Put­son­der­wa­ter, a ghost town ‘son­der’ peo­ple

RobinBrown­takesth­e­lon­groad­tothele­gendaryghost vil­la­ge­ofPut­son­der­wa­teran­dit­sonce-fa­mous­rail­waysta­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PROPERTY -

WE en­joyed our break­fast on the steps of what was once the most beau­ti­ful rail­way sta­tion, in the coun­try, now part of a derelict set­tle­ment bak­ing in the blis­ter­ing North­ern Cape heat.

It’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that in 1989, the busy sta­tion with its wish­ing well, rock gar­den and roses won the Dun­can tro­phy.

And, de­spite hav­ing ar­rived early in the soft light of dawn, the De­cem­ber heat was al­ready op­pres­sive and the birds and even the ants were al­ready mov­ing in slow mo­tion.

The si­lence was as­tound­ing, in­ter­mit­tingly bro­ken by the gen­tle sound of the breeze hiss­ing through the aban­doned build­ings or flap­ping a l oose piece of cor­ru­gated iron roof­ing.

We walked up and down the plat- form and through the burnt-out sta­tion build­ing and what must have been the sta­tion mas­ter’s house. The sta­tion’s name plates in­di­cat­ing De Aar 299km away de­liv­ered quiet tes­ti­mony to a once-busy sta­tion.

It must have been close to an idyl­lic life if peo­ple were happy to live in a quiet en­clave of a harsh land where the sum­mer heat and the win­ter chill did not pre­vent peo­ple from set­tling.

It must have been a vil­lage where ev­ery­body would have known each other’s busi­ness while, thanks to the rail­way, was busy as cat­tle, tarred poles, ce­ment and mealies came and went through the sta­tion. A nearby mine pro­duced mar­ble, like feldspar, which af­ter be­ing washed, was loaded at Put­son­der­wa­ter to end up in Tai­wan.

Eight peo­ple worked at the sta­tion, tend­ing the wa­ter pumps, the potable wa­ter sup­ply and a gen­er­a­tor that sup­plied elec­tric­ity to at least part of the vil­lage.

We had left Ken­hardt on the R383, head­ing to­wards Mary­dale, and as the sun be­gan to colour the sky, ar­rived at S 29 13 978, E 021 52 299, a point on the earth’s sur­face called Put­son­der­wa­ter, once a vi­brant set­tle­ment boast­ing a ho­tel, gen­eral dealer, school, at least 30 houses, but now a lonely ghost vil­lage in the North­ern Cape.

To­day i t c oul d e a s i l y be named “Put­son­der­peo­ple”. It has be­come leg­endary and many peo­ple be­lieve it does n o t e x i s t a n d f a l l s i n t o t h e s a me cat­e­gory at Twee­buf­felsme­teen­skoot­mors­doo­dgeski­et­fontein.

The so­cia­ble weaver nests cling dan­ger­ously to all the tele­phone poles. The only other tes­ta­ment to life in the area are the shiny rail­way tracks, which are still in use. To­day the freight train just thun­ders through – a far cry from its hey­day, when the small set­tle­ment was alive and bub­bling with in­hab­i­tants.

Walk­ing among the empty build­ings on huge beds of devil thorns, it is dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that a passenger train and buses would stop at Put­son­der­wa­ter on their way from Uping­ton to De Aar.

While ex­plor­ing t he r uins of t he ho­tel and gen­eral dealer, I tried to piece to­gether the fun times the towns­folk and the vis­i­tors must have had in an area de­void of the hus­tle and bus­tle of the big city.

I could only imag­ine the sto­ries that would have been told night af­ter night in the ho­tel’s pub, es­pe­cially when the sum­mer heat was in the high 40s or in win­ter when the tem­per­a­tures dropped to zero, and all would hud­dle in front of the fire­place.

Un­for­tu­nately, the en­tire town has been sadly van­dalised and, al­though it has now be­come a pho­tog­ra­pher’s par­adise, it would be a far more ex­cit­ing place to visit if the build­ings were still in good con­di­tion and it was turned into a vis­i­tor-friendly place.

I have had the good for­tune to have vis­ited Ro­man ru­ins, which are thou­sands of years old and, thanks to ded­i­cated peo­ple, are in bet­ter con­di­tion.

The early his­tory of the small set­tle­ment is not en­tirely clear but it ap­pears that in the 1880s a man – pos­si­bly David Ock­huis – set him­self up in the area t hen known as Kli ppan. When other thirsty trek­boers ar­rived in the ar ea with t heir s t ock, David would ex­claim that he had dug a well but it had no wa­ter.

When the area was even­tu­ally split into two, one part was named Put­son­der­wa­ter and the other Mid­delkla.

When John Con­nan took over the farm, his two daugh­ters ran the farm shop and when they mar­ried, one’s hus­band f a r med s he e p a nd t he o t he r be­came the sta­tion mas­ter.

Now John Con­nan’s great grand­son, Michael Loub­ser, is the of­fi­cial owner of Put­son­der­wa­ter, and as his fore­fa­thers did, he still farms sheep.

Michael Loub­ser and his son, now a fifth-gen­er­a­tion in­hab­i­tant of the area, hope they can re­store the vil­lage and at­tract more vis­i­tors.

An at­trac­tive in­ter­de­nom­i­na­tional church built out­side the vil­lage in 1957, as well as a huge kraal, point to a time when the trains stopped to pick up cat­tle.

The vil­lage’s de­cline be­gan when drought af­ter drought brought t he cat­tle trade to an end and the passenger trains also stopped.

Then the po­lice sta­tion and post of­fice closed, fol­lowed by the ho­tel and gen­eral dealer, as peo­ple left the vil­lage, many go­ing to Mary­dale.

Fi­nally, the freight trains had no need to stop at the sta­tion.

How­ever, the pri­mary school kept go­ing up un­til 2004, t hanks t o t he ef­forts of Ena Hough, but it also closed.

She went on pen­sion and be­cause there was no elec­tric­ity, no wa­ter and no hous­ing, and no one was pre­pared to travel f rom Mary­dale, the vil­lage fi­nally died.

As a fi­nal act of hope, she had the school painted and put signs in the win­dows ask­ing peo­ple not to break the glass, but by that time, van­dals had stripped the build­ings, bro­ken all the win­dows and the floors had all been re­moved.

Sadly, we left the ghost town as the heat in­creased to near an un­bear­able tem­per­a­ture, and fol­lowed the rail­way’s line ser­vice road to Uping­ton.

On our way to Uping­ton, we dis­cussed the sad tale of a once-vi­brant vil­lage now stand­ing in ru­ins, very much akin to Kol­man­skop the di­a­mond min­ing vil­lage on the out­skirts of Lüderitz in Namibia.

At least Kol­man­skop has not been to­tally van­dalised but un­for­tu­nately over­run by a sea of shift­ing sand.

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