Gauteng

This is one of those literal doorstoppers of a book. It is an immensely thick, dense, daunting and difficult to read tome. The scope of this book is vast and totally pretentious. The eye was on the detail and seemingly, because it was the work of a committee, no civic worthy or fact of civic worth could be omitted. Some 45 years after publication it is incredibly dated. The big themes and what is unique about this city in its short 80 year history is either lost in the plethora of facts or not there at all. 

 

I had not come across this book previously and found that it is a rare volume, as it was produced for family consumption and to commemorate the life of a remarkable South African early business entrepreneur Joffe Marks who established Premier Milling. As Marks died in 1951 aged 89, a book appearing some 50 years after his death is almost half a century too late.

What is the purpose of a film? At the simplest level, it is a form of storytelling in visual form, satisfying an age-old desire of humans to gather to listen to the elders of a tribe relate as oral tradition, fables and myths, stories and heroic deeds. Films can entertain, educate, offer fantasy, and as a visual medium can thrill, scare and transport the viewer to another world. Film is a medium of popular culture. Film is a means of learning about other societies mediated through the imagination of the director.

Eric Rosenthal was a prolific, popular writer and populist historian. His dates were 1905 to 1983 and during a long career as a journalist, researcher and historian he produced some fifty books. There is a useful bibliography of all his writing in the Wikipedia entry (click here to view) and a collection of 20th century Africana will probably contain a number of his works.

In October 2016 Johannesburg celebrates its 130th birthday. From those early beginnings as a mining camp on the veld here is a city in its second century sufficiently mature to realize that there are some buildings worth celebrating and preserving; the camp grew to a town, then a city and is now a sprawling metropolis. It was a city with little appreciation of its past and property developers then and now seldom show respect for the old and out of date.

I turned to this book on my shelves because I sought some background information on the Hal Hurst full length portrait of the elegant Mrs José Dale Lace. This now almost iconic Johannesburg society portrait hangs in the drawing room of Northwards. The illustration of the portrait features on the contents page of the Stevenson book but despite its prominent position in the book, there is very little discussion about the background to the portrait or the artist Hal Hurst.

This small publication (sponsored by the Goldfields Foundation) was published as a Johannesburg centenary venture in 1986 by the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust (today the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation). It is interesting in the context of the bibliography of both where the heritage lobby was some thirty years ago and how topics of historical investigation change. It has become a sought after little publication, highly collectible though only 40 pages long.

These days overseas travel broadens the mind and empties the pocket. Sometimes on a journey abroad an encounter with a work of art, recalls a remembered and much loved treasure at home and in a flash a whole new understanding drops into the brain. I had just such an experience in San Francisco recently when I discovered the fabulous European art collection of the Legion of Honour Art museum. San Francisco was lucky enough to be the beneficiary of the Spreckles collection of Rodin sculpture.

In 1948 a book called Homes of the Golden City was published. The book is about Johannesburg. The initiator of the project was Allister Macmillan, who sadly died before the book was completed. The project was brought to completion by a young writer Eric Rosenthal (1905-1983) who went on to be be a prolific author on historical themes.

 

This is one of those dozen or so "must have in a Johannesburg collection of books". Published in 1979, it is a book that reminds one of the passage of time. How recent now seem one's young days and yet how long ago it all was. A friend recently commented that it is impossible to stop the march of progress, when I bemoaned the impact of the new Rea Vaya on Louis Botha Avenue which, as a result of the road works, instead of revitalization, has become a hazardous obstacle course.

In its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, Ravan Press was regarded as the daring, oppositional anti-apartheid publisher in Johannesburg, ready to take an alternative perspective of South African society. The publishing firm was established by Peter Randall, Danie Van Zyl and Beyers Naude and the firm's name, Ravan was an amalgam of their three names. They were publishers of the left and they supported the academic struggle for a different view and ideological interpretation of social issues of the day.

Albums are normally highly idiosyncratic and personal to the individual who has assembled a collection of photographs or stamps or newspaper cuttings. In 1986 Dr Oscar Norwich, was a medical man with an insatiable appetite for collecting African maps and all information relating to Johannesburg history.

From Mining Camp to Metropolis the buildings of Johannesburg 1886-1940, Gerhard-Mark van der Waal, 1987, publisher Human Sciences Research Council and Chris van Rensburg publications, 268 pages, illustrated, with maps.

Observatory in Johannesburg is one of those rare "hidden treasure" type of suburbs in Johannesburg, located to the north east of the city and spreading across the high ridges of the Witwatersrand. It is a suburb that takes full advantage of the koppies, panoramic views and rocky terrain. Established more than 100 years ago, there are many fine old heritage houses on stands between half an acre and a full acre.

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