Kobus Moolman

An appreciation of a fine South African poet and writer

by Jacqueline Dowling

 Kobus Moolman has had a profound effect on my writing;  his imagery and stark use of words, creating  pictures and sensations in minimalist form, choosing only that which carries both sentiment and image straight to the soul.   Certain of his poetry contains echoes of Pablo Neruda, Dostoevsky and, possibly, Chekov.   Dark in parts but always sweeping his canvas with vivid and emotive observations and portraits.   Life stripped down to its  bones.   Seeing people and places in a different and realistic light.

‘Time like Stone’, a collection of poems and prose written during his time in Nieu-Bethesda after winning the Helen Martins Fellowship, traces the poet’s struggle for language over silence – .   The great open spaces of the Karoo: his thoughts and senses.        

 From Silence and the Stones:

Silence and the stones
speak impenetrable codes
loud as emptiness…’

 And Viewpoint    

‘…and now a solitary bird, wide-winged
rides slowly the lonely railroad
of a neighbour’s sky.’

 Finally The Wind of Bethesda           

‘…All day the doors on the street
are closed against the dust,
the wooden window-shutters too.

Only the sun seems not to mind,
and an old grey donkey
that chews slowly an old rose bush…’

Tactile, emotive and immersed in the otherness of life in a different place.   See the infinity of sky, hear the soughing wind and the high keening of a kite; feel the gritty dust in your mouth and nostrils, and the texture of an old scruffy donkey whose coat has seen many seasons, his tired body drawn many carts.   The paucity of grass and shrub.

Perhaps Karoo Notebook, to me anyway, is Kobus’ magnum opus.   The extracts from the journal kept during his stay in Nieu-Bethesda for me, are echoes of feelings and emotions that go so deep into my soul that it’s hard, at times, to express them.   But he does…minimalist, saying only what he sees, hears and feels.   No frills.


Wrestling with the thought: what is selfishness?
In a place like this – where one is largely an unkown element
(even to oneself), because, significantly, so much alone – one is
continually moving into areas of oneself that had not been known
Even a simple expedition to the corner trading store, then, to
buy a loaf of bread and a piece of smoked wors, becomes a journey
of discovery.   We are our own Columbus or Eric the Red.

I have lain on sunburnt rocks under an infinity of night sky, high in the mountains of the Klein Karoo, the stars so close you could hear them crackle.   Below, in a kranz, a river chuckled its pebbly way to the sea, a jackal barked and was silent.


Sitting on the low verandah wall at night.  A vast plain of stars
above me.   The darkened street around (Bethesda has no street lights)
with the deep outlines of trees tossing in the wind, and

Then the low bubbling of water in the village furrow.
Apparently, in all the history of this village, the spring that feeds
these street furrows from high in the hills has never run dry.
The creak and clank of the wind-pump in Tannie W’s yard


A wind lifts the curtains slowly
in the room,
a warm wind with the voice of crickets.

Other lives happen all around us, but we do not have eyes to see…

I have learned, through Kobus, to open my eyes to the unusual, to store moments, scents, sounds and emotions.   And not ever to be afraid to listen to the music in my soul.

Time like Stone
Kobus Moolman
University of Natal Press 2000
ISBN: 086980 979 2

For my signed copy – thank you Kobus.






A Fresh Start

By Susan Roberts

Today I browsed through my previous posts on this blog, reading snippets from the last two years, re-living the traumatic build up to my relocation from South Africa to Australia. Sometimes I can’t believe how much has happened in the last two years, yet at other times I wonder what on earth I have been doing since I got here nineteen months ago, and wondering why I haven’t done so much more than I have.

I started planning for this journey from the time my sister started planning her move – more than six years ago – but I only kicked the machinery into fast gear two years ago when my bridging visa was granted, and my medical was passed.

It’s hard moving from one country to another. Let’s just get that out of my head and onto the table. There are degrees of difficulty and everyone faces different challenges, but no ex-pat I’ve ever met looks back and says, “Gosh, that was easy!”

