By Prof. Ross G. Cooper
In the wide avenues with neatly trimmed rich, yellow savannah grass, red-grey soils, immaculate pavements and zebra-painted pelmets laterally adjacent to storm drains, was a magnificent children’s paradise florally lined with bougainvillaea’s, jacarandas and poinsettias. The colourful, rainbow effect of their blossoms paved an enchanting pathway for little feet hastily and determinably running towards the ticket booking office of the Rotary Round Table at Greenwood Park.
The entrance and perimeter of the park hosted metal seat-cars suspended on mechanical chains, with children waving up at the two pairs of suspended legs of seated children or a parent and a child. Close to the ticket office was an impressive collection of miniature, yet powerful engines: steam and diesel locomotives which hauled long carriages of delighted and laughing children and parents around the vast perimeter on a narrow gauge. The track wound its way tenderly under bridges, through a tunnel, into the open spaces of immaculate green lawns and colourful flowers, and through dense, cool forests. The driver would often blare his horn, much to the delight of pedestrians and automatic barriers would descend at the train’s approach. The hissing steam train evocatively embraced it with animal-like qualities! The centre of the park sported a large channelled pond in which rowing boats were provided. Children would queue up and hand in their tickets to a friendly operator. Laughing and racing, the boats would often collide, strike bulrushes or bump into the concrete sides. Ducks would expertly steer clear. One Sunday, a helpful young man tried to render assistance by using his foot to push away a boat lodged on the side and ended up falling in, much to the amusement of his family. There were two large pink-and-white candyfloss machines and a nice wishing well into which coins were dropped. Additionally, cool drinks including Spar-letta, Creme Soda, Fanta and Cherry Plum, frozen penny cools, milkshakes, hamburgers and chips, Willard’s’ crisps and other items were available for purchase. Lyons Maid and Dairy Board ice-cream vendors in their bicycle peddled frozen boxcars, were prominent immediately outside the entrance to the park. Other rides included little cars for the smaller kids and jungle gyms and slides. At one point in the 1970’s there were displayed caged birds and mammals including monkeys. One of the caged, tamed pied crows could expertly utter audible, croakily-pronounced words and many children would delight in greeting it with, “Good morning”. It was said that prior to this there were also donkey rides available. The police would do a regular drive around the park to ensure drivers were parked correctly and that there was law-and-order. The safety of all the park revellers was paramount.
Greenwood Park was very busy during the magical, cool evenings amidst the chorus of crickets and nightjars and over the weekends. The Peter Birch School of Art was adjacent to the park and art students of all ages would be directed across to sketch objects, fountains and other scenery located within its boundaries. The Rhodesian and Zimbabwean culture was an outdoors one and the interaction with others, the meeting and making of new friends and the social entertainment, made one really enjoy their life in the glorious, warm and radiant sunshine. Greenwood Park had an amazing ability to dissolute the stresses of the 1964-1979 civil war and after Independence from Britain, on the 18th April 1980, the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life. Over the years, many people have hired the park for school trips, birthday parties, weddings and other celebrations! Others have even chosen to have their ashes scattered in the park. Married couples would often have picnics in the park grounds spread out on colourful cloth. Others enjoyed eating Lobels bread thickly spread with margarine and delicious Sun jam, all washed down with bottled cooldrink, Mazowe orange, milkshake, shandy or beer. The park always united people of all colours and any differences were quickly forgotten and abated. Indeed, other parks in the country had a similar magnanimous effect including the beautiful central park sporting municipal fountains and a colossal, adult-size open-air chessboard. Funds could and should be made available to repair fountains and parks, rekindle colourful memories and thus bring back all these unique delights to Harare, Zimbabwe. The good old times, with some modernisation, should be embraced once again. Cecil the Lion, brutally killed by a U.S. dentist, and guarding the hearts of all Zimbabweans, will thus roar once more!
This anecdote was based upon the author’s and countless others’ wonderful childhood nostalgic experiences in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and Zimbabwe, the emerald of Africa. The author has published numerous books (Lulu Press Ltd. and Pneumaspings Press Ltd.).
Images by Prof Ross Cooper.