Story and Pix by Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit.
If you scratch around the little Eastern Cape town of Adelaide, wonderful stories emerge into the daylight. For a town with such a pretty feminine name, Adelaide in the Eastern Cape is actually very masculine. This is hunting and cattle farming country, where a clean pair of shorts constitutes Smart Casual. If you’re looking for the feminine touch, you’ll find it at the Our Heritage Museum just off the town square. It was first the local dominie’s pastorie and then acquired over time as the private homes of two pharmaceutical legends: Harry Ash and Margaret Lomax of the Borstol and Kloktoring medicines dynasty.
The double storey museum is a display of how the old upper class residents of Adelaide once furnished their homes, what they did in their leisure time and where they travelled around the world. Although the once-beautiful garden is suffering the after-effects of a long drought, all is gracious inside. It seems the various dwellers in this house listened to and recorded a lot of music at one stage – there is no shortage of massive gramophones on display.
When Movies Arrived
One of these is an Edison Triumph, made in the USA in 1877 and purchased at a Tarkastad auction. It comes with 250 wax cylinder records, relics from those days when it was considered hilarious to record conversations or one’s own voice. Speaking of things electric, author Iris Vaughn recalls (in Those Were My Yesterdays) the time the moving pictures first arrived in her home town of Adelaide:
“They were the days of silent pictures, when a pianist sat at the side of the screen and tried to keep pace with suitable music with what was happening on the screen. She or he as the case might be was either one jump ahead with the Double Eagle or three drops behind with Colonel Bogey, or a romantic ditty or Strauss Waltz. Never did the tune match the wild stampede going on on the screen!
“But at the first showing we were all held spellbound by this miracle of entertainment, which knocked tightrope walkers, circus ladies, Bell Ringers and even Leonard Rayne into a cocked hat. We sat staring in a state of stupefication as the almost distorted figures, sometimes blurred, often brightly and starkly clear, leaped and cavorted before our jumping eyeballs, obliterated often by flashes of light or bright sparks.
“All went well for us front benchers until what is known to journalists as the crisis in the picture occurred. A railway engine featured in this, but we were unaware of it, until, without a sound, there appeared a huge terrifying monster of wheels and fire apparently rushing at us right out of the screen. There was one wild yell of terror, as all the front benchers fell to the floor in a swift reflex action to protect themselves from what appeared like sudden and unexpected death.
“The pianist stood up hurriedly and stopped playing, the lights came on by the simple or perhaps not so simple method of pulling the shades from the window. The show was over and marvel of marvels we all realised we were still alive!
“That was our first bioscope.”
An Eccentric, Fascinating Collection
The house kitchen seems a little eccentric at first glance, what with the one-eyed stuffed jackal in prime position in the middle of the room. But just snuffle about a bit, and you might be amazed at Victorian-era domestic enterprise. You will come across:
A peach peeler, a raisin pip remover, a bean slicer, orange slicer, coffee grinder, cake mixer, small mincer, meat mincer, corn sheller, China pudding boiler, bread cutter, candle moulds, baby irons that were also used to add a gloss to collars, buttons, those ubiquitous copper bed-warmers and a carpet beater. To name a few items.
Climb the stairs to the first floor and find the really good stuff amongst the random items on display. In the Glass & China room it would probably be best to have an accomplished ceramicist along to identify the things of value and tell you more about them.
Our untrained eye simply registers a hearty collection of kilted Highlanders looking suitably fit and bonny, a cluster of what appear to be Toby Jugs, crystal vases, ornate decanters and very delicate English figurines twirling parasols. In the midst of all of this is a pair of small but baleful-looking ceramic cats.
There’s even a Voortrekker bedroom decked out with hardier day-to-day goods, including a handy-looking voorlaaier (muzzle loader) rifle, a brace of family bibles, a woman’s kappie and a rather fancy night potty.
Ladies Gathering Forever
But the room we return to every time we visit this museum (exactly twice so far, to be exact) is the Chattering Parlour upstairs. We’re self-confessed addicts of country museums with their armless mannequins, squiff-standing displays, dusty yesterdays and surprise-finds, and the Our Heritage Museum Chattering Parlour in Adelaide is a fine example of all of the above.
The women are bedecked in dresses from the early 20th Century and they stand in a clutch of quiet contemplation, as if one of them has just said something quite momentous. Nearby is the Very Merry Widow, wearing black and a smile of utter delight.
There’s a new arrival in the Chattering Parlour: dressed in top hat, bell bottoms and a modern long-sleeved shirt, this woman is about as rock ‘n roll as it gets up there on the first floor of the Our Heritage Museum.
There have been some heritage upgrades since we last passed this way: a room dedicated to the Anti-Apartheid activists of Adelaide and, outside, a large display of local Khoisan artworks.
‘The Grand Old Lady’
But no stopover in Adelaide is ever complete without a lunchtime foray to the pub at Midgleys Hotel on the square for a delicious steak, a drink and a quick tour of this historical country hostelry dubbed by locals as ‘The Grand Old Lady’.
After your steak lunch (and if you have the time), wander off to the nearby DR Moederkerk, see if you can go inside and have a look at their classy pulpit.
The story goes that shortly after the Anglo-Boer War, a load of top-quality wood arrived in Adelaide from somewhere in England. The locals thought the Brits were finally giving them something in return for the disruptions of the war years. They crafted a beautiful pulpit and some sturdy pews out of the wood and were full of gratitude for the ‘heaven-sent gift’.
A while later there was a polite enquiry from somewhere in Adelaide, Australia:
“Has anyone seen our wood?”
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