Way back Rose Willlis considered herself to be a city slicker. No small towns for her, the bigger the city, the better. Then she discovered the Karoo – a vast land, peppered with hospitable people, little villages, excellent food, and almost never-ending stories. Like Alice, she stepped through the looking-glass into a wonderful “new” world.
Rose had worked as a journalist, public relations, promotional, and public affairs consultant in Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, and abroad. However, her transition from city to town has its roots in a joke. After a particularly busy year in their public relations and promotions business, Rose and her husband, Wally, decided to “take a break”. They told friends they were going to drive down the road in search of peace and quiet. “If we see a house we like we’ll buy it.” Roars of laughter greeted this statement and these guffaws became even louder when they returned saying they’d found their dream home in Beaufort West.
Friends and family treated this news as a “passing phase” until Rose and Wally put their Johannesburg home on the market and started to pack. “Don’t go! You’ll just have to come back!” Nevertheless, they set off, haggled unsuccessfully for a house in Richmond, then chanced on an old house, on the edge of Beaufort West. Allegedly designed by Sir Herbert Baker, it was built in 1901, as a home for town magistrate, Advocate Arthur Robinson Truter, the man who agreed to the jail being built in the middle of the main road. The couple moved in 1990 and they never did go back because once they’d bought the house, it seemed silly not to live in it.
Rose began looking for a job. She incessantly pestered the town clerk and the chairman of the local publicity association without success. Then, the Regional Services Council gave her a temporary mornings-only job for six months so that she could “prove” to herself there was no job for a writer in the Karoo. That was enough. She worked almost 24/7 because her research had proved the Karoo had a rich heritage and was filled with stories. And so, Rose’s Round was born. It was started in 1993 to promote tourism in the Central Karoo region. Initially, it was designed to persuade six town clerks of the importance of using history to create an interest in the area. It was designed as a quick read during a tea break and because of limited budgets carried no pictures.
The recipe was a success. Round-up grew rapidly. The town clerks recommended it to their councilors, who in turn suggested townsfolk and former Karoo residents would enjoy it. Travel writers and journalists were added to the mailing list and, as Round-up began to work its magic, it gained a wider audience across South Africa. Then readers abroad began to request copies.
Over the years the newsletter has expanded its base and now covers a much wider area of the dryland, however, its focus remains news, items of geological, ecological, and archeological interest, and cultural heritage. It tells the stories of the people who developed the Karoo, many of whom left an indelible mark on South African history. And, through all of this, Round-up began to help people find their families who once were part of the story of the early Karoo.