“Orkn” is the ancient Islandic word for sea lion, and “Ey” a Nordic word meaning island. The sea lion is the emblem of the town. Orkney is a mining town with a laid-back ambience.
Orkney lies on the banks of the Vaal River approximately 180km from Johannesburg near the N12 (national road from Johannesburg to Cape Town). The town was named after Orkney Isles off the north coast of Scotland, the birthplace of Simon Fraser, one of the gold mining pioneers of the 1880s. The town was proclaimed in 1940 on the farm Witkoppen, where Fraser had first started gold mining.
The town was laid out by another Scot by the name of Maconachie (full name unknown). His naming of the streets was interesting: he used the names of poets and authors from the British Isles. This was unusual for a mining town in the heart of “Afrikanerdom”. The rule was broken as Afrikaner nationalism grew dominant in the 1960s, and some of the UK literary names were replaced.
Orkney enjoyed fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the setting for a popular Afrikaans television sitcom called Orkney Snork Nie. The word “snork” means “snore”: so the joke in the title means “Orkney doesn’t snore”. Even further back the Afrikaans jab at the sleepy town was “Ook nie dorp nie; ook nie plaas nie”. In this the pun is on the “ook nie” (‘also not’ or ‘neither’) sounding like “Orkney”; and the full meaning being “neither town nor farm”.
The notion of “sleepy” is misleading. Some of the deepest and richest gold mines have been worked in the area for decades. But the social life for the youth was better in Klerksdorp.
The Oppenheimer Stadium, a large football (soccer) stadium in orkney, will be increased in size for the 2010Football World Cup. The Orkney Stadium Disaster, when 42 fans died at the stadium in 1991, was the second worst sporting disaster in South Africa