As I write this, I am still applying for jobs and trying not to squander my last few hard-earned South African rands that I converted to Aussie dollars at vast cost less than two years ago. I am ever hopeful that soon I will be able to start earning a steady stream of actual Australian dollars. I need to build up a tiny nest egg and find my own place to move into; a place where I can spread my wings a little, unpack my boxes of sentimental stuff, buy a few kitchen appliances and start to live the Australian life in my own way.

Sometimes I wonder what my emotions will be like when I finally unpack the boxes I haven’t touched since packing them back in Durban in early 2015. Will I rejoice at finding things I thought I had left behind? Will I feel sad when I realise just how much I did leave behind? Will I act like a spoiled child as I look around my few paltry belongings and wail “Is that all there is?” Only time will tell.

In the frenzy of packing two years ago I forced myself to cull my collection of… well, everything. I suppose I should say I decimated it, because I had to cut down everything to about a tenth of what it had been. At the time, I took inspiration from articles about Marie Kondo. I grasped every single item I owned and asked myself that all-important question, “Does this spark joy?” and then I ditched the least joyful nine out of every ten of them.


It naturally follows that I am soon going to face the problem of building up a new collection of goodies – everything from mundane necessities to desirable luxuries, and I’m not yet sure how that’s going to affect me. Not that I haven’t already started gathering things. Some would say too many things, but such is my optimism about finding a job that I didn’t want to lose out on bargains when I saw them. To date I have acquired a portable CD player (so I can listen to the CDs I brought with me), a sewing cabinet (because I had to leave my mother’s bulky wooden one behind), a small 2-drawer filing unit, a wok and a few other kitchen utensils, and – inevitably – more books and DVDs…

I found an interesting article the other day, by Anna Monette Roberts, in which she listed four important lessons she has learned from KonMari-ing her house.

How did these four things resonate with me? First, she experienced the enjoyment of liberating herself from many of her lesser-loved possessions. I too found it liberating to reduce the contents of my house. I also managed to get rid of some odd things which I hadn’t really wanted but had felt obliged to hang onto for so long. Liquidating bits of the family silver and turning antique crockery into hard cash was easier than I’d thought, and I had a good excuse so I didn’t have to feel guilty. It also helped me to acknowledge the quirky assortment of things I really couldn’t bear to part with.

Second, she found it easier to move house. I think I will find the same. I couldn’t keep as much as I’d wanted to, but what I did keep I managed to fit into a very tiny Move Cube which sailed across the sea all the way to Australia. Once you’ve moved countries – nay, continents – I imagine that a shorter trip with less stuff will be less daunting.

Third, she discovered her own sense of design – and it wasn’t the same as her interior designer mother’s. While I had to leave behind many beloved pieces of wooden cottage furniture and other items I had gathered slowly over more than thirty years, I am still the same person inside, drawn to the same type of things, and already I have gathered a few irresistible items around which to build my new life.

Fourth, and it is this final point which excites me the most, Anna Monette Roberts feels that her house is no longer “a dark, heavy place filled to the brim with stuff from my past.” I too want a place with no regrets, to break free from the past. Some of those lovely old pieces of furniture were strongly linked to ex-boyfriends and others were reminders of less-than-pleasant times in my life, so this is the part I am looking forward to the most. To be able to make a fresh start with new trappings around me, things which are symbolic of a new start in life, mixed in with a select, eclectic mix of treasured pieces which I hand-picked from my old life.



Ooh La La Land

By Sue Trollip

I went to see La La Land at my favourite movie theatre down by the river. As luck would have it I got the times wrong and had an hour to spare downtown. So, I walked alongside the pounding river, tripping over sandbags from nearby businesses who were preparing for the impending flood. The drizzle made me smile as I walked around the square because a farmer’s daughter will always love the rain.

Doubling back to the cozy jungle café for a sandwich, I gazed at the damp pedestrians, listened to the rain, yearned for the sunshine. Then I got down to the serious business of movie watching.

