The red roses on the hill

By AnneMarie White OAM

It’s Saturday afternoon in early December. I am walking along the river walk of New Farm Park and all around me are groups of people picnicking, playing games, chatting and eating. They are all so happy. The atmosphere is one of a grateful community embracing the picturesque setting that New Farm Park provides.

But I cannot share their joyousness.

I buried my beloved husband of nearly 40 years yesterday. I walk alone. I cry and think… and remember.

New Farm Park is to me like a loving uncle: you aren’t there every day but when you go, you are so glad you’ve made the effort.

So, as I walk slowly around the Park I push through my grief and remember.

Almost 60 years ago school holidays meant a trip to a park with a picnic under trees, asparagus sandwiches on white bread and a “spider soft drink” nearby. Although I lived at Coorparoo, visiting New Farm Park was a far-away treat and   my sisters and I would chase each other, climb trees and fall down and smell all the roses- including those with bees! Innocent fun and joyful play.

As I grew older, I worked on Saturdays at my Uncle Con Byrne’s Chemist shop opposite the old Village Twin theatres. We would often get a cold drink after work from the Italian greengrocers on the corner and drive down to the park to have a chat under the Jacaranda trees. So many stories were shared there- including my results in the newspaper in Junior and Senior. Fortunately, they were good enough to earn my special Italian treats!

Time marched on and I married the love of my life – of course he was – he asked me to marry him on our first date. I said yes! His memory pops into my heart and tears flow, so I concentrate on the glorious bright red flowers on the trees that have replace the spectacular purple Jacaranda blossoms.

We moved to the Darling Downs and returned to Brisbane in the mid 80’s. Living on the northside we spent lazy Sundays tripping around and often landed in New Farm Park where our kids could run wild – just like my sisters and I in our youth- and we could relax with a coldie.

Now I have moved up from the river and strolling through the rose gardens… gardens that have been there seemingly forever. Tears again flood my eyes.

It was 1993 and I remember wandering with my man through the rose gardens. We smelt those that had a perfume and admired the flamboyant yellow and gold varieties. Suddenly he was on one knee, having picked a magnificent deep red rose with a long stem. “It was 20 years ago and you were walking down the aisle with this exact shade of rose. Remember?” he asks me.

How could I forget? And standing here now through my tears I focus on the joys that red rose started for me. Red roses became our traditional flower and remembering that day has choked me up. But it has also now given me a focal point at the top of the heritage rose gardens to visit and re-live and re-love my man. I also look at the archways under which so many brides over many, many decades have found their love match and wonder if the roses at New Farm Park are also imprinted on their hearts.

I walk into the Rotunda and compose myself. I think of all the many concerts and Christmas celebrations I have enjoyed in the past years since we moved to New Farm in 2003. Jazz, Rock and Christmas tunes belted out as we sang along.

I look out onto the fields and remember the many training runs I did each morning; the yoga groups I stressed out with; the Laughter Group with whom I acted as foolishly as I could; the Nordic walking when I was training for Machu Pichu; and all the impromptu games of soccer or kite flying or bubble making I played with my friends and family. Just behind me is the start for the Saturday Park Runs I did for many years – when I was young!

As I turn to look back at the historic bandstand I think, ‘oh if these round walls could beat out their musical memories…’

Before I get too morbid, I walk barefoot across the beautiful green grass and truly feel memories with every step. I spy the site of the grand old Summer House restaurant that burnt down in 2000. It was a favoured tea house of my father-in -law and as he grew older and needed to be in a wheelchair, it was the perfect spot to delight in with a morning tea of scones and black tea. I recall the last time we took him there and he grasped both my husband and my hands and said, “This reminds me of the gracious past with your mother. Just now, looking out onto the gardens gives me great peace.”

I move to the concrete and steel remnant of that grand old lady and can’t help but remember my father in law’s words. Today it has become a shelter for the poor and the homeless, but as I sit quietly with my eyes closed, I remember the old tea house and the joy it brought our family. Again I weep for those passed.

The local croquet players are out in forcing swinging their mallets like an episode from Alice in Wonderland whilst young and old are trying to serve and volley like the great Geoff Masters whom the tennis courts are named after. In recent years many of my serves or backhand strokes have sailed into the neighbouring Playground.

Oh, I wish my 6-year-old self had had the amazing arrays of adventures and challenges that my grandchildren now have as they race each other -and me -through the wooden treehouses lovingly positioned amongst the huge old trees.  Oh what stories those trees hold in their bark!

I face the soccer fields that in Winter are packed with young and not so young boys and girls kicking the round ball into the nets. My man and I often stopped to cheer on the local New Farm team as we wandered towards the library to deposit or collect our weekly library books.

The now sleek and upgraded modern library with its outdoor reading deck and babies’ playground, still proudly stands guard on the Sydney Street side of the park. The mosaic walls at the back reminding me of times past and the hundreds of other people who are richer for the library’s existence.

Backtracking I walk through the small forest at the side of the library imagining the work that Men of the Trees put in to create a native wonderland where tawny owls and other birds find refuge. Standing still, with my eyes closed, I can hear their twills and feel the solace that greenery brings to our souls.

As I walk along Sydney Street and turn into Brunswick Street the huge trees stand as proud sentinels for the park. Entering through the corner arch with the Rainbow coloured flowers planted in the welcome garden, I acknowledge and pay homage to those of the Gay community who claimed freedom in this park and continue to celebrate our equality in not only our nation, but our tiny corner of New Farm.

Passing by a small child’s birthday party in full swing I feel like joining in the ‘hide and seek’ game through the rich, dark trees and rolling down the gentle grassy knolls with the giggling youngsters -again my 6 years soul remembers!

Finally, I am back at the river walk just as a sleek City Cat sidles up and disgorges a large group of people – all of whom are laughing, smiling and ready to be embraced by the magic of New Farm Park.

I walk home with a smile, knowing the red roses on the hill will always be there to soothe my soul and lift my spirits.

Email with your own story of New Farm Park, including your contact details. Photos enthusiastically encouraged!

AnneMarie White on her wedding day

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