Struik Publishers will launch two special books on the Karoo in time for Christmas. The first, due out in October, is a magnificent 168-page, full colour coffee-table book, Karoo Moons – A Photographic Journey. It includes a series of inspirational photographs, by Yorkshsire-born photographer, Richard Dobson, who attended school in South Africa from 1975 to 1983. Richard’s passion for photography began in London in 1984. It shines through every page. His first taste of the Karoo came in 2002 when he “trundled across its plains and along the back roads” preparing a photo-essay for a French magazine. “After 6 000 kilometers in a trusty old Land Cruiser, I returned home a dusty convert,” he says. This year in response to the “call of the Karoo” Richard paid the region a second visit and produced a series of haunting photographs that capture the spirit of this ancient, yet picturesque land. These inspired editors at Struik to produce Karoo Moons. It is divided into four sections: Time, Space, Form and Spirit, evocative text for each has been written by South African poet, writer and journalist Ruben Mowszowski. Internationally known playwright and resident of the Karoo, Athol Fugard, wrote the foreword. The second book is a delightful collection of “short and tall” stories by well-known journalist, author and columnist David Biggs. The book, due out in November, was illustrated by Tony Grogan and edited by Lesley Hay Witton. .


Film fundis and arid zone scientists will all gather in Victoria West in September. The scientists will attend the Arid Zone Ecology Forum and the movie buffs will head for the Apollo Theatre to enjoy the annual film festival, fondly termed “Cannes in the Karoo,”which takes place from September 24 to October 2. The Royal Society of South Africa, in conjunction with BIOTA (BIOdiversity Monitoring Transect Analysis in Africa), is also hosting a colloquium, ‘Adaptations in Desert Fauna and Flora,’ in the village to gain awareness for research projects in the area. This provided an ideal platform for the Riverine Rabbit Working Group (RRWG) to present crucial information on current research programmes. “We had an opportunity to discuss a variety of topics with experts and scientists,” says chairman, Dr Vicky Ahlmann. “We hope to encourage new research approaches that may help us implement effective long-term conservation strategies for the riverine rabbit and its habitat. Field trips enabled us to highlight the importance of riverine rabbit conservation,” she said.


Enthusiasts can celebrate the Spring Equinox in the Karoo with well-known archaeologist/ historian Dr Cyril Hromnik. “Historically, cosmologically, ecologically, religiously and culturally-minded people are invited to experience sunrise and sunset from Quena or Otentottu (Hottentot) astronomical temple-observatories in the Moordenaars Karoo. Measurement of time was the root of their religion and their temples still function perfectly,” says Dr Hromnik, who has studied these stone structures for many years.


A recently-published historic guide book to Graaff Reinet and surrounds has been so well received that publisher Tony Westby-Nunn has started work on a second volume. “I will not reprint the first guide, despite its success, because there is so much more to tell about Graaff Reinet, Aberdeen and Nieu Bethesda. I am researching a follow-up volume with more in-depth and different information, including the palaeontology of the area,” says Tony. The present book contains long-forgotten stories, descriptive articles, interesting illustrations and some photographs taken between the late 1800s and early 1900s by William Roe. It is part of a series of historic guide books covering Simons Town, Hout Bay and the Anglo-Boer War.


