I love stories.
I used to be very scared of going to new places alone. I didn’t like to drive outside my geographical area, unless I really had to. But I began to realise that my search for stories could be far more interesting in person than reading them on the internet. As my fear began to wane, my Smartie and Google maps became a source for new adventures.
I still don’t like driving long trips but recently a series of serendipitous events found me bundled in my chariot on a 90 minute journey to a small mining town called Cullinan. The village has flirted with me over the years on route to other places and I always said that I would be back to explore.
I found myself sitting, very early, in a modern Wimpy across from the Herbert Baker designed church. I had seen the tin houses on my previous drive throughs but didn’t realise that the British architect had built his renowned stone buildings in this seemingly unknown town. Giddy with excitement, I googled the details and hurried my breakfast to go explore this find. No longer an Anglican Church but a nondenominational venue for weddings and funerals. The passionate manager gave me a personal tour, plus a magnificent glimpse into his life in the ‘dorp’.
The interior of the church smelled of candles, wood and sacredness. The simplicity of the space giving the beauty of the stones, pride of place. The rush of curiosity filled my system as I stood in awe of the gentle space. As the manager rang the bell for me, I almost stopped him because of my old respect for not having an occasion to ring. One part of me shouted ‘hey, I am the occasion’. The tour stretched across the new garden into the new build, which historians might not gush over, but I recognised this opportunity to give the space a new purpose as humans release their need on the old and conventional. There is no mistake who is the main star on this property and after a long chat and a big hug, I reluctantly left to explore the village.
The mine is still bustling in its search for diamonds and with a new company owner on board, the energy felt full of possibility, which I enjoyed. I went on a walking tour of the mine which explained the early history of the big hole. This was the home of the early find of the world’s largest uncut gem diamond, the stone was found only 5 meters from the surface. The huge stone was divided into over 50 stones, with the two largest carats being gifted by the old Transvaal (Tvl) government to the British Royal Family. The mine made enough money from the sale of that one diamond to the Tvl government, to build the mining company, the Premier mine, which developed the town in which the stone buildings were built. A sure sign of a longer time investment that the old, pop-up mining towns, used to offer.
I lunched in one of the few open venues, due to it being the ‘midweek weekend’ on Monday and Tuesdays, a lot of places were closed. But the quiet gives me a behind the scenes feel which I enjoy. I spoke to a big Afrikaner with a Scottish surname as he told me about his bucket list wish of visiting my birthplace and we laughed about my Afrikaans surname. I chatted with the young waiter, eager to bring new customers who seemed to bypass his workplace, thinking it was closed. Then I chatted for some time with my hotel receptionist about life in the small town.
My old hotel gave me even more joy when I was upgraded to the best room in the building. The Royal Suite, which was rumoured to have had the Queen sleep in on her visit to the town in the 40’s. Although it was probably her father as she was a princess at the time of the tour. I bounced up and down the stairs in excitement, to uncover more stories in my quest. A drive out to the Italian Cemetery for Prisoners of War found me on the wrong sides of locked gates as I marvelled at the well maintained grounds and stories that lay peacefully in its silence.
Although a very small town, I feel like I have only scratched the surface and it got me wondering about all the other gems in small towns around the country that lie patiently waiting to be experienced. Once I start digging, I realise that the layers of history have created my present moment.
My explorations are tomorrow’s history and I am grateful to be at this very point where my curiosity has woken me up to a new adventure within reach of both my budget and capabilities.
I wonder what my next adventure is?