‘Bits and pieces’ of history

2018-04-24 06:00
Joy CobernPHOTO: NIcole MCCain

Joy CobernPHOTO: NIcole MCCain

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As Fish Hoek celebrates its centenary this year, there has been much reflection on the seaside village’s passage through time.

Looking back at the town’s history has become a labour of love for one local author.

Joy Cobern was introduced to Fish Hoek history by her husband, Malcolm, who was “Fish Hoek’s official historian”.

Malcolm had pursued historical photography as a hobby and was later headhunted from his position with the South African Post Office by the National Archives.

After he retired, Malcolm started his own historical collection – which boasted around 5000 photographs, along with books and other material. Joy later donated these to the Fish Hoek Valley Museum. He came from one of the earliest families to buy property in Fish Hoek.

Using his lunch hour to dig around the Archives, Malcolm was inspired to write a book about Fish Hoek. This he did during his daily train commute to the Archives in the Cape Town CBD. His book, Story of the Fish Hoek Valley, was privately printed and only 350 copies were made. The book was such a labour of love that Malcolm refused for it to be edited – a fact which would later prompt Joy to put her own pen to paper.

After Joy left her teaching career to join Malcolm on retirement, she was asked to assist in setting up the Fish Hoek Valley Museum. She ran the museum for around 15 years.

The museum was opened in 1994, after the Fish Hoek Valley Historical Association saw the need for a museum in which the history of the valley, extending from False Bay in the east to the Noordhoek-Kommetjie coastline in the west, could be displayed. Over a number of years, items of historical interest were collected and stored in the Fish Hoek Library until eventually the town council gave the Historical Association the use of a house on the corner of Recreation Road and Fifth Avenue (“Museum shows off ‘the place you live’,” People’s Post, 3 November 2015).

Just some of the historical gems that can be found in the museum are photographs tracing the development of Fish Hoek from Fish Hoek Farm, which was owned by the De Villiers family; a collection of bleached whale bones from the time when Fish Hoek was a whaling station; and artefacts and murals of Peers Cave, depicting the cave as it must have been when inhabited by the Khoisan.

The museum opened with an exhibition of Malcolm’s photographs, Joy adds.

Malcolm died in 2000 and soon after Joy began working on her own history of Fish Hoek, Fish Hoek Looking Back. She had been writing a series of historical articles for People’s Post and was approached to have Malcolm’s book reprinted – something that would only be possible if the book had been edited.

Joy instead decided to expand her articles into “a little book which is basically a Fish Hoek history for beginners, so to speak, that can be sold to tourists and locals at the Museum”.

Much of the material in the book comes from Malcolm’s work, but Joy also spent hours researching the materials at the museum­. “I love research,” Joy says. “In the museum there are boxes of bits and pieces. There’s an awful lot of information if you know where to find it.”

Much of this was donated by Fish Hoek residents and when a building was found for the museum, Joy faced the arduous task of sorting through the items.

“If you had seen some of the things people had thought were worthy of preservation – you can imagine! It was a very mixed sort of thing, tatty old bits and pieces that nobody would want.”

But in between all these “bits and pieces” were gems on the town’s history, which allowed Joy and other members of the historical society to do ongoing historical research.

Joy is still practising her research skills and is working on a book about her family history. She has also been engaged for several talks on the history of Fish Hoek to mark the centenary year.

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