The little boy over the road can’t be more than five years old. His daily pursuit is to discover treasure, mostly the sort that is embedded in rocks. Each morning of his recent three week school holiday, come rain or shine or autumnal chill, he would be out on the front doorstep, mostly barefoot, smashing rocks. Each afternoon, his grandmother would arrive, from her house further down the road, and she would gather up all the fragments and clean the front step in order to gain access to the front door.
On chatting with his father (a young academic who speaks excellent English, hence the chat!) he divulged his son’s keen interest in all things geological, in particular the hidden treasures encased in rocks. Curiosity satisfied, it got me thinking about “breaking rocks”…
The first thought that sprang to mind was a somewhat desolate, senseless, painful-history one: Robben Island, South Africa. A small once-upon-a-time prison island nestled in the beautiful Table Bay of the Mother City, Cape Town. On this island, now a rather dilapidated (as with so much in SA, sadly) tourist attraction, lies a stone quarry where political prisoners of the day were made to senselessly break rocks. The futility of the task was intended not only to break the chunks of granite into smaller chunks of granite, but was also intended to break spirits.
The iconic political prisoner, one Nelson Holihlahla Mandela, who spent hours, days, weeks, months and ultimately years, in this quarry with this mountain of stone to break, must have kept his mind sane by escaping into his own fantasy, one which became reality in his case, to become the political leader of the country that imprisoned him.
Not wishing to enter into the quagmire of political debate, side taking and rock breaking over ideologies and the likes, I move swiftly on to the second thought that sprang to mind. A far less fraught and divisive one, thankfully – the one of the fairytale fantasies of my childhood…
We had a patch of ground on our family farm that “sprouted crystals” – I have no idea what the correct term for this little outcrop would be – where we were convinced our wildest dreams would become reality at the discovery of an incredibly valuable “diamond”!
Whenever we accompanied Dad to the top end of the farm for stock checks, we would jump off the back of the bakkie at this place of wild imaginings and fantasy fabrication. There the three of us would “mine” away the hours until Dad came past for us to jump onto the back of the bakkie and head home again.
As we grew older, we began asking slightly more serious questions like: what would happen if we found a REALLY big diamond on our own farm? Horrified, we were informed by our parents that the diamond would have to be handed over to the government as it would be a “national treasure” and all sorts of complicated things like mineral rights and state assets were loosely discussed. We were told about the ‘Star of Africa’ that was discovered in South Africa but “gifted” to Great Britain and is the centerpiece of the crown jewels of HR Queen Elizabeth II.
All this adult-world, political stuff certainly knew how to dash our childhood fantasy of great discoveries of enormous riches as read/heard about in bedtime fairy tales. It all seemed grossly unfair!
Following our midweek morning adventure (we took advantage of the sunnier weather!) up the Stockhorn and walking through the short tunnel, in which is displayed a magnificent crystal “bloom” which I remarked on, during my chat with the young academic neighbour. He divulged a “Swiss secret” of caves that, through eons of oxygen deprivation, volcanic eruptions and seismic pressures, have produced incredible crystals that are “unknown” to the public in order to preserve their treasures. A fantasy of fairy tale proportions and rock breaking delight for any curious treasure hunting children to explore!