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An autumn day in the Overberg. I’m off to Kleinmond and Betty’s Bay to draw, but, despite the sunlight, things are hazy and I decide instead to go inland. I take the road up the Hemel en Aarde Valley. We wind gently upwards past fabled wine estates. I have my sketching stuff with me, and of course the company of the intrepid Africanis, ears straight up, watching for baboons and guinea- fowl. At the top of the valley there’s a dirt road with a sign saying Karwyderskraal. I take a left there. I noodle on down the road, eating the dust of urgent Toyota bakkies. Where are they going in such a rush? They have business on those wine estates. Or maybe they’re Karwydering things. I take a right up a pine tree avenue, the De Bos dam down below. I’m seeing a lot of stuff, but its just not composing itself. Out of the car, there’s a chill wind, and I can’t get the car facing the right direction. I close the door on my thumb. I feel badly dressed, cranky, and out of sorts. I need new shoes. The clock is ticking.

Back on the dam wall, I pull up alongside a large SUV, and we peek over the edge. Two men and a woman. Swimmers, one in a wet suit and two soaking in the morning light. Snatches of talk drift up, and there are tales of Iron Men and other endurances. I confess, dear reader, that for a moment, I envy their youth and their strength.

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After a while the woman comes up the embankment and she pats Lulu and tells me, by way of explanation, that they are Training. Three people in their productive prime whiling away a Tuesday morning sloshing around the De Bos dam. Training,eh? No wonder the economy’s gone to pot. Straightening my shoulders, I said to her “I am doing Aesthetic Research.” Nah, I didn’t say that. “I’m just knocking around” is what I told her.

We dawdle up the valley until we get to the Teslaarsdal road. At last, the dirt road I’m looking for! A kilometer down the road, I pull up and start a drawing. It is noon now and warming, and I’ve stopped the nonsense of looking for picturesque things to draw. There’s a craggy outcrop to my left, but I’m looking instead at some bland fields and a grey nondescript hill. After a while a car pulls up next to me, and dispenses a man and woman, who thank the driver for the lift. They wander off towards Teslaarsdal with nothing on the horizon. The man in the car next to me struggles for a while to start the engine, and I ignore him steadfastly. Eventually it splutters to life, and away he goes. It’s hot now and I need suntan lotion. I find some in the console of the car. It is cheap green allegedly zinc -based stuff targeted at surfers. Why did I buy it? I apply it first to the back of my neck, then to my arm. My forearm is now bright green and sticky as if dipped in nuclear slime. Yay!

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A few kilometres towards Teslaarsdal I see the man and woman trundling along the road. I stop to give them a ride. “Muli bwanji!” I say as they get into the car. The Malawian greeting is met with great surprise and mirth. Perhaps its just my bad pronounciation. I drop them at a farm gate further on down the road. Eventually I get to the metropolis of Teslaarsdal. Nothing more, perhaps, than a gradual expansion of smallholdings and two new (and ugly) facebrick shops. It merits another visit but for now I have one more drawing to do, so we get back onto the dirt, trustfully following signposts that give no indication of distance.

I go on through the agricultural wasteland. It is difficult to think of it as anything else. Rather like the world evoked by Andrew Wyeth’s great painting ” Christina’s world,” except more so.

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This is the world us bread -eaters have made. Scrubland – once the home of many small mammals and the raptors that lived off them –  makes way for wheat; our carb-craving knows no end. Outside of the odd sheep, there really is very little life here, although farmers are encouraging the blue cranes endemic to the area. And I saw a heron. And five egrets.

Its getting on, shadows are lengthening and the light yellowing. Despite these morbid thoughts, it looks beautiful. I stop the car on a hill and do my last drawing of the day, overlooking a cluster of bluegums and gentle hills marked through with giant scribbles and scrawls. And then its back around the Kleinrivier mountains to the suburban seaside.

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J H Pierneef’s Station Panels are cornerstones of South African landscape painting. They were placed in the old Johannesburg Station as adverts to travel the country.

But did these alluring places ever really exist? And how have they changed?

Taking up the invitation to travel 80 years later, Carl Becker set off to find out.

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