By George the Bay has great parks

03 May 2012
By George the Bay has great parks
ALL BIG cities have their one signature green belt that is an oasis in the madness of city life and Nelson Mandela Bay is no different. Except that once long ago, St Georges Park was actually on the outskirts of the harbour town of Port Elizabeth.

The city has the 1820 settlers to thank for the establishment of St Georges cricket stadium in 1856.  According to a St Georges history buff Debbie Derry: “Stories still abound today about one of the Settlers wading through the surf of Algoa Bay to the shores of his new homeland, cricket bat held aloft to ensure that it would not get wet.”

The truth might be elusive but the product is not, with St Georges Park and stadium claiming its place in the cityscape.
“St Georges Park is really Nelson Mandela Bay’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park or Hyde Park in London, the lush and welcoming grounds of St Georges Park in the middle of the city – and home of the second oldest cricket club in South Africa – provide a tranquil oasis for walkers, nature-lovers, picnickers, sports-lovers and even performers,” said Mandlakazi Skefile, Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism chief executive.

 Established in the colonial era in line with the British love of parks, St Georges remains a bastion of botanical beauty. It has also long staked its claim as the scene for firsts. It was the venue for the first South African cricket Test, the first women's international Test, the last Test before South Africa's expulsion from world cricket, the first ever Test series win against Australia, the first Rebel Test, the first Test victory for South Africa with the resumption of 'normal' cricket.

Add to it South Africa's first rugby test and the “The Mother Club of Bowls in South Africa” as it was the first bowling club in the country, it’s no surprise that St Georges still comes in the top ten city icons. It is home to the verdant vines of the Pearson Conservatory, the St Georges Cricket Stadium, the St Georges Pool – the location of Athol Fugard’s critically acclaimed play, Master Harold and the Boys, sporting clubs and grounds and the Manville open-air theatre.

Not bad for a stadium that started out on an open tract of veld alongside a cemetery almost 170 years ago. Not long after the cricket ground was established the local Town Council decided to make a Park of the surrounding area for sporting and pleasureable leisure activities. It has even hosted queens – literally, when the young Queen Elizabeth visited in 1947

“Many locals have wonderful memories of time spent in St Georges Park – from learning to swim at the pools, looking for trinkets at the monthly Art in the Park gatherings, picnicking, enjoying productions at the Manville – and last but not least waving South African flags in support of the sporting greats that have been hosted in the stadium.

“My greatest memory is of jiving and getting swept away in the glory of the 2010 FIFA World at the FIFA Fan Fest hosted, as ever, gracefully at St Georges stadium,” added Skefile.