Welcome to Week 16 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Roodepoort Museum.
I’ve held off on writing about the Roodepoort Museum for a few weeks because it’s so obscure. But the museum’s obscurity is also what makes it worth writing about.
The Roodepoort Museum is, not surprisingly, a museum about Roodepoort. Roodepoort is one of those towns outside Joburg (to the northwest of the city centre) that is technically a town on its own but also a suburb of Joburg. I heard about the museum while visiting Lindfield House and Marie-Lais and I decided to give it a try.
When we first pulled up I thought we may have made a mistake. The Roodepoort Museum is inside one of the blandest government buildings I’ve ever seen.
Things got better as soon as we went inside. We met Carolina Geldenhuys, the museum’s curator, who plunged us right into Roodepoort’s history.
The first room of the museum was pretty normal museum stuff — ancient rocks, gold mining implements (Roodepoort, like most towns around Joburg, started as a gold rush town), large placards explaining the history of the area’s earliest humans, the mining workers from China, etc. All very informative but nothing to really write (or blog) home about, in my opinion.
As we moved down the hallway, things started to get weirder and more interesting.
Digging Deeper into the Roodepoort Museum
The first display to catch my eye was the Victorian hair art exhibit.
Did you know that the Victorians made brooches out of dead people’s hair? Me neither, although I can’t say I’m totally surprised.
We then moved on to some beautiful Victorian ceramics made by a handsome woman named Hannah Barlow with a handsome dog named Rufus Darwin.
I was pretty impressed by the hair art and Hannah and Rufus Darwin. But we had yet to reach the main event. We rounded a corner and there it was: a life-size Voortrekker diorama.
Voortrekker is the term for the Afrikaans-speaking South Africans of Dutch descent who migrated from the Cape Colony to the South African highveld (including today’s Gauteng Province) during the 1800s. The Roodepoort Museum has a full-on, life-sized Voortrekker farmhouse surrounded by murals that convey the feeling of being in the 19th-century highveld.
After the full-sized Voortrekker diorama the rest of the museum was a journey through Roodepoort time, with room upon room guiding us decade after decade from the mid-1800s, to the Victorian era, through the 1930s.
The 1930s room was my favorite — all modern-looking and brown.
I enjoyed the Roodepoort Museum because I’ve never visited anything like it before. My one objection is the white, Eurocentric nature of the exhibits. With the exception of a few placards in the first room, this museum documents only the history of white people and culture in Roodepooort — a testament to the apartheid era in which the museum was first opened.
Nonetheless, the Roodepoort Museum is worth a visit if you have a hankering for quirky life-sized dioramas, Victorian hair art and awesome Art Deco decor.
The Roodepoort Museum is at 85 Christiaan de Wet Road, Roodepoort. Visits are by appointment only. Call +27-11-761-0228 for more information.