Exploring Milnerton’s rich history

This picture, taken in 1905, according to tour guide Matt Weisse, shows the wooden bridge at Woodbridge Island. The bridge was built in 1901.

It appears that Cape Town’s rivers were getting polluted as early as 1655, just three years after Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival, according to tour guide Matt Weisse, who gave a talk on Milnerton’s history.

About 40 people attended the talk at the Milnerton Canoe Club hall last Thursday, and Mr Weisse’s presentation, which included old photos, maps, artefacts and documents, had them enthralled

Milnerton was already a “busy community” when it was established in 1902, he said. A year earlier, British military engineers had built a wooden bridge to span the Milnerton Lagoon and reach what we know today as Woodbridge Island.

What is a pathway along the Diep River today was once Milnerton railway station, which was built in 1904, according to Mr Weisse. A train would stop at Woodbridge Island four times a day, and passengers would travel between Milnerton and Table View.

And long before GrandWest, there was a casino in Milnerton. The Milnerton Dance Hall was built in 1904, but Mr Weisse said that according to his research, it was also a popular gamblers’ haunt.

“The people would go to Royal Ascot racing track and then make their way back to a casino at Woodbridge Island, where they would play cards and dance,” he said.

Old back-and-white photos from the early 20th century showed the dirt road that ran between Milnerton and Table View with cows and sheep on the roadside. That road is now covered by beach sand.

Mr Wiess said the lighthouse at Woodbridge Island was built in the 1960s and many old tools and artefacts from its construction, “still need to be discovered on the shores”.

During World War I, a fort was built at Sunset Beach to garrison about 75 British soldiers. “The fortification had toppled into the sea and you can see bits and pieces of it still laying on the beach sand,” he said, and pointed to old carbon rods and arcing lights that he found near the site of the old fort.

“Milnerton has so much of its history and evidence on its shores – it’s unbelievable.”

Mr Weisse said it looked like rivers in the area had suffered from pollution problems as early as 1655 when the colony’s first environmental law was written.

“Despite our area’s rich history, it’s unfortunate that sewage spills seem to remain an issue here,” he said.

Rietvlei was closed yet again on Tuesday May 17, following another sewage spill into the Diep River.

Dr Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for water, said the Koeberg pump station at Theo Marais Canal had failed due to a faulty electrical drive. Sandbags had been used to raise the level of the weir and contain most of the sewage and bio-enzymes had been applied, he said.

“The City conducted sampling and a mobile pump was used to remove the sewage from the containment area.”

Milnerton Central Residents’ Association deputy chairwoman Caroline Marx, who was at Mr Weisse’s talk, said the City seemed to be taking inadequate steps to prevent large volumes of sewage from entering the Diep River.

Mr Weisse said there were still many things to discover about Milnerton that he could not fit into the presentation. However, he does guided tours around the area, and the next one will be on Youth Day, June 16. To join him, call 082 482 4006

Matt Weisse shows some of the historical artefacts he has gathered over the years.
Milnerton residents Penny and Alistar Whalley enjoyed the event
Milnerton Canoe Club president Richard Allan with, from left, Cherie Milosovich, Caroline Marx, Christiana Groenewoudt and Elisa Metz.