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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

GRAHAMSTOWN, SUNDAY JULY 1 (article first published : 2001-07-1)

Today’s a perfect day for the Standard Bank National Arts Festival. The sun is shining – and it's warm! There’s no wind, which is a mercy, and there’s a good atmosphere around - obviously many people from Port Elizabeth, Port Alfred, Kenton and other surrounding areas have taken advantage of the good weather to take in a day of Festival.

I’m very blessed at festival time because I can get out of the city crowds and go home to a nice warm little stone cottage built in 1850 where I’m staying with my husband’s aunt and uncle, Geoff and Ann Palmer. If it wasn’t for their hospitality, I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford to come to the festival every year and give you, dear reader, a taste of the exciting fountain of arts that it has become.

The farm is Strowan which is about 10 minutes drive from the city centre and, at night - away from the city lights, one can see the Milky Way spreading its glory in the heavens. A festival celebration in itself.

Strowan has been in the Palmer family for 152 years – six generations - and there was much excitement lately with the arrival of a motorised plough built in Germany in 1918. It was demonstrated to a gathering at Strowan of about 40 members of the Vintage Tractor Club of RSA.

In 1975, it was found abandoned on a large manure heap on a farm near Graaff Reinet owned by Alan R Biggs who brought it there from the neighbouring district. It was taken to the Bathurst Agricultural Museum* (which Geoff Palmer founded) where it lay for many years before being sent to the Transvaal for full restoration.

“It’s believed that only 12 of these machines reached our shores,” says Geoff Palmer. “It is known that five of them were bought by two Mealie Kings (corn farming magnates) of the Transvaal. It is believed that only four have survived.

“The engine starts on petrol and is switched to power paraffin for working purposes,” Geoff adds. “It was very well built, having four cylinders capable of drawing a four beam plow (as a plough was termed then) either disc or mouldboard. It’s driven by two large wheels mounted under the engine. The steering arrangement is interesting as it is steered by a furrow wheel at the rear end rather like a boat.

“It was a frightening thought to undertake the restoration of this machine and great care had to be taken. Not a single spare part was available and about 80% of the parts were manufactured by an engineering works in Johannesburg. It is a fine tribute to the man who slaved for many months determined that it would run again.”

The management of the Great Steam Show in Dorset, UK, has shown great interest in this relic and would like to exhibit it on their Great Show next year. This still has to be confirmed but if it makes it across the waters and if you’re an enthusiast and around Dorset at the time, pop along and take a look. Take in a little Eastern Cape history.

( *The Bathurst Museum’s website is currently under construction - watch this space)

Last night I saw, Love and Green Onions (see review in Music) which was great – with the sublime Gloria Bosman ably supported by this year’s Young Artist Award winner for music, Fikile Mvinjelwa. Unfortunately, the production was marred by the highly unprofessional behaviour of a member of the cast who decided in a moment of lunacy to change his performance and turn the character he was playing (a political leader), into Nelson Mandela.

Not a sensible choice for many reasons: a sheer breach of contract in terms of his employment conditions; gross disrespect to his leading lady (Gloria Bosman) who had to face this unexpected moment of self-indulgence, and producing a historical inaccuracy. At the time the opera is set, Nelson Mandela was in captivity. There were many confused faces in the audience and many questions asked after the show, until the story filtered through the grapevine today.




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