A Memorable Picture


Que Que’s Main Street, Rhodesia

A Memorable Picture

This charming picture has come my way through the blog.  It was painted by a Que Que artist sponsored by Arthur Chapman in 1972, but it’s the same Main Street, Que Que of the late 50’s that I remember. 

A Memorable Picture

To me, the picture symbolizes the million pound proposal Dad set forth following his first election to municipal office in the late 1940’s.  The agenda was to bring Que Que from an appendage to the G & P Mine, not expected to ever amount to much, to contend for the title of the industrial hub of Southern Rhodesia.  You wouldn’t believe the opposition he encountered to the idea and involved the ouster of the entrenched mayor and shake up of the rubber stamp council. (That’s another story.)

It had all come to fruition by the late 50’s: the paving of Main Street, sidewalks and street lighting.  Gone were the days of Dick Smallman, the willing mechanic, adding on bits of wire to connect each new house to the electrical system.  Outside the picture is Sebakwe Dam and the amenities like water borne sewage, drainage to eliminate malaria, and the municipal swimming pool to reduce the incidence of bilharzia (schistosomiasis).

The artist’s depiction of the buildings is accurate.  Our Post Office with its tall tower was Que Que’s landmark, so colonial in appearance: solid.  Next door to it, Davidsons, was a building Dad owned.  The ground floor, a store front, was rented.  It was a liquor store.  Although he could knock back a whisky at the Que Que Hotel around election time, he thought liquor was a curse and preached against it at the surgery.  He black-listed alcoholics.  Upstairs were flats for rent and these proved a refuge for displaced spouses in abuse cases on occasion.  (Those are a story unto themselves.)

Next to that was Bruntons, a luxury gift shop and pharmacy followed by Freeman’s Grocery Store, The Mad Hatter a milk bar, the Standard Bank, Truworths dress shop, Philipson’s Butchery and finally Assurity an appliance store anchored the corner.  The mature gum trees just inside the long brick wall of the Railway property separated the two sections of Main Street with parkland beyond it.

The unpretentious fountain in the roundabout in the foreground was a donation to the town by Dad, an indulgence.  He was not given to ostentation, but enjoyed open space and water.  Mom never thought much of the aesthetics of this part of town.

But to me, it’s a happy, clean picture.  The skies are blue but cumulus clouds are building for afternoon summer rain no doubt: but Nationalist unrest was in the atmosphere too.

In the picture also is a lack of bustle and energy.  This is not the town I remembered, but the town that it became in 1972 after I had left.  It is captured through the medium of an African artist when the Western vision was being eclipsed.  But I have received recent encouraging reports of dynamic plans for Que Que.

A continent and a life time away I find myself in a small town again, with a strip mall, also on the main highway, but it serves our needs.  There is politics afoot to oust the entrenched mayor with a rubber stamp council — and no voter apathy this year.

Arthur Chapman forwarded the scan of this oil on board measuring 65×40 cm (25.5×15.7in.).  He sponsored and promoted Que Que artists in the ‘70’s.  The picture is for sale but he would like it to go to a Que Queite.

Contact Arthur directly at neoprops@telkomsa.net



  • carla suckow

    Reply Reply October 9, 2010

    How interesting that you have seen this painting of your hometown as a result of writing about it on a blog.It looks so peaceful–a town by a lake with small shops,clean streets,and well kept buildings.
    Where are the town people besides the officer and possible car passengers?Where are the industrial buildings,churches,schools,community centers?
    Why did the artist decide not to show this part of small town life?
    Sadly,in the Wisconsin town where I attended high school, I have observed that the large nation wide stores opened in malls outside of the city limits leaving main street quite empty.
    Are you planning a return to Que Que for a visit?

