Daleen Matthee is intimately connected to the history of Portland Manor through her novel, Moerbeibos.
Born in Riversdale in the Western Cape in 1938, Daleen married in 1957 and started writing children’s stories for an SABC radio programme and, later, short stories for magazines, to supplement the family’s income.
It was only when the family moved to Hartenbos near Mossel Bay in 1978 and Daleen went on a three-day backpacking trip in the Knysna Forest with her husband, daughter, brother and sister-in-law, that she decided to write her first book. “Reaching the overnight hut at Millwood on the Outeniqua hiking trail, she started to ask questions about the alien oak trees in the middle of an indigenous forest. After the trip, she went to the museum in Knysna to find out more about the origin of the oak trees. Here she stumbled upon a gold mine of information which eventually formed the underpinning of her four ‘Forest books’: Kringe in ‘n bos (Circles in a Forest), Fiela se kind (Fiela’s Child), Moerbeibos (The Mulberry Forest), and Toorbos (Dreamforest).
She undertook extensive research for her first Forest novel, Kringe in ‘n bos (Circles in Forest) which was published in 1984. She regularly walked the forest paths with her family, sleeping close to the forest elephants at night.
“I live close to the Forest. Driving past farms, pine plantations and undergrowth, you ask yourself: What happened to the ancient forests which once stood here?”
Moerbeibos (The Mulberry Forest) is based on real events and references the group of Italian silk farmers who were brought to Knysna to farm with silkworms and start up a silk spinning industry. And this is where the connection with Portland Manor arises. The Englishman who bought Portland Manor and built the Manor House, which still stands today, was Henry Barrington, who features in the novel because of his interest in silk production and mulberry trees. It is understood that Barrington initiated communication with the Italian government to bring the silk farmers to Knysna.
Daleen died unexpectedly in 2005 of heart failure. Her ashes were scattered at Krisjan-se-Nek, one of her favourite places in the Knysna Forest, where a memorial was erected for her at the Big Tree, an 800 year old yellowwood that stands some 40 metres high. It is just a short drive from Portland Manor.