“Here they come!” I pointed towards the far edge of the park. I was excited to be the first to see them.
As all eyes following the point of my finger, the buzz of flies and the hoarse squawking of crows evaporated in the midday heat as the soft shuffle of marching feet became our focus. The boys from Thornborough College came forth, swinging arms, striding feet, across the well-worn path that transversed Lissner Park, heading back to school from Sunday morning church. They were like the troops of soldier crabs we stopped to watch on the beach. All dressed in blue, heads forward, vibrating with talking and laughter as they marched purposely toward their destination.
Lissner Park is a large grassy area with a wide band of shade swept around the circumference by big old fig trees. Like every street in Charters Towers on a Sunday, Deane Street is blanketed by silence, only broken by the cries of black crows who congregate atop of the leafy fig branches or by the buzzing flies hoping to feast on our sandwiches or apple pie. The procession of boys from Thornborough College was an attraction we always eagerly awaited. Dressed in their dark formal jackets, tie and long trousers, and their faces shaded by straw boater hats, they were living reminders that Charters Towers is a city rich in history and tradition.
Leaning back on the chequered blanket nibbling on our ham sandwiches and withdrawing from the heat with sips of ice cold lemon cordial, my sisters and I were quite oblivious to the arms of history that invisibly circled our small piece of grass in the park. This was a typical Sunday visit to “The Towers”, as we locals affectionately refer to Charters Towers. We had taken my Uncle Grahame out for the day. He was a boarder at All Souls Boys College and as with all of our visits, we enjoyed lunch at Lissner Park. This was our tradition and one that no doubt extended back to my Grandfather as a teenager, as he too had been a boarder at All Souls.
Reclining from the weight of too much apple pie, I close my eyes and lay back on the blanket, basking in the warmth of summer’s rays, listening to the mournful choruses of crows and buzzing bees and fluttering of leaves in the trees. This was typical of our sleepy picnics in Lissner Park with just ourselves for company, except for the grand old lady of the park, that is.
She stood on the grass, unprotected by the shady trees. I envied her elegance, as I watch the sun dance and flicker through the delicate lace of her dress and ripple along the waves of her perfectly coiffed hair. Of course I knew she wasn’t really a lady, but my childhood imagination liked to run free. Sometimes I pictured other ladies joining her, in their long white lacy gowns and oversized hats, sipping tea and nibbling dainty cakes. They are accompanied by toffs in top hats and tap their feet to the brassy tunes of a band in white military styled jackets and pith helmets. Indeed, the ethereal presence of the grand old lady of the park, was a reminder that perhaps “The Towers”, now a quiet country town, had indeed been a city of considerable glory.
Although the story of the Lissner Park Kiosk is in no way related to the city’s riches of gold. This beautiful testament of Victorian Architecture is a memorial to those lost in the Boer War. Of course I could not comprehend the meaning behind its existence. How could a four year old understand anything about war? As I grew up and my family continued the tradition of taking cousins or sons of friends to lunch in the park, I grew to admire the beauty of its architecture, but the words “Boer War” along with the many names imprinted on its walls were just that. Words.
Years later, when I had access to the world behind those cupboard doors, the words “Boer War” were sounding like the echoes of old war drums once more. I was told o’er and o’er that The Military Man had fought in the Boer War, but there was no explanation as to what the Boer War was other than it took place in Africa. As I enjoyed exploring my family’s museum, my fingers filed through leather bound albums of postcards depicting black and white scenes of everyday life in Africa; they caressed the curves of engraved ostrich eggs and tried to interpret the random scribblings and notes written in that dark continent long ago. All these items, seemingly meaningless at the time, were replaced in the box or on the shelf that had been their home for the previous six decades, to gather more layers of dust.
One could be forgiven for believing these offerings of the past are simply the souvenirs of a tourist, of an adventurer who sought the wonders of an undiscovered world. However, the deeper I scratch beyond the veneer of those old cupboard doors, the more horrors I unearth to give a more sinister meaning to those two little words “Boer War”.