Historic Match in Barberton!
February 21, 2013 in Rugby
On Saturday the Lions will be playing the Mpumalanga Pumas in Barberton, the small little Lowveld town in Mpumalanga, famous for being one of the richest in gold resources in South Africa. It is also the home of the Barberton Daisy, and emblem of the Northern Transvaal and Blue Bulls.
Barberton was established in the 1880’s, when the Barber brothers discovered gold in the mountains. I won’t bore you with the history of gold diggers,first gold mining in South Africa, illustrious hotels, horse racing, famous “bar ladies”, the first South African Stock Exchange, concentration camp, one of the largest prisons in South Africa, the oldest rocks in the world and the home of Jock of the Bushveld, all part of the rich history of my home town.
But want to elaborate a little bit on the history attached the Coronation Park, the field where the Lions will be taking on the Pumas.
To my knowledge, this will be the first time in history that a match of this caliber will be played on this unique Rugby field. Today the home of Barberton Rugby Club, Coronation Park is steeped in History as much as the historic town itself.
It was set aside as public grounds shortly after the establishment of Barberton in 1884 and was always an important point of gathering for the local town’s folk. Paging through old photographs of the town, you see maypole dancing events with girls stylishly dressed in Victorian whites some time in the 1890’s. On 26 June 1902, a joyful event was with the coronation festivities of King Edward VII, eldest son of Queen Victoria.
This occasion also marked the christening of the park with it’s shade wild fig tree overlooking the steel benches and the famous bandstand against the backdrop of the Makwonja Mountains clearly visible. The Gold Fields News of 15 August 1902 reports:
Thanksgiving and military parade held at Coronation Park. The day was graced with a performance of lady members of the local Saints’ Church of England Choir, and on the square itself, drawn up in close order, were the troops of the local garrison, and a small detachment of South African Constabulary.
The same prominent tree and Victorian bandstand is also visible on one of the earliest panoramic shots of the town. The same bandstand, lavishly decorated with Union Jacks form the backdrop for the Barberton Philharmonic Society with their performance to commemorate the Union of South Africa on May 31, 1990.
In 1924 a tea party was held at the park in honor of the visiting Earl of Athlone and Lady May. At that stage, the trees have grown and the park had clearly become the green heart of Barberton, the Jewel of the Lowveld.
A bowling green was opened for play in 1927. During this period before World War II, the clubhouse with its peculiar curved parapet walls were erected in is still in mostly its original design today. In a publicity brochure on Barberton, published in 1939, one sees a lovely game of cricket being played on the greens at Coronation Park.
On Saturday 6th July 1963, the Minister of Transport, HE Martins, handed over the historical steam locomotive which until this day is visible outside the Fitzpatrick Caravan Park, next to Coronation Park.
As South Africa gradually turned into a sports mad nation, a picture taken somewhere in the fifties shows the erection of the highest rugby poles in the world at 28.46metres – something for which Coronation Park and Barberton itself, was famous for, for many, many years. (This record was subsequently surpassed by Roan Antelope Club in Zambia with poles of 33.54metres, and then the Wednesbury Rugby Club in the UK with poles of 38.26 metres.) Rugby was first played on the park in 1897. The pitch has a slope of 2.722 metres between the North and the South goal lines. Some believe it is better to play uphill in the first half, due support tiring leg in the second half, while other’s believe playing downhill in the first half helps with keeping your legs fresh to take on the uphill in the second half. It may not seem much, but many a player loathe playing on this pitch due to the slope!
The most famous player I know who comes from Barberton is Mark Pretorius, who played hooker last year for the Junior Springboks and won the Junior World Cup. The most famous cricket player I know who originally comes from Barberton is Heino Kuhn. I remember him playing for the high school first team when he was only standard 6 or 7.
Coronation park is a National Historical Site. I am not aware of any other Rugby field in South Africa which has been declared as such. The mountains surrounding the town, which is believed to have been a volcanic crater millions of years ago, are an estimated 3.5 billion years old and is soon to be a World Heritage site.
The park had a cricket pitch, Rugby field, netball courts, and the bowling greens. The cricket pitch has since been replaced with a warm up pitch for Rugby players, while all the other facilities are still in place.
Welcome to our little historical town this weekend, Lions. May you arrive as foes on the Rugby pitch, but leave as friends!