Kathy Munro

This week I thought I would write about a Durban book as I am about to spend a couple of days there shortly. I have always had a liking for Durban. For me it was an exciting and welcoming holiday town and as a teenager how I looked forward to a fortnight’s holiday at one of the beachfront hotels enjoying sunshine, sea, sand, sunburn and a South African Christmas.

In June, Dr Dean Allen author and lecturer, delivered a wonderful lecture to members of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. The venue was Northwards and the setting perfect for a lecture that matched the period of the room so perfectly. The theme was the subject of this book and the lecture immediately made me want to reach for the book and read more about Matjiesfontein and the man who made the village. Better still a trip to Matjiesfontein to capture the town that has been restored to its pristine condition and enjoy the Victorian era ambience.

This is a fascinating first person autobiographical account of one woman’s experiences and life in Southern Africa between the early 1880s and her final years in Johannesburg in the  1960s. Bertha Goudvis enjoyed a long and arduous life (1876 – 1966) during years of turbulent change and several wars. She was a first hand observer of the colonial world and lives on to comment on city life in modern Johannesburg.    

Last week it was my pleasure and good fortune to attend the launch of this project, or perhaps I should say the mid-stage of this survey, endeavour and adventure. This is a book in the making. At this moment it is a report, perhaps somewhat dry and very much a presentation of data, but already it transcends the report phase and is on it its way to a landmark book. As a physical book there are only 50 numbered collectors’ hard copies (and each one will become instantly collectable).

I must start this review by declaring an interest... I am a committed, enthusiastic book collector. At times it is a disease but books are like bread and butter in my life. A book is an essential possession. When it comes to books I am a maximalist not a minimalist. At times they take over and one has to introduce discipline and order.  

It was Herman Kallenbach’s good fortune and misfortune to have met and formed a rare, deep and enduring friendship with Mohandas Gandhi in South Africa in the years 1903 to 1914. The good fortune came because to have been a close friend and associate of the man who became Mahatma Gandhi earns Kallenbach a place in Indian and South African struggle history. The misfortune followed because Kallenbach became a tortured soul as an ascetic acolyte and struggled during his entire life to find an identity and meaning in life.

I have always been interested in polar exploration and history. I think the best book on early 20th century polar exploration is by Apsley Cherry Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, which is where Angie Butler starts her book. Butler’s book also fits into a library on polar exploration. Published in 2011, it is a book about her seven year dogged quest to find Frank Wild, the polar explorer and Shackleton’s right hand man. Butler made it her mission to discover what happened to Wild in the last third of his life. 

‘Then and Now’ books of photographs are becoming popular. I recently reviewed Vincent Van Graan’s Cape Town: Then and Now (click here to view). There is an appeal in matching old photographs that open a window on the past and then to return to the exact same spot to see the same place as it is today. What has changed and what has remained? It is a form of heritage treasure hunting.

The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation in conjunction with the Urania Village Community recently organized a walking tour of the Johannesburg Observatory and the surrounding streets of old Observatory. Observatory is a Johannesburg suburb dating back to the early 1900s, when part of the Bezuidenhoudt Farm was in part sold and in part given for the establishment of this scientific institution under the director R T A Innes. The Observatory is located at the highest point on the hill overlooking the suburb.

This is a novel and not a work of history but it draws on the styles and writings of other distinguished writers of and about Johannesburg who provided the inspiration and perhaps some foundation stones. One realizes that there is a community of people out there who love Johannesburg and write about the place. Many of us who live here are passionate about Johannesburg and feel that unique pulse of the city.

Cape Town has always been the most photogenic and dramatic of South African cities. A photograph is worth a thousand words and old photographs have a special historical and visual appeal. Van Graan in this book pays homage to past photographers of Cape Town while also showcasing his own work and that of Philip Massie. The contemporary aerial photographs are by The Aerial Perspective.

I discovered the existence of the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum (located in Lwandle, the nearest township to Somerset West and Gordon's Bay) when enjoying a Christmas seaside vacation. Somerset West is worth exploring with many layers of historical experience from the great wine estates of Vergelegen and Lourensford to the remnants of industrial archaeology to be seen at the old Somerset West African Explosives and Chemical Industries estate, from the scenic drive through Gordon's Bay to the unusual workers museum at Lwandle which is the subject of this book.

Reviews of two Denis Godfrey books. First up The Enchanted Door published in 1963 followed by Antiques and Bygones: Notes for South African collectors  released in 1967. Both books were published by Howard Timmins.

This small volume (published in 1956) was a record of the look and feel of the City of Johannesburg in the 1950s. There are more than 60 marvellous black and white photographs of Johannesburg sights, scenes and people. Joburg was still dominated by mine activities in the fifties and the presence of the familiar fine sand mine dumps was a dominant feature on the horizon.

In November 1972 the new Carlton Hotel, fronting Main Street in Johannesburg opened. Guests were presented with a copy of the limited edition of this nostalgic handsome book, Meet Me at the Carlton, which told the story of the old Carlton Hotel of Johannesburg. This commemorative book was commissioned by the Carlton Centre. 500 numbered limited edition copies were printed, signed by the author, Eric Rosenthal for the opening celebration.

Johannesburg Pioneer Journals 1888-1909 edited by Maryna Fraser, published by the Van Riebeeck Society Cape Town 1985, Second Series no 16. This is an elegant well presented volume and an excellent item of Johannesburg history.

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