‘The Longest Trek’ is the story of our family’s trek from South Africa to Australia and those that came before us. Those who came before us came from Europe and Asia over a period of two and a half centuries to find a new life in the southernmost part of Africa. Some fled religious persecution, some came as opportunists – to seek their fortune, some were sent by their employers, others just wanted to start anew, away from the fetters of the ‘old world’ and others had something to hide.

Others came in chains!

Figure 1: View of Table Bay with ships of the United East India Company (VOC), c. 1683

Some of our ancestors trekked into the interior and helped establish the republics south of the Limpopo River, which eventually morphed into the Republic of South Africa.

We continued that journey as intrepid trekkers, seeking a new life in multicultural Australia.

From time immemorial, people have trekked from where they were born to other places, near and far away, across continents, across oceans, across ‘worlds’ for various reasons. In so moving, those ‘trekkers’ carried their stories, histories, cultures, and creeds with them.

It is so much easier to trace ancestors using the Internet nowadays. About 25 million pages of Dutch East India Company (VOC – Dutch: Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) records from 1602 to 1795 exist today – the most extensive database of its kind in the world, developed from archival material in repositories in Jakarta, Colombo, Chennai, Cape Town, and The Hague.

The detailed VOC documentation covers wars, uprisings, atrocities, religious persecution and politics, a surfeit of details covering criminal court cases and legal transactions. Our Dutch, German, Huguenot and ‘Slave’ ancestors were not spared during court proceedings as the Landdros secretaries took detailed notes – ugly, cruel, sad, happy and inconsequential information noted in the greatest of detail!

Scanned archival material and records – births, deaths, marriages, baptisms– often with some interesting detail are available online. South African church records go back to the very beginning – in Dutch, French and Afrikaans, traceable to our earliest ancestors at the Cape.

‘The Longest Trek’ starts at the Cape – where our DNA from Europe first got scrambled and started its journey as our Afrikaner DNA. Scientists tell us that we receive 50% of our DNA from our fathers and 50% from our mothers. This also contains DNA from generations past – some good, some bad. If we were lucky – a lot good; not so lucky – a lot bad!

When reading about our ancestors, we may spot the inherited good DNA and tell others about it. The bad we may keep to ourselves! 

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta have shown that animals may pass their fears on to future generations. They trained male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossoms by giving them a small electric shock. Their descendants trembled when they smelled cherry blossoms. And so do we humans pass on fears and anxieties from one generation of humans to the next!

Rachel Yehuda at New York’s Sinai Hospital looked at how Holocaust survivors passed their mental health problems on to their descendants. First, they chose a sample of people who had experienced terrible events in the camps. Then, they compared this sample to a selection of people who lived outside Europe during this time. The descendants of Holocaust survivors were much more likely to suffer depression and anxiety disorders.

Looking at our DNA – is it possible that we may have inherited a ‘trekking’ gene from the Huguenots who suffered terrible religious persecution, constantly fearing for their lives and from our Trekboer (Nomadic Farmer) ancestors, who were repeatedly subjected to attack and violence as they trekked into the interior?

‘The Longest Trek’ is an account of the actual journey our ancestors and we have taken. It is also the story of places, events and people that changed all of us – a trip through time and space recorded in our own Cultural[1] DNAs.

In this story, ‘The Longest Trek’, untold numbers of people crossed our paths and those of our ancestors – interacted with us, influenced us and changed us. But unfortunately, we can only reflect on some of those interactions, we have been told about, and those captured in available records and documents in Google and the Cloud[2]’.

This story also contains stories told to us by our parents and grandparents – those stories that had such an impact on us that it changed our view of life and the world and enriched our own Cultural DNA.


[1] DNA is a molecule that carries the genetic instructions used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction of all known living organisms and many viruses“, (Wikipedia). A Cultural DNA is a collection of ‘genetic instructions’ used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction of any culture. Whenever a group of people are together, they form a culture. The group establishes some unwritten rules called norms and the members start to develop a common set of values that over time defines how things are done in that group – Dr Finn Majlergaard – founder, Gugin.

[2] Internet servers, software, and databases run on those servers. Cloud servers are located in data centres all over the world.


[1] DNA is a molecule that carries the genetic instructions used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction of all known living organisms and many viruses“, (Wikipedia). A Cultural DNA is a collection of ‘genetic instructions’ used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction of any culture. Whenever a group of people are together, they form a culture. The group establishes some unwritten rules called norms and the members start to develop a common set of values that over time defines how things are done in that group – Dr. Finn Majlergaard – founder, Gugin.

[2] Internet servers, software, and databases run on those servers. Cloud servers are located in data centres all over the world.


[1] DNA is a molecule that carries the genetic instructions used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction of all known living organisms and many viruses“, (Wikipedia). A Cultural DNA is a collection of ‘genetic instructions’ used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction of any culture. Whenever a group of people are together, they form a culture. The group establishes some unwritten rules called norms and the members start to develop a common set of values that over time defines how things are done in that group – Dr. Finn Majlergaard – founder, Gugin.

[2] Internet servers, software, and databases run on those servers. Cloud servers are located in data centres all over the world.