Looking East

Look East on any fine morning. The hills over which the sun rises are called Groene Kloof. There’s gold in them thar hills. The name Groene Kloof, the green valley, dates from at least 1682. Sergeant Bergh mentions it in the journal of his expedition to Namaqualand in that year. The presence of water attracted the traveler and determined the roads, for draught animals must have water and grass. It was then the prime grazing of chief Ocdasoa’s cochoqua people, the group sometimes called Saldanhars Hottentotten in the documents of the time.

Looking East on any Fine Morning.

The green-ness remained the dormant factor in the region’s history. The hills are softly rounded, the valleys hospitable and generous. They are green because the elevation of the hills above the coastal plain creates a higher rainfall there. In the old days it was even better watered than it is now. A commission that was sent to chart the fountains and streams of the Groene Kloof at the end of the 18th Century had to postpone the task for a drier season, as everything was under water. If the aboriginal Koina had a name for the Groene Cloof, it was lost when they lost the land to the Dutch East India Company that governed the Cape from 1652 to 1795.

The governors of the Company appointed four butchers to provide it with meat and hides, and granted them, rent free, the entire coastal strip from Koeberg to Geelbek, on which to graze their stock. The area was called Slagtersveld. It included the Groene Kloof, and naturally, Jakkalsfontein, but it excluded three of the finest adjacent properties on which the Company kept its precious draught oxen and horses. The three government reserves were called buitenposten, and named Ganze Craal, Groene Cloof and Klaver Valleij. They could be recognized by the Company’s flag outside the posthuis, and were manned by the posthouder and his postvolk. Their main task was to guard the draught animals, like cowboys. The animals were grazed and rested until they were demanded by the transport depot Groote Schuur, from where all land transport was managed, and a batch of yoke-worn oxen was at the time returned to rest and recuperate at the three government buitenposten.

Ganze Craal was first sold, to the enterprising Van Reenen brothers, in 1791. Lack of space prevents a list of the fare consumed at the auction. Its fine old farmhouse was a National Monument when it was razed by fire and the remains bulldozed, about twenty years ago. Klaver Valleij was not sold, but leased to the Van Reenen in 1971. The Company’s only buildings there at the time were a hut and a chicken coop. It was here that the pure bred merinos were isolated, that were to become the ancestors of the vast Australian wool industry. Today there is a winery at Klaver Valleij that sells Groene Kloof wine under the Groote Post label. The third government reserve, Groene Cloof post was leased to the salt merchant Van Wielligh in 1701, and remained a government property until 1808, when it was given to the Moravian Church as a mission station, and is now called Mamre. Many of the Company’s old buildings still stand grouped around the church. The remainder of Slagtersveld was then sold off, piecemeal, by successive governments to private farmers. Jakkalsfontein was only privatized in 1837.

There are many hills and hillocks in the Groene Kloof range, and almost every one has a descriptive name. Slightly south of east are the two mounds of Rondeberg. You will recognise them easily enough. Approaching from the South, Rondeberg is the one with the vast rectangular scar in its western slope, as if a large mouse took a bite out of it yesterday. Look East again. Behind Rondeberg stands Kapokberg, in the heart of the Groene Cloof. Why Kapokberg, you ask? Because of the shrub kapokbos, the one with the white fluff that small birds gather to line their nests. Klipberg, just north of Darling, is obviously appropriately named.

I said that there is gold in those hills. Several of the old Groene Kloof farms have fine Cape Dutch houses on them that are loved and cared for. Some are National Monuments. Groote Post is a case in point. Klaver Valleij is another. Most of these farms have long and well-recorded histories. Groene Kloof is the heart of Duckitt country. The family ancestor was sent out by the British government in 1800 with a party of skilled farmers and craftsmen, implements, seed and animals to improve the agriculture in the newly acquired colony. He set up his experimental farms at Klapmuts, but had to leave when the country was returned to the Dutch. Under the next British government he continued his work at Groote Post, which remained a “government agricultural estate” as late as 1844. I found a sheaf of correspondence between Duckitt and government officials in the archives, recently, addressed to him at both Groote Post and Claver Valleij, and all undisturbed, possibly unresearched, definitely unpublished. I was surprised by the excellent relationships, the familiarity of tone and custom, and by the unusual nickname that he had among his friends. Remarkable old fellow. He bought Klaver Valleij from the government in 1825 (did he retire in that year?), and now rests there by the side of his wife. Their descendants in habit the green hills.

Tow Duckitt I remember vividly. When I was a child of six, living at Geelbek, my absolute hero was an eighteen-year-old lad called Willie Duckitt. He was a great horseman, often riding bareback, and I clearly remember the evening he came to say good-bye. He had brought a bag of huge crayfish. He was off to war the next morning. And he never returned. He was killed in action with the 6th Armoured Division in Italy, within the year. My father also joined soon after, and we left old Geelbek. My second Duckitt was a spectacular Edwardian apparition. When I was at high school in the middle 50’s, our town’s rugby side occasionally used me to fill a gap. And it came about that one balmy autumn day we were playing darling, in the green heart of that pretty village, and there stepped from a motor car onto the field a referee from the time when Prince Obelensky scored that impossible try for Oxford… but you probably won’t know of that. Apart from the wide waxed moustaches he wore a brown flat cap, a cream blazer and a blue cravat with badges on it, and a very dark pullover with a V-neck. His trousers were chequered plusfours, with black hose and white shoes. He carried a rattan walking stick and used a police whistle. We were nearly intimidated. Here was the laird come down from the great house to investigate the commotion on the village green and give judgment. Our opponents treated him with deference, calling him “mister Duckitt” instead of the usual “meneer” (“Ja, maar hulle slaan eerste, mister Duckitt.”) I will never forget the sight of him.

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