The White Bushman

By Peter Stark

(Protea Boekhuis, R180)

The word “stark” in German means “strong”. Peter Stark can be likened to any great legend of the bush, such as Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.

He was a tough young man growing up in a tough country – South West Africa – and Stark’s autobiography tells us what life was like for him in the 1930s and 1940s. At an early age he gained skills as a horseman and hunter.

After completing his schooling he went to work on a farm for Mr Voightskirch, where he learnt about breeding stud horses, cattle and karakul sheep. He became an accomplished rider, which would serve him in good stead in his future years.

Stark decided to take a position as farm manager on Onguma near Etosha National Park. In those days the northern regions of Namibia were wild and much of his time was spent looking after cattle, which were regularly attacked by lions. From the local bushmen, he learnt to track, and had to go after the feline marauders with his .303 rifle and his dogs. The close encounters in the bush make for riveting reading.

Game capture was done by him on horseback and he usually wrestled the animals to the ground with rope and by brute force.

John Wayne would have to stand back for the wild German!

In 1956 he went to Germany for proper equestrian training, and there he met his future wife. When he returned to Onguma, his skills as a tracker of lions were much in demand and he relates some close calls. Lions were difficult to see in the bush and long grass and had to be dispatched from rather uncomfortably close quarters, usually amid much drama with dogs and trackers in a frenzy.

Sometimes he would follow his quarry into Etosha Park, which made him notorious with the wildlife conservation officials. He was seen by them as a poacher and his fearful reputation as a lion killer went before him.

One day the chief warden came to offer him a job as one of his game rangers and on acceptance, he went from “poaching” to “policing”.

During his employment, he helped to construct the park’s infrastructure, which is still evident there today.

Stationed at Okaukuejo Camp, he started patrolling on horseback, which was unheard of in those days. Pursuing poachers and wayward elephant herds, he succeeded in bringing order to the park’s disrespected boundaries in time. This interaction and accounts with the local bushmen give one a unique insight into their way of life, which is steadily being eroded and will soon be history.

Some people want to meet statesmen like Nelson Mandela; well, I want to meet Peter Stark.

A fascinating read that I could not put down. – Ed Lemke