Emma Stone, versatile and resonating and Ryan Gosling, a man who plays a lovesick sap and a cold hard killer with equal aplomb, sang, danced and fell in love. Then the movie got real. Heartache, life, careers, dreams, aspirations, regrets, decisions. I loved it!

The Houw Hoek Pass

Pulled Up To Heaven Like Elijah

by Jac Dowling

Cresting the Houw Hoek Pass one early summer’s night, a huge golden moon swinging low over the Bot River valley, bathing fields of canola and young wheat in a soft ephemeral glow, I  rewound  to 1798 when Lady Ann Barnard and her entourage traversed this  route from Cape Town to Swellendam: ‘Another tremendous hill . . . a tolerable road but tedious.’   She found neither the comforts of today’s Houw Hoek Hotel, nor the various farm stalls, wineries and guest houses, double carriageways and comfortable travel.   Instead ‘twelve fine, stout, beautiful oxen with horns which spread from pole to pole… and could carry us up to Heaven like Elijah…’, various covered and open wagons, and a team of unruly and cruel drivers completed their caravan. For the use of the oxen the Barnards were charged twelve Rijksdaalders, silver coins first minted in the Netherlands in the late sixteenth century.

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The animals clearly disliked their task and, according to Lady Ann ‘lowed most piteously’ when finding themselves yoked to the wagons.   The upwards trek, in excess of two miles, was  perpendicular, with almost impassable sharp rocks and boulders which split wooden wheels, broke disselbooms and dislodged luggage and equipment.   Flanks heaving with blood from whips and knives used by the drivers, the flayed and exhausted oxen collapsed bellowing and kicking at the bottom of the pass.    But the hazardous trail had yet more in store before nightfall; at dusk a traverse of a steep hillside with precipice beneath had to be negotiated with overloaded wagon and eight horses, exhausted passengers and drovers who had neither the will nor strength to carry on much further.   Various names have been given to this treacherous summit, the most likely being ‘ter houw komen‘ being the corner where oxen required rest at the top of the pass.   Another theory is that Hou(w), the khoi word for cattle, was tacked on to Hoek, thus returning to the original Rest Corner. 

In the event, the Barnard party finally found shelter in the farmhouse of Jacob Joubert, a mere boor, whose wife Lady Ann described as about thirty-five, plain, stupid but civil, yet who managed to serve a boiled fowl dinner fit for an Emperor.   Away from the farmstead a slave was noted cooking her humble mess over a fire.

This farm, built in 1779, the original stopping place for resting travellers, soon required considerable expansion to accommodate the growing numbers and this was the origin of the present day Houw Hoek Hotel, recently sold for +-R42 000 000,holder of the first South African liquor licence(1834), and the oldest hotel in the country.   A small village grew up around the hostelry consisting of a school, butcher, general stores and post office.   All of which were later incorporated into the main building, site of a toll gate in the days of the Dutch East India Company, and the first coaching inn in the country.   Handy for the passing mail coaches, carriages and ox-wagons, it was in 1861 still part inn, part farmhouse, small with clay walls and spotlessly clean according to one Lady Duff Gordon who was charged the equivalent of 90c for dinner, bed and breakfast .

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In 1902 the Houw Hoek railway station was built and the trains from Cape Town to Caledon stopped at the inn at lunchtime when passengers were served, in style, on the platform while the engine was coaled and watered.  

Sitting under shady trees, on the lawns of the hotel recently, I mulled the adventurous and bloody history of the area.  A road was built by Andrew Geddes Bain in 1863, later replaced by a pass running along a ravine – later replaced by . . .and later still by today’s double carriageways from which remnants of the old roads may still be seen, twisting, turning and climbing ever upwards, if one knows where to look.

Pulled up to Heaven like Elijah?  I don’t think so, not me, not just now.  The countryside is idyllic; birdsong, clear high skies, spring leaf and flowers carpeting the mountainsides.  My glass of sauvignon chilled and inviting – I’ll stay firmly grounded thank you and raise a glass to those brave enough to either Hou Hoek or plunge straight down.