reinet, the freakish patterns and striations in the rock alongside the Swartberg Pass, to enchanting fossils and the famous Cranemere Farm in the Eastern Cape, it’s a visual delight, with the accompanying words to match.

A member of a shearing team on a farm outside Vosburg.

Raw beauty

I mentioned the Colesberg area earlier, a well-known stopover point for countless trips from Durban to Cape Town and visa versa, or Gautengers on an expedition to the coast; another favourite of mine is the area around Prince Albert, Meiringspoort and the Swartberg Pass.

The history, character, raw desert beauty and its quirky people make it a favourite go-to place for those looking for a break from the city, to stay a while or linger a lot longer. Just the other side of Meiringspoort is De Rust, another tiny place of interest for Karoo lovers.

During the busy wildflower season, Etta Nel pitches in to help family members at the padstal on the Matjiesfontein werf.

Then there are the towns I still long to see … Calvinia; Ladismith; Carnarvon; Cradock and more.

The Karoo is a harsh, unforgiving environment, and down the year many have come and gone, while the hardy remain. This is reflected in the landscape, the animals, big and small, and evidence of those that were once there and now long gone. As evidenced in this title, some of its magnificent buildings have continued to thrive or been lovingly restored, while others have fallen, victims of neglect and the harsh environment.

The MeerKAT radio telescope, outside Carnarvon, which consists of 64 antennae with the ability to look into deep space.

The print quality of Hidden Karoo is high end and this is a book you will want to hang on to and treasure for a very long time.

Publisher: Struik Lifestyle/Random House
ISBN number: 978 143231 004 2

Fossils found on Wellwood Farm include the Smilesaurus ferox, a large hunter with long canine teeth.
Bloemhof is an ‘ostrich palace’ about 32km north of Graaff-Reinet.

Now read: Look out Western Cape, KZN Midlands on a roll


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Protecting the shepherds