Woman in Tourism – Dundee
Did you know there are 27 Dundee’s around the world?! The Scottish Dundee boasts the largest population compared to its counterparts. However, here in South Africa, just 15 000 km’s away from the well known Scottish city lies our very own Dundee.
We introduce to you Pam McFadden from Dundee, curator of the Talana Museum.
Give us a hint on why you chose to live in Dundee?
I was sent, by the Education Department to teach History to the pupils of Dundee High School at the beginning of 1980. I knew the town and farming area well due to family connections. My Grandparents and Great Grandparents lived here. My Great Grandfather and his brothers all fought in the battle of Talana as members of the Dundee Town Guard and earlier this year I acquired his medal for that battle. Also incidentally in researching family history and where they had built their homes found that unknowingly I had bought one of the original family homes about 10 years ago.
What do you love about your community?
The people, the history and traditions. People’s willingness to work together and get involved doing things for their community.
Just a short description of your role in tourism at Dundee Tourism and Battlefields Route?
I started the Battlefields Route in 1989 (official launch was in March 1990) – name came as it was the one thing common to all the towns of the area – Unable to market the Talana Museum in isolation or even Dundee so marketed a region and the names (Isandlwana, Rorkes Drift, Spioenkop, Majuba that people know and recognise) and so built the tourism potential of the region and thus Dundee and Talana Museum. I have been the Chairman, Secretary, Fund-raiser, and Marketing and Product Developer at times over the years.
Tourism Dundee – have served as secretary, chairperson on number of occasions, written and designed all the marketing brochures since 1983, and always a member of the committee.
Tourism Dundee, Battlefields Route and Battlefields Tour Guides Association (currently also chairperson) all volunteer positions.
What inspired you to study history and more importantly specialise in the Battlefields?
I have always been interested in history and growing up in Ladysmith there were battlefields all around because of the Siege of Ladysmith. My father encouraged my interest as did many of the local historians who I followed all over the hills around the town. I listened to the older folk telling their stories. My grandmother who was always happy to tell me “about the old days” and this is one of the lovely parts of my job is to chat to people and record their memories. My father loved to go for drives into the countryside on Sunday afternoons – you could afford to do that then – and so we would visit all the battle sites – watched Spioenkop Dam being built weekend after weekend, and so read and listened to the stories. Always been fascinated by history but with our local battlefields right on the doorstep it was so convenient to learn, listen and see.
I am now lucky enough to be able to travel to places around the world and have been to see many of the world famous battlefields such as the Crimea and the Museum where Florence Nightingale had her hospital; the valley of the famous Charge of the light Brigade; First and Second World War battlefields in Europe; North Africa, Middle East (especially sites relating to Lawrence of Arabia), sites in Europe for the Napoleonic wars; Greek and Roman famous battle sites and of course Scotland and Ireland. I have visited magnificent museums and architectural masterpieces around the world. Next stop America!
How long have you worked at the Talana Museum? And what has been your role there?
Appointed as curator at beginning of 1983 and been here ever since. Role to develop the museum which is on the original farm of the founder of Dundee and also the first Battlefield of the Anglo Boer War and also site of first formal coal mine in SA. So chief cook and bottle washer, decide what to do, find the money to do it, encourage people to help achieve it and go for it.
How many visitors do you receive per annum at Talana Museum?
Approx 20 000 but this has declined since 2010 when we used to get 36 -38 000.
What is the oldest piece of history within the museum?
I always thought our piece of Roman glass dating from the year 0 was the oldest but discovered this week that we have a fossilised sea anemone which is between 65-100 million years old. Some of our other fossils are 40 -50 million years old.
What exhibit within the museum is your absolute favourite?
The Victorian glass cucumber straighteners. These glass tubes were used to ensure that cucumbers grew straight.
Please give us a brief description on what it takes to maintain a museum?
Dedication, enthusiasm, love of what you do and an insatiable curiosity about history and the connections between people and events. Building and keeping trust so that items are donated (we have over 40 000), able to encourage people to find the history interesting and want to know more, encouraging donors to part with funds so we can continue to do what we do. In depth knowledge of your subject and the area you operate in. It is not “Just a job” it is so much more, so 12-16 hour days are what you do because you want to, to get things done and new exhibits designed so that visitors can enjoy the history of the area. Building a good team that are also excited about what they do and have pride in our accomplishments.
Any exciting or hilarious stories you could share with us based on either your own personal experience at the museum?
We have ghosts that walk the grounds and buildings of the museum. We do occasionally have Ghost Evenings at the museum, and watching and listening to the visitors comments makes it extremely difficult not to move our face muscles.
If you had asked me about a belief in ghosts 40 years ago I would have laughed – but I now know better. After 37 years of walking the Talana battlefield I know they exist and that they protect the site. Col Gunning always stands under his gum tree, Annie Smith walks from room to room in the Smith cottage with her candle, 2 British soldiers stand outside the Smith cottage and more are around the battlefield – many only on the anniversary of the battle on 20 October. Over 20 years ago we had a member of staff who could see these ghosts – I cannot, but do feel the icy air when they are around and have smelt the horses of the Utrecht commando as they sweep back over the battlefield on the anniversary to collect their dead and wounded- so I asked her to talk to Annie Smith and find out why she walked around the Smith cottage and continually re-arranged the furniture and paintings. She explained that she had never been buried. So I phoned her granddaughter and asked where her grandmother was buried. Oh no she said we cremated her – “and where did you bury the ashes” and back came the answer oh they are in a casket in a cupboard somewhere in the house. So we encouraged her to find them and we buried the remains of Annie in the cemetery in the museum. For over 3 years we never heard or saw from Annie again. Every now and then a visitor will ask who the lady in the white dress is who in stands at the bedroom window with a candle. I no longer have anyone who can talk to her, but at least she no longer moves furniture and paintings around – or at last I have them arranged exactly where they were in her lifetime and so she is happy.