Several readers responded to items in recent Round-ups about the Caterpillar Club. An interesting local story came from Lyn Bosch of Port Elizabeth, whose father was a member of this unusual club. “He saved his life by parachuting from a crashing aircraft during World War II and was presented with a small gold caterpillar badge by the makers of parachutes,” she says. “After dropping bombs on a road junction in Italy during the war, my dad, Lieut. Edward Westward Mould, was hit by anti-aircraft fire. His aircraft broke in three. He baled out. He later said: ‘I have no recollection of pulling the ripcord, however, my parachute must have caught on the ragged edge of the fuselage as I jumped and so opened automatically. I baled out only a few hundred feet from the ground. Fortunately, I landed on the side of a hill and rolled down its slope. This helped break my fall.’” Ted Mould thus found himself alive, but behind the enemy lines. Some Italians hid and cared for him. Later they tried to get him away by sea, but a dozen times were unsuccessful. “Dad often said 13 was his lucky number. He got away on the 13th attempt and there were 13 in the boat that finally made it. My brother in England has Dad’s badge: a gold caterpillar with red eyes. I have the diary he kept throughout the 2½ months he spent behind enemy lines. It makes fascinating reading.” After this story appeared in ‘The Chiel’s Column’ of the East London Daily Dispatch in August 1968, Lyn’s mother Eve discovered there were several other men in South Africa who were members of the Caterpillar Club. Some attended a reunion in London that year. “At that time there were about 37,000 members,” says Lyn. “Interestingly if the caterpillar has red eyes it indicates the recipient baled out over land. If its eyes are green eyes, he baled out over the sea.”


Prince Albert is organising its third Oktoberfest for October 23. The popular Prince Albert Killiebeentjies Orkes will thump out traditional German Music from early until late. Draught beer will be on tap and visitors may also enjoy eisbein, kassler, bockwurst, sauerkraut and kartoffeln, braaivleis and salad or a special vegetarian sauerkraut dish. “Come along, enjoy yourself, eat drink, laugh, dance and sing in traditional German style,” says Bodo Toelstede, organiser of this popular annual event.


Environmentalists from around the world will visit Prince Albert in September to attend a special book writing workshop. Organised by Dr Sue Dean, Professor of Conservation Ecology at the University of Stellenbosch, “Restoring Natural Capital in Emerging Countries of the South,” will explore the dependence of people of all cultures and economies on natural resources. “The advantages of restoring damaged natural eco-systems will be discussed. These contribute much to the sustenance and well-being of so many communities,” says Sue. “The economic justification of repairing damaged landscapes will also be on the programme.” Delegates will be encouraged to explore Prince Albert, enjoy traditional Karoo cuisine and sample delicious local cheeses and wines.


It was a tiny, non-descript village, but most would never forget it. Almost all British soldiers stationed at De Aar during the Anglo-Boer War in November 1899, felt “they were occupying ground which would become historic,” writes Julian Ralph, in Towards Pretoria. “The village lay in a great level desert tufted with wild sage and surrounded by huge flat-topped koppies.” Only weeks before, states Ralph, there had been about 40 houses, two general dealers’ merchandise shops, one or two churches, a school, railwaymen’s institute and clubhouse. Now the place was set to become a major railway junction. “A fortnight after the war began officers of the Royal Engineers received orders to make a camp here and put up buildings for ammunition and stores. They found a railway pointman’s iron-roofed cottage and some sheep at pasture where they needed to start work. The pointsman’s house soon became a mess or dining room for the officers. Fastidious though many may have been at home, they now had to put up with enamelled iron plates, sit on stools and soap-boxes and be served army rations consisting of so much meat, so much bread, such and such a weight of potatoes, so much mustard, pepper and salt a piece. For cups and glasses, they had enamelled iron mugs. They were issued with knives and forks, which would have cost little more than two or three pence in London. A canvas camp sprang up where the sheep had been pastured. Quickly put together wooden buildings were soon filled with food for the men and fodder for the horses. A great kraal full of wagons, carts and carriages also soon appeared,” wrote Ralph. The rapid and masterly construction of the buildings was a source of wonder to the civilians of the little Karoo village. Daily progress of the camp gave the locals something to do and something different to talk about.


