The Travaglinis and Gaborone’s Early Days

With the 50th anniversary in mind, I wish, once again, to suggest that Gaborone in particular, and the government more generally, should somehow recognise the remarkable contribution that the two Travaglinis, Alberto and Alvaro, with wives, Anna and Antonia, made to the new capital, over such a long period, So, as far as this column is concerned, let me make a change, by using people’s recollections to give a flavour of life as it was in the earliest days of the new capital town.

Here is Luisa (Travaglini) recalling that, ‘Dad (Alberto) and Uncle (Alvaro) were the first to employ women on job sites.

I remember the women singing as they cleaned the windows and floors. A voice would come from one house and a chorus of voices would then join in from the other houses’. She added, ‘after a day’s work in the 1960’s Dad used to paint all the road signs at night by candlelight’ and then talked about the Wallop Shop. ‘The Wallop Shop was a sort of canteen - a recreation area where you could play darts, drink a beer and play bingo on a Friday night. It was built by Costain in their Camp:

The Camp had 18 rondavels where the subcontractors slept and a house made of 400 blocks (not cemented together) where Alberto and Alvaro slept. The roof was of corrugated iron held down by more bricks. Dad would order paint directly from Plascon in Bulawayo or Salisbury.

He would send a written note using the train personnel who would deliver it to Plascon who would in turn send the paints via train. If any machinery needed repairing or spare parts were required, the train personnel would help by taking it to Bulawayo, have it repaired and bring it back’. Brian Anderson provided a further explanation, ‘the Wallop shop was built by the Costain’s builders as a drinking den. Don’t know whether it had a license or not but it was solely for them and the walls were partly empty beer bottles.

Costains kindly made the table tennis table. Seretse was a regular visitor and the kids loved trying to beat him and Ruth but they were too good for them. Both were brilliant table tennis players. No one could get near their standard. I financed it initially and then David Finlay came in and helped. We ran a football team and introduced boxing and showed films about once a week, courtesy of the Yanks and Poms.

The British High Commission eventually donated a boxing ring and three table tennis tables. The kids paid a cent for subsidised coffee and we used that to finance various events. Johnny Gumb wrote at the time that, ‘building is going on at a colossal pace, and roads are constantly being closed, re-opened and closed again for re-surfacing.

Large areas between buildings are still virgin bush, so people with Land Rovers do not bother to use the roads at all. They simply make their own tracks across country’. Cynthia Atkinson explained that, ‘the new Gaberones Dam, seven miles long and one mile wide, was well on its way to completion. The largest machinery of its kind ever used in Bechuanaland was employed on earth moving operations for the dam wall.

These machines, scraper units and bulldozers, were so big that when they entered the country at the Ramatlhabama Gate, