We loved the park down by the riverside. We’d go there on Sundays with Mom or Annie or both – in our light blue VW beetle ca.1959, or in Annie’s beige Chev Fleetline ca.1949. The centre of attraction at first were the swings, but the kiosk was the real place if you could get Mom to buy anything from them. You can read some dodgy history of the establishment of the park here.
Near the lake there was a cork tree, surrounded by a fence to protect it, as people would pull off the cork bark. The lake had some ducks, I think. I seem to remember feeding them at this fence, which was probly quite old by the 60s when we used to go.
Later the road next to the river became a focus, with its huge leaning trees that I just knew were going to fall down at any time! Then the suspension bridge which was great fun – some wanted to make it sway and some said Hey! Stoppit! Don’t make it sway! When we were even bigger, the swing from the willow tree a couple of hundred metres further down the road. It swung out over the river. Being a bit of a bangbroek, I remember my first swing and successful return to dry land quite clearly. And I remember teacher Bruce Humphries not making it back once and causing quite a splash.
By now another weir had dammed the river much further upstream at Sunnymede, creating a bigger and wider expanse of water, so not much motor boating was done in the park in our time.
In the fifties a zoo was added in the NW corner of the park. That’s a fascinating story in itself!
As time went on we used the park more for its sportsfields – there was a cricket oval, a rugby field surrounded by a 440m cinder athletics track overlooked by a big new concrete pavilion for spectators, a hockey field, a netball field and probably some jukskei sandpits for those stuck in the past.
The park was extended across the river, but the other side was not oft-frequented by us. I remember it mainly as a late night race track and a picnic spot for the annual MOTH picnic.
In our time, a caravan park was started on the town side of the park with a new ablution building.
- Victoria Lake
Personal memories of the park were about rugby games, athletic meetings and then later on, cars – cars before we were actually allowed to drive! ‘Borrowed’ cars. Stealthily borrowed late at night from our parents on a no-permission-sought understanding. The best was Steph de Witt’s black Saab. Actually Gerrie Pretorius’ Saab but ours for the night – ‘borrowed!’ We would hurtle around the atletiekbaan at speed , drifting sideways left then sideways right long before ‘drifting’ had a name. One night we hugged the final bend coming into the home straight and there was a moerse big bloekom stump in the headlights right in front of us! Someone must have seen our tracks and thought ‘I’ll put a stop to this!’ or ‘Ek sal hierdie bliksems wys!‘ How Steph missed that huge log I do not know, but we hosed ourselves and roared off. Instead of Yee Ha! we’d say Arrie-ee! (from a joke about camels . . )
On the other side of the river it was in Tim Venning’s light blue Triumph 2000. Actually Dr Dick Venning’s Triumph, but ours for the night – ‘borrowed!’ Tim behind the wheel, laughing his head off as we roared around in a cloud of dust late at night, drifting sideways most of the time.
We were good kids all in all though, of course. Nostalgia makes it ‘naughtiness,’ ‘mischief.’ Nowadays people would slate the ‘Hooliganism Of The Youth Of Today!’ Maybe adults did then? Tut tut, how wrong they were . . and are.
atletiekbaan – 440 yard athletic track – a cinder track
moerse big bloekom stump – huge ‘blue gum’ eucalyptus log or stump – over half a metre in diameter and three to five metres long. If we’d hit it, the SAAB would have been moertoe
moertoe – varktap
varktap – damaged
Ek sal hierdie bliksems wys! – I’ll show them! Ha! he missed! We were too rats
rats – nimble; artful dodgers
Later, a zoo was established in a corner of the park.