My interest in Kariega

30Mar
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The farm Barville Park is situated just ten km east of Kariega Park. It was at Barville Park, in 1888, that my father was born in the historic, fortified homestead that still exists on the farm. His childhood years were all spent in the area. As a teenager he was given his first pair of shoes for use on days other than Sundays, and was sent to school in Grahamstown, but it was the first 13 years of his life that provided most of the stories that kept the family enthralled. We learnt how he made birdlime, and smearing it on twigs, caught Cape canaries for sale to the pet-shop in Grahamstown. How his initial attempts to produce pocket-money from the sale of honey failed, because the bees visited aloe blossoms and the resulting product was not to the customer's taste. There was the occasion when he and his brother Alton, while attempting to crawl into a rocky overhang, found, to their horror, that it was already occupied by a leopard. And there was the scar on his back, a reminder of the time when he and the same brother tried to steal an egg from the nest of an ostrich. Alton reached the fence just before my father. My dad managed to scramble beneath the wire, but only after having been kicked to the ground and having his shirt torn and back sliced open by the long toe of the irate bird.

My own upbringing in the suburbs of Johannesburg was tame by comparison. It was perhaps no wonder that I pestered him for more stories of his own childhood, and wished that I too was a barefoot farm-boy. In due course we visited the old family farm, now owned by a distant cousin - it still is – and it was every bit as exciting as I had dreamed it to be. From that moment on I considered myself a citizen of the Eastern Cape, no matter where I was actually living.

It was after Caryl and I married that we moved, in 1968, to the Eastern Cape to teach at a school called Woodridge, situated in the countryside on a spur of land jutting out into the valley of the Van Stadens River, 40 kilometres from Port Elizabeth. Caryl, a keen naturalist with a particular interest in botany, shared my love of the veld, and Woodridge was an ideal base for expeditions into the surrounding countryside. We discovered not only its natural wonders, but also began to absorb a portion of the Eastern Cape’s huge historical background, for it was here that for the first time Xhosa cattle-herders and agriculturalists, Dutch trekboers, Khoekhoe herders, English settlers and San hunter-gatherers all came together to form a volatile mixture which has resulted in present-day South Africa. Together with our three daughters we went in search of trees and birds and animals and old farms and battle-sites, and, according to our eldest daughter, “Visited every graveyard in the province and even a sewage-works.” (I mistook the walled sewage-works for yet another graveyard!)

Since our retirement in 1996 Caryl and I have been able to give all our time to our interests. She has worked as a botanical specialist, overseeing development projects and helping with the production of botanical reports, while we both have been involved with collecting work for the New York Botanical Garden, Kew’s Millenium Seedbank Project and the South African National Biodiversity Institute. In addition we are both members of CREW – Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers. While our focus has been particularly on plants, we are interested in all aspects of natural history, and in October 2000 were with Dr Dai Herbert when the left-handed awl snail, Euonyma laeocochlis, was rediscovered a century after it was last collected. We have travelled extensively throughout the province in connection with our botanical work, and also to do research for the magazine articles, reports for government departments and the five books on the Eastern Cape that have appeared under my name.

It is a great privilege now to be associated with Kariega Park, for it was in this area that my links with the Eastern Cape were first forged and my interest in both its history and its natural history aroused.

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