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 9, 2010


      Well, when I lived there in the 50’s and early 60’s the town was really a hive of activity, full of hustle and bustle. Besides the gold mine, with the richest ore in the world, operational since 1900, secondary industries had moved in to exploit the big iron and steel industry (the largest in Sub-Saharan deposit north of the Limpopo River) in the mid 50’s. But the painting was made in 1972 when the country was an outlaw, sanctioned and Europeans disillusioned were leaving in droves. Of those that remained the men were on 6 week call up (in the army) which was very disruptive to families and businesses alike. Perhaps it is subconcious, on the part of the African artist, but I interpret it as reflective of those times. The street is devoid of energy. The terrorist war ended in 1980 with independence and Mugabe rule which remains in place today.

      Perhaps there are a series of paintings showing other areas of town. The Globe and Phoenix Mine was very picturesque, wide, tree lined streets from the earliest days, modest miner homes with large gardens well tended with shade trees to shield against the unrelenting summer heat. The industrial side was not so glorious…much like industrial America.

      The strip malls and discount houses of America have robbed America of its Mom and Pop stores with their charm and first name relationships. The discount rules. Friends visiting Que Que last month shared photos of Main Street and its busy. OK Bazaars (a discount department store chain is on the street but lots of it is still recognisable). There is a new optimism afoot.

      I’ve got to finish the book before I visit and get out of the time warp I’m in as my brother, David, says. I want to write authentically about that 1950’s, a time of optimism when we thought we could create the multiracial Shangri la. I believe there are lessons to be learned from it.


  • Morris Sloman

    Reply Reply October 9, 2010

    It is a very good picture
    Diana, I am really impressed at your memory!
    I would not have been able to name the shops along the road.
    Here is the Google satellite view of the road if anyone is interested.

  • Betty

    Reply Reply October 9, 2010

    Diana, thank you for sending the painting. I always thought that your little town was not developed, with dirt streets, much like movies I have seen of small African towns. I thought you guys made the best of a sad and uncivilized situation. This looks like a small part of Disneyland in the late 50’s! I love that you can recall all the shops’ names and what they sold. I can’t remember any from my childhood. Were these places identified on backs of old photographs from your mom’s stash? Love the fountain…. and the fact that your dad was looking our for abused women long before it was “the right thing to do” What is the artist asking for the painting? I know you would love to own and treasure a small reminder of your heritage. Thanks for sharing it!
    We also have an entrenched mayor and a rubber stamp council!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 9, 2010


      I’m lucky to have the blog unearth this lovely picture and give it a good airing. I hope Arthur will find a good home for it through the blog. He is asking $1000 for it including packing and frieght. I think the visual really is worth a thousand words.

      Production at the G & P Gold Mine (with the richest ore in the world) began in 1900, delayed by the Matabele Rebellion, an outbreak of rinderpest and the Boer War) and was completely self sufficient. It wasn’t until after WWII that the town took off a life of its own. There were lots of other things going for it. A huge lode of iron and limestone nearby offered Que Que the opportunity to develop secondary industries related to it. The challenge was to show they were up to it, hence the push to develop the ammenities to attract the professional personnel and their families. By the mid fifties it had blossomed. It was also a farming (maize and tobacco) and ranching center.

      I don’t know why I remember some details so vividly…I can remember many of the shop owners, what was in the shops, who shopped at which butchery and why and so on. No, I dont have any photographs of Que Que’s Streets. I suppose we took them for granted. Mom was intimidated by a camera never ever took pictures herself. Dad was too busy really. He had a good Leica for many years given to him by an Italian POW in East Africa and that’s the source of all the pictures. Recently through the blog I’ve been lucky enough to get some updated pictures.

      The flats were quite upscale and they were for rent. There were just odd occassions when he had a vacancy and a problem cropped up they proved to be a sanctury for distressed souls. One in particular was a man fleeing his knife wielding wife! (That’s another story.)

      The elections, Local, State and Federal are going to be interesting this November. Never a dull moment.


  • Janet

    Reply Reply October 9, 2010

    Love the picture. What is/was a ‘milk bar’?

