Growing up in rural South Africa, it was never Rob Caskie’s intention to make a living telling stories. However, his passion for the land, its people and the history of the Zulu battlefields have slowly become the building blocks for his way of life. Honing his skills with the late David Rattray, Rob has an innate gift for bringing these fascinating stories to life and captivating all those who hear him speak. His thirst for adventure and unique talent have brought him around the world.
For those out there who are not familiar with you already, can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your life growing up?
I was born and raised on farms in the Natal Midlands of South Africa. A truly charmed upbringing with lots of fishing, shooting, egg collecting, and outdoor pursuits. My playmates were young Zulus, from whom I learnt much, including their language. I dreamed of being a wildlife vet, or game ranger, and loved farming life.
What was it during your childhood or earlier years that led you down your current career path?
Being immersed in Zulu culture, and strongly interested in our country’s history. Serving with Zulu troops during my national service, and always being reasonably confident around people.
Loving the attraction of a story well-told, and being carried in the theatre of one’s own imagination. My mother passed away when I was 12, and my father when I was 21, necessitating considerable changes in terms of my perceived career path.
Whilst at University, I did some incredible motorcycle trips in Africa, including Zaire and Kenya. Whenever I returned from these solo journeys, there was always a crowd at University who wanted to hear me tell of the experiences on the bike. Unbeknown to me at the time, I was developing a reputation as a storyteller. One of those listeners recommended me to David Rattray to assist with storytelling on the Zulu War battlefields! At the time I was studying Agriculture, and if anyone had suggested I would one day be making a living out of telling stories, I would have laughed at them!
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Transporting and moving people through nothing else but the power of a well-told story. I enjoy meeting new people, and hearing why the battlefields appeal to them. Of course, the challenge of changing guests’ preconceptions is always an added bonus. Some folks have particularly strong, often incorrect opinions, and the opportunity to soften that philosophy is very appealing.
Describe the area in South Africa where you work. How does the land contribute to your stories?
The area around the Zulu War battlefields is a beautiful canvas on which to paint my stories. It is high, temperate country, with huge rolling hills, that go by beautiful Zulu names, like Siphezi , Malakhata, Hlazikaze, Phindo and Magogo. Nothing can prepare guests for their first visit to Isandlwana, which so uncannily resembles the Sphinx. The 24th Regiment who were smashed there, had adopted the Sphinx as a Regimental badge after defeating Napoleon along the Nile in 1801. It is hard, somewhat uncompromising country, with irregular rainfall, and utterly appropriate that such momentous battles would unfold here.
What is a typical day on the job like for you?
When guiding on the battlefields, I rise at 4am, and leave home by 4.45am. Meet my guests on the battlefields at 7.45. Use a CD along with my own commentary to share the history of South Africa leading up to the war in 1879. We spend the entire morning at Isandlwana relating the story in exquisite detail.
Picnic lunch, then on to Rorke’s Drift for the afternoon, explaining how 139 British soldiers held out against 4000 Zulus, and were awarded 11 Victoria Crosses. Generally I get home around 8 pm, after 600km of driving, and two detailed battlefield presentations.
When I speak at conferences or dinners, much time is taken by travel to the event, and often requires staying overnight.
Lastly, what do you find most rewarding about what you do?
What I find intriguing and enormously rewarding is being able to survive financially doing work I love, and share contemporary South African stories with guests all over the world. Being out of doors is also very appealing to me. Telling stories about Arctic and Antarctic exploration takes me to regions I had previously only dreamed of visiting. My life is truly blessed.