The Cinderella Town

The original Que Que village board offices with Mayor John Austen (born Johan Osterlund) presiding with his wife, Mayoress Lily Prudence (nee Nolan), at his side in 1934. John MacIntosh the Town Clerk?

The original Que Que village board offices in 1934 withQue’s First Mayor,  John Austen (born Johan Osterlund) presiding flanked by  his wife, Mayoress Lily Prudence (nee Nolan) and  John MacIntosh the Town Clerk

The Cinderella Town

With White occupation of Rhodesia in the 1890’s and the subjugation of the Matebele and Shona after the two rebellions, liberal mining concessions were handed out by Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company to English companies, that could boast capital backing and promise of mining exploration.  The Que Que area, recognized early on as highly mineralized would soon be pegged with two hundred and ninety three claims.

Fort Kwe Kwe, a British South Africa Police Outpost consisting of an officer, a senior NCO, six European troopers and fifteen Africans, was established on the banks of the Que Que River soon after the Pioneer Column entered Fort Salisbury to occupy Mashonaland.   But the promise of the Globe and Phoenix Mine proved the greater attraction.  Would-be inhabitants gravitated to the mine 9 miles away.

Production started at the Globe and Phoenix in 1900.  It was self sufficient providing all the essentials to its workers: housing, club house and even sports facilites besides the mine works and offices.  It was supported by its own farms.  Que Que village was even dependent on the mine for its water supply.  A sanitary board was established in 1904.  But by the end of the decade there were only thirteen residential stands and of the fifty four business stands only twenty had been taken up.  Que Que was a mere appendage to the richest gold mine in the country.

Cinderella Town

John Austen, actually Finnish, had a walrus mustache and made a commanding presence.  He arrived in Que Que in 1894.  In time he bought up all of Second Street, pegged various gold claims and acquired the vast estates in the surrounding area he named Woodlands, Matchabel and Apsdale, as well as a one third partnership in the property that became the Rhodesian Iron and Steel Company at nearby Redcliff.

Que Que’s municipal area was throttled: hemmed in by mines on three sides and the railway on the forth.   It was the exception, the Cinderella of all the municipalities of Rhodesia which were blessed with generous commonage open to development.  Nobody thought it would ever amount to anything.

John’s inveigling finally won Que Que municipal status in 1934 even though the village measured barely half a mile wide east/west and less than one mile north/south.  Naturally, he became its first mayor. The Globe and Phoenix Mine gifted a solid gold mayoral chain with Que Que’s coat of arms. It was the grandest in the land.  The old wood and iron shanty Management Board Office on Second Street was replaced with a brick Town House whilst the attendant tin shacks housing the Municipal Offices lived on.  So many histrionics and so much shenanigans went on there it was only fitting that the Town House was destined in time to morph into Reps. Theatre.

Photo credit: Austen Clan Facebook page (double click on image to enlarge). If anyone can identify the other councilors assembled we’d love to hear from you. 



  • Tony Wood

    Reply Reply December 17, 2011

    Hi Diana

    I clearly remember my father telling me that at the first Council meeting John Austen stated that “We must built all our roads straight, straight so we can see what is coming round the corner.”



  • Louis Fourie

    Reply Reply December 18, 2011

    It’s so great to always read about the “richness” of home and the wonderful memories of growing up in Que Que, which will always be home and one of fond memories. It would be even greater if one just knew where everyone ended up and what became of them. I am in touch with some. As school cadet Sergeant Major, Prefect, House captain and representative school colours for all sport and a day boarder I have nothing but happy memories. Keep it coming

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 19, 2011

      Wow! You had quite a record and were quite a sportsman. There is a lot in the QQHS Facebook site about what people are doing today. Posting a note there asking for specific contacts has been very successful.
      The blog grew out of the novel I have written based loosely on our QQ experience 1946-62 which I am now editing. The blog has rather taken on a life of its own and has been really fun, connecting Rhodesia’s great diaspora beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve done 85 consecutive blogs now, posting every Friday at 8 am. Do send me some stories or photos to share. Lovely to hear from you, thanks for the encouragement.

  • Wendy Whyte

    Reply Reply February 9, 2016

    Good Day
    my grandparents lived in QueQue for many years and my parents for some years.
    Grandpa was Frederick Victor Parks and wife wa Cecelia known as Elsie…He worked on the railway and was very involved in the Scouts..She was a music teacher involved in tennis …organist in church etc ..I remember a family friend Padre Fitch know as Fitchie and am not certain but think the man in the photo 2nd from the right may well be him..i am in my 60’s now and was very young then so maybe its the wrong guy, but I never forgot his face and think that may be him.
    for what its worth i hope so, but thankyou for the pics and writings about a special place to me
    much love Wendy Whyte south africa

    • Diana Polisensky

      Reply Reply February 9, 2016


      Lovely to hear from you. In a small town everyone plays an important part in making things tick.
      Padre Fitch was a fixture at St. Stephens Presbyterian Church for many years. I remembered him as rather portly but may be wrong but perhaps a subscriber will confirm his identity in the photo.

  • Doug Austen

    Reply Reply December 11, 2019

    My father Rodwell Athlone Austen was John Austen’s grandson.
    My Mother was Jeanetta Lidden Austen (Nee Howard).
    I was born in Bulawayo and very shortly after that we moved to Que Que. I grew up in Que Que along with my two Brothers, Norman who is a few years older than me and 18 months younger than me is Richard, (well actually Charles but everyone called him Richard) along with all the various Austen clan and relatives.
    I remember living in the farm house on top of the koppie on Matchabel.
    My oldest memory is of Sunday lunch in the dining room in the farm house full of family and the smell and taste of roast and yorkshire pudding with gravy. Too this day 60 years later that smell still takes me back there in an instant and I recall the times we had there.
    I went to Que Que Junior till the age of 9 then we moved to Bulawayo.
    Long story short, I now live in Cape Town and some of the very same cousins who we played with on the farm are also now in Cape Town.
    A number of years ago I went back to Que Que when my father passed away and I took my wife to see the place I remember as the farm house. I guess things change and time moves on..

    • Diana Polisensky

      Reply Reply December 13, 2019

      The Austens are huge clan. You should have a reunion and send me a picture. Merry Christmas.

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