Dust to dust in the Karoo: 1900

“The dust bin of creation” was Author Julian Ralph’s opinion of the Karoo. In Towards Pretoria, his account of the Anglo-Boer War, he describes the intense heat and the air that was “as full of dust as London’s is of smoke”. He said: “Our throats are dry and caked with dust. The ground is loose dust, the air flying dust. The vegetation and insects are all differing shades of dust.” On November 14, 1899, Ralph was on a train travelling from De Aar to Orange River Station. It passed a transport column, five miles long, carrying forage, food and ammunition for the 10 000 men under the command of Lord Methuem. It was hoped that this advance column “would sweep to the relief of Kimberley like a witch’s broom.” The transport column raised such a dense cloud of dust that troops, wagons and horses merged into one dust-painted portrait. “All our uniforms have become dust-coloured. We are all getting dirtier – inside and out. We breathe dust, drink dust and eat dust. Very often we are out of sorts, because our internal arrangements suffer, rebel against this new order of things, but the dust persists, our systems bow to it and we go ahead.” Ralph mentions sitting in his dusty tent, his boots buried in dust, writing with a solution of dust and using a dusty brown pen. “Every line was dusted and dried as soon as written – just as our grandfathers dried their manuscripts with sand.” Then, to his amusement “a dust-coloured cat strayed out onto the veld. It began watching a hole in the dust in order to catch a dust-coloured mouse.”

© Rose’s ROUND-UP

Vol 2 No 8 – May 2004