In Lasse Hallström’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Gilbert Grape unleashes some of the best prose on small-town living I’ve ever heard. Remove the sparse cinematography and the iconic soundtrack, and it’s still “poetry in montage”.
Grape begins slowly, ‘Endora. Endora's where we are. Describing Endora is like dancing to no music. It's a town where nothing much ever happens… and nothing much ever will.’
In my jaded early adulthood, I used to describe Hilton as a type of Endora. While listening to Gilbert’s slightly defeatest monotone voiceover, I’d compare snapshots of the centre of small town Endora, as if viewing slides of the past through one of those old-school carousels.
Click. The Fruit Basket. Click. Hilton Tea Room. Click Hilton Spar. Click Kubela Stores. Click. Click. Kubela Stores again. Pause to check the carousel. It’s stuck. Like me. Click. Hilton Video Store. Click. Hilton Drapers.
I saw Hilton as a place that epitomises dancing to no music. A place to just pass through, or else you’re left behind. And yet weirdly, I always found myself coming back, unable to shed that word “home”. And now it’s not just about being home, it’s about reimagining a space through writing, art, and storytelling. They say you should always write what you know. But it’s more than what I know, it’s about what more is coming, the energy and the vision and the people who are creating the music to dance to.
When I moved back to Hilton in 2020, during hard lockdown, I was convinced I’d be heading back to my life in Cape Town in a matter of months. But I couldn’t leave. During this time I found myself being haunted by ghosts of the past, needing to tell stories of old places and old spaces. Having a profoundly deep connection to Hilton’s streets, buildings, the people who occupied them, and seeing the blurred outlines of village folklore take shape in my mind. Forming words on a page.
It’s a year since the civil unrest, and I think in many ways that catalysed the groundswell of community that was already fizzing and bubbling. Local heroes in a range of different forms came out and showed up, and more and more people joined in. I saw what was going on around me, and I was going bonkers at home imagining worst case scenarios, so I volunteered to pack and deliver medicine for my hero pharmacist friend, “Dr. Quinn” (medicine woman). It felt like a drop in a very big ocean, which is why I’m now compelled to join committees like a woman possessed. The trouble is I have a big mouth, and I’ve been bleating on about people in the “moan zone” getting their “dopamoan” kicks. I realised it’s high time I use my big mouth to Love Hilton.
So I joined the Love Hilton Steering Committee, because I’ve learned that we’re better when we get involved in stories. Whether we’re verbs and do cool sh*t, or adjectives to make simplicity extraordinary, or nouns to stand in and add value. Or simply, a comma or full stop to offer people a breath when they need it.
In Hilton, initiatives are popping up like daisies. The “original gangster” Kate Warr did truly remarkable things by starting the HBI and transforming numerous green spaces. She gave the reins to Cilla Hillcove, under the banner “Love Hilton”, and Cilla has been single-handedly managing this initiative. The Hilton Train Station has been completely revived with a new and exciting energy thanks to the late Lynton Hall, Neil Riekert, and Grant Fryer. Hilton is also safer, thanks to The Hilton Community Security Initiative, a project of the Hilton Community Police Forum. This forum also led to the highly successful Hilton Buddies program, which connects and assists the elderly, run by Deidre Rautenbach. And recently BOOMTOWN, the “love child” of Jono Hornby and myself, was born. BOOMTOWN saw nine artists come together to paint public space for a week, and inject Hilton with colour. BOOMTOWN is an ongoing initiative to celebrate public art and inclusivity, and people are visiting Hilton to see it, not just to pass through.
These are just a few of the initiatives on the go, and the trouble with having so many is that it can be confusing, and perhaps overwhelming, because there’s a lot to support. This is why the Hilton Ratepayers Association is looking at becoming conductors for all of the instruments at play.
“As the community of Hilton we are about to be presented, through the developing Love Hilton initiative, with a wonderful opportunity to work together in shaping the future of our town.” said Ian McMillan, Chairman of Love Hilton Steering Committee.
The wheels are in motion to turn Hilton into a “Special Rating Area” or an “Urban Improvement Precinct”, called Love Hilton. The new iteration of Love Hilton is inspired by Kate Warr’s Love Hilton Project, and the surrounding community initiatives taking off – Love Howick, Love Notties, and Love Mpophomeni. Love Hilton exemplifies our collective love for this small town, and creating a UIP offers a neat umbrella opportunity for a broad range of community initiatives to have long-term sustainability and ongoing support. The proposed designations for Love Hilton include security, maintenance and tidiness, amenities, social issues, and the environment.
Hilton is so much of my story, and it’s a place that courses through my blood. The echoes of my awkward childhood footsteps down the Hilton Hotel passages where I grew up, to these new bolder steps where memory and moment collide. Where I’m learning to dance, even if there’s no music. Because, if there’s one thing we’ve learned through our collective stories, is that it only takes a few people to start dancing to create a movement, and it’s up to us to make the music. To Dance. To Love Hilton.
Author: Jaqui Hiltermann, a Love Hilton Steering Committee member.
Pictured above L-R are Jono Horby of Gallery ZAZA, Jaqui Hiltermann (Love Hilton Steering Committee) and Iain McMillan (Chairman Love Hilton Steering Committee).
Pictured below L-R are Deidre Rautenbach (Hilton Buddies), Jono Hornby (Gallery ZAZA) and Jaqui Hiltermann (Love Hilton Steering Committee).