“Dogs may be man’s best friend but, believe it or not, they can also be a dog’s best friend,” says Pam Avis, 84, who lives in England and is recording memories of her Karoo childhood for her grandchildren. “We had a rather special dog on De Keur, the farm where I grew up near Middelburg in the Karoo. His name was Ready. He was my Dad’s favourite dog. After an altercation with a porcupine he became almost totally blind and he spent most of his time snoozing in the shade. Our farm dogs were fed each morning on mealie meal porridge, skimmed milk and a piece of springbok biltong. What luxury! One morning, Ready did not appear for breakfast. We wondered where he had got to. A young dog, who had always seemed close to Ready, ate his own breakfast, then solemnly took Ready’s piece of biltong in his mouth and trotted off. We followed him. He stopped at the edge of a dam and stood there forlornly whimpering. His friend Ready was floating in the water. He was dead. The poor blind, faithful hound had stumbled into the dam in during the night and drowned. Perhaps his young friend felt a tasty treat would encourage him out! It was one of our saddest days.”


A little farm girl annoyed by begging cats and kittens at outdoor mealtimes came up with a cute plan. Sharing some memories of her childhood on a Karoo farm with her grandchildren, Pam Avis, 84, said: “My sister Roslin, decided the aggravation of begging cats was too much each time we had a meal on the veranda. One day, several kittens were really troublesome, so Roslyn caught them, tied them up in our large white table napkins and hung them up like tiny parcels in the pepper tree. They were a strange sight with their heads sticking out at one side and tails at the other. Once we’d finished eating, she released them and gave them the scraps. My mother did not approve of our ‘good idea.’ The clawing kitties didn’t do her damask dinner napkins much good, so we were forbidden to try this trick again. All in all, we had a merry time on the farm all those years ago. I always look back on that time as a privileged experience.”


“Lift you eyes,” was the message one British writer had for people travelling through the Karoo. “Those who travel northwards into Africa from Cape Town seem always to look at the earth rather than the sky,” wrote Charlotte Mansfield in Via Rhodesia. “They thus refer to much of the country as a dust heap on which herbage sprouts. Certainly, the Karoo gives visitors this impression, but while looking down they then miss a wonderful kaleidoscope of magnificent colour.” Charlotte travelled through the Karoo in the early 1900s bound for the then Rhodesia. “Looking out from the train visitors wonder when signs of habitation will appear. When at length they pass a homestead nestling next to trees in the distance, it always seems so small in comparison to the vastness of the land. It looks so lonely one marvels that people live there,” she wrote. “No wonder the Boers have the reputation of being good horsemen. The horses must be supernatural to travel the endless miles of this land. According to English ideas the distances are colossal. The monotony of everything is disturbing. The endless eternal blue of the sky, the gold-brown and red of stones, rocks and earth, makes you feel as if you have opened a book, but are unable to turn the page. The sameness of Africa frightens you until its fascination grips you. Then the monotony of the land is comforting. One must get away from the blue sky of midday and see the varying colours of sunrise and sunset. No two are ever alike. Each seems to possess a greater beauty than the last. Truly in Africa the sky is a brilliant kaleidoscopically coloured dome over a sandy floor. Trains passing through the Karoo all have dust shutters. These are essential because at times dust storms cause one to eat grit, breath grit and feel decidedly gritty. A motor veil for the hair and a bottle of eau-de-cologne are essentials on such days. Africa has enough to go around. True health is in the air and wealth in the ground.” An American fellow-traveller annoyed her by expressing disgust at the seemingly endless little bushes and yellow grass. Arriving in Kimberley this woman remarked ‘It’s a good thing the Lord put plenty under the earth, for there is mighty little on top of it.”


In the early 1900s railwaymen stationed in the Karoo praised “The Laird of Matjiesfontein’s” hospitality.

In a Cape Colonial Railway’s publication, they state that “In prosperous times The Laird’s generosity is far reaching. Railwaymen in particular have good cause to remember his hospitality and perhaps that is because Mr Logan is an ex-railwayman himself. The annual cricket match between Matjiesfontein and the Salt River mechanics is always a highlight and spectators come from far and wide in the Karoo just to enjoy the game.”


