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Tales of Matjiesfontein
It’s the people that make it what it is
Matjiesfontein means 'Fountain of little reeds'. When you have questions (and you surely will have them) about this oasis in the Karoo, you have to speak to the Matjiesfonteiniens, the locals. Matjiesfontein is a village of 300 people, and 50 of them are employed in the hotel, the restaurant, coffee shop, bar, museums.. They love telling you stories from the older days when things were like this and that, you won’t get a better history lesson anywhere else.
Most of the staff has worked here for long, some more than 40 years. You will meet people like Katrina Louw who works in the coffee shop, but has worked everywhere else too. Porter, Gert Willemse is always up for a chat, ask him about his uniform and Major Buist, the grandson of Matjiesfontein founder Logan, who resided in the Tweedside Lodge.
In everyone’s heart: David Rawdon
David Rawdon was the laird of Matjiesfontein from 1968 until he passed away on August 13th 2010 at the age of 86. "David broke a lot of hearts, but never got married" says Judy Rawdon, David’s nephews wife. David liked to party, a few days before he died he closed the bar at 3am in the morning. Hotelier David Rawdon opened the Rawdons Hotel in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, the Lanzerac Hotel in Stellenbosch, The Marine Hotel in Hermanus and restored Matjiesfontein from 1968 to 1970, calling these years "the best years of my life". David had a big love for interior, the hotel business, horses and of course the people of Matjiesfontein, that looked very well after him.
Now, the village is owned by a trust with the vision to put a portion of the money made towards education, grants and bursaries for the students of Matjiesfontein. Judy (Canadian) and Jonathan Rawdon, both accountants follow the footsteps and vision of David to keep Matjiesfontein alive. In his childhood, Jonathan always came to Matjiesfontein for holiday to visit his uncle and his magic village. After many years spent in Bermuda, in 2004/2005 the couple spent one and a half years in Matjiesfontein, getting to know David Rawdon better and his vision that no changes would ever happen. David’s focus was on the preservation of old buildings, to keep the uniqueness for years to come. His wish for people to say "Everything has remained the same" came with his answer "Nothing has changed since we opened the doors in 1970". Jonathan and Judy share David’s vision but also have the goal to improve in order to keep up with the 21st century.
"David had a very good memory. He was a joke-teller. He would relate jokes to you and make you feel like a movie star" says Judy. David ran the business Matjiesfontein until the end. The question he always asked visitors "Are you going up or are you going down?".
When you go on a tour with the London Double Decker Bus you will meet passionate entertainer and pastor Jon Theunissen who is also a bartender at the Laird’s Arms Pub. He was born in Matjiesfontein and worked here for the past 28 years. His mom worked as a head chef for 40 years for the Logan family. This place means everything to Jon. "I was on holiday and every second night I was in the bar". When he was a boy, David Rawdon asked him "What can you do?" and Jon said "I can look after your horse". "I did everything my hands could do. Clean windows, floors, I worked as a porter, I worked in the gardens, played piano and guitar.."
Speak to the people, they will inspire you and make Matjiesfontein feel alive.
by Antonia Heil | photographs by Desmond Louw
Matjiesfontein is a blast. We said Hello Matjiesfontein, slept two nights in the Lord Milner Hotel and had a good time.
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