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 9, 2010

      A milk bar features milk shakes, brown cows (Coca-Cola with a blob of hard vanilla icecream) and soft serve ice cream cones with a Flakey bar rammed down the middle of it called a Choc 99. They also sold Crunchie Bars, Chocolate Logs, Mars Bars and Kit Kats…Cadbury products mostly I think, as well as licorice strips and all-sorts. That’s what teenages there were into in the 50’s! (Life was really tame back then). A milk bar also served tea by the pot and sandwiches (not the American meal on a roll) and sometimes a mixed grill (steak, liver, sausage and fried eggs with grilled tomato): fast foods of the times. There was a Jukebox at the back, and a pin ball machine or two. You could sit at the bar on stools or at tables in the back with all the music and machines at The Mad Hatter. Women went there in the mornings as a break from shopping and in the afternoon it was taken over by teenagers. It was always a hive of activity. I’m sure it was a lucrative business.


  • Alastair Ashforth

    Reply Reply December 18, 2010

    Wonderful memories and very well recalled. I was in Que Que in August visiting my mother who has lived there since 1935 along with her sister. All those buildings are still there bur things are of course very different.Great work Diana

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 19, 2010

      Alistair, Thanks for the compliment. Your family has a long history in Que Que. I hope you have recorded it and have photographs. Perhaps you would like to share some of your memoirs on the blog? Yes, I know things are very different now, (good to remember it the way it was when it was full of optimism and purpose to “Build a Nation”) but I have reports that there is a new optimism since “dollarization”. Diana

  • Ken Connelly

    Reply Reply January 21, 2011

    Hi Diana, I still live in Kwekwe. I am Chairman of cricket which is going very well. I once kicked your Dad in the face when I was probably seven years old. This has stayed with me all these years, contact me for for details.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 21, 2011

      Glad to hear cricket is alive and well in KK. Dad opened the QQ Sports Club in 1952 with the opening bowl at the cricket field. There is a story attached to it and I have a photo of it. I’ll do a blog about it in the coming weeks.
      Dad had a Ghandi approach to life and suffered many abuses of one sort or another and took it all in good stride. He prided himself he never held a grudge. I’m sorry you have carried the guilt all these years. He passed away suddenly in Aug 1999. Forgive yourself.

  • My husband was overwhelmed when he saw this picture, and has written this comment:

    Life can throw up some amazing coincidences: I chanced upon this picture today and realised that I was central to the “human interest” depicted therein! The detail is so exact that the artist must have been working there when the incident occurred.
    Exactly forty years on, but I remember it well. At the time I was much involved with the tennis section of Que Que Sports Club, and we were staging an exhibition match between Hank Irvine and Andrew Pattison that evening. As can happen, with so much to organise, I developed a migraine and self-medicated with meprobamate tranquiliser. So it was, driving from Fitchlea to the Sports Club, I entered the roundabout and quite failed to see the African Constable riding there. We collided, and I am forever amazed that he was able to come off his bike, on his feet, running. I ran over his front wheel , and apart from (happily) paying for the repairs, was not charged at all – those were simpler times.
    Now from this account, one may understand that the constable is offering his damaged bike for inspection to the driver; as regards shape and colour the car is also accurately shown. I would love to know what became of the artist and the constable.
    Paul Goss

    • Diana

      Reply Reply April 6, 2012

      Paul, This is simply incredible! As you say everything in the painting fits together with your story. I am so glad you found it so long after I published Arthur’s painting. Diana

  • Keith Kietzmann

    Reply Reply September 24, 2016

    Once again the memory banks have opened up! I remember all the shops and the folks who ran them. I worked at the end on the right in Old Mutual on the corner with my flat above. Mr Johnson had taken over from Newtons in the furniture shop next door.

    Such a wonderful life we had in Que Que. A special thanks to Aurthur for sharing the picture. By the time he had it painted I may have already moved to Gwelo.
    Thanks again Diana. Hope to catch up with Elmer Phillipson when he visits NZ later this year. Brian let me know he was coming.

    • Diana Polisensky

      Reply Reply September 29, 2016

      I am glad the blog jogs the memory. I am sure you will find Whitewashed Jacarandas interesting, although it is set a little before your time.
      Enjoy Elmer’s visit.

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