Some faded old photographs in a family album have set Martha Quin of Ontario, Canada, off on a search to find ancestors who once lived in the Karoo. “I recently came across your website and wondered whether you might be able to assist me,” she writes. “I am trying to find out more about Polly (sometimes called Mary it seems,) Quin. She seems to have emigrated from Co Tipp to South Africa in the 1800s. Two lovely photographs of a little boy aged about three and his pretty little sister, of about a year old, intrigued me. I suddenly wanted to find out more about the family. The children were photographed by Henry E Fripp of Beaufort West, so I imagine that the family may for a while, at least, have lived there.” Polly, an Irish lass, was born in about 1854. According to an old family Bible she married a Mr Woodbyrne or Woodbyne. “His name may have been Joe because there is an old Christmas card written to my grandfather, Polly’s brother, signed ‘with love from Polly and Joe’. Polly’s family belonged to the Church of Ireland, however, it seems she joined the Anglicans in South Africa. Is Beaufort West’s Christchurch Anglican still active? Do they have early records or an archive? Is there anyone in the town or surrounds who may have heard of the Woodbyrnes?” In Martha’s old album there was one photograph of Polly, taken when she was about 20 years old, in the early 1870s. There is also an old portrait of a family. “It seems to have been taken in the 1890s. The mother resembles Polly. There are at least two sons and a number of daughters, but sadly there are no names on the back. Could anyone in Beaufort West help or suggest where I could begin a search. I would be most grateful for any information. Is South African census information available on line? Are early ship’s lists available or any information on Irish immigration? Mr Woodbyrne was English, so perhaps Polly, like her sister who also married an Englishman, was recorded as an English immigrant.”


A trip through cyberspace made an old Beaufort Wester quite home sick. He e.mailed Rose’s Round-up up, saying: “I am Deon Andrews, an old Beaufort Wester and very proud of it. I am currently completing my third year of information technology (IT) at Pentech. The other day while browsing the web I came across your website and the Beaufort West site. I thoroughly enjoyed this ‘contact’ with my old home town. The Beaufort West site needs a few more bits and pieces of information to jazz it up a bit, but nevertheless it’s a great site. Well done!”


A humble Karoo doctor’s wife became a top social reformer of the late 1800s. Born near Sea Point in Cape Town, on June 20, 1847, Mary Solomon moved on to play a vital role in social and political life in South Africa and England. Her paternal ancestors were Jewish and came from St Helena. Her mother was of aristocratic French and yeoman Yorkshire extraction. In time Mary adopted the Anglican faith. Mary met John Brown in Cape Town shortly after he qualified as a doctor. To him she was the most protected and sheltered person he had ever met. Before he married her, he sent her to Scotland to stay with his family for a short time “to gain some worldly experience.” They married and moved to Fraserburg where diseases that affect the poverty stricken, decided John to further his medical studies in England. Her life story in Mrs John Brown states that it was there that Mary made a name for herself. A sweet young woman with a striking face, fine features, wavy hair and a kindly smile, she impressed all who met her. Children loved her and she them. Appalled by the number of unwanted pregnancies she came across in Britain, as well as the level of alcohol abuse, she vowed to “make a difference.” Mary was a rare personality, a woman with the mind of a statesman. She loved nature, literature and her fellow man – no matter what his caste, colour or creed. Mary found divinity in everyone. She had a wonderful gift of eloquence and could inspire large audiences as easily as she brought comfort to a single lonely soul. Working class leaders and founders of the co-operative and Trades union movements came to her for guidance. Olive Schreiner enlisted her help when she published Story of an African Farm. General and Mrs Louis Botha, as well as Lady Buxton, wife of the then Governor general of South Africa consulted her on labour matters, Lady Henry Somerset found her an ardent supporter of the Temperance Movement and General Booth wholeheartedly shared his ideas for social reform with her. Mary’s marriage was a perfect one, a love story lasting over 50 years. She always ardently supported her husband assisting him in everything. Over 60 when she returned to South Africa, Mary threw herself unceasingly into social reform in this country. Almost blind at the end of her life she wrote a touching prayer for the aged