I grew up in the Trasvaal (as it was then) and coming to Cape Town for the long December holiday was always a special thing. My Father liked to teach us about Cape Dutch architecture and point out the various features that defined it. We were lucky enough to stay with my great aunts in Welgelegen, a Herbet Baker designed house, furnished appropriately. So, stinkwood cupboards, VoC blue and white china, broad yellowwood floor boards, camphorwood kists, green shutters, white walls, thatch and oaks all came to hold a special – and I suppose somewhat superior – place in my aesthetic sensibilities. There is something so right about it all – for me.
Over the weekend I stayed at Kersefontein, a beautiful working farm on the West Coast near Hopefield. Julian Melk is the eighth generation of Melk farmers to be there and made us welcome in one of the beautifully appointed guest suites. We were in one that used to be the shearing shed. It is now a large and luxurious room with a fireplace, bold wallpaper, lovely furniture, heated towels and crisp, white sheets on comfy beds. I loved walking around the farm and seeing the original buildings – some in better repair than others and how time had mellowed and softened the old buildings.
For me, this facade of the main house is so lovely and fits right into a place that feels good and right and familiar. I loved the fact that old things were in use. I loved that Kersefontein had not been over-done up or made too pretty, but that it was nevertheless cared for and looked after.
And yet as I felt filled up with pleasure and contentment, I thought back to a lunch in another Cape Homestead a few weekends ago. As I revelled in my delight of the Cape Dutch “rightness” of things, my companion commented on the slave bell and how there was a very different history and experience – one that would certainly not see the Cape Dutch homesteads as right.
It is a salutary thing to remember that believing is seeing and different histories and experiences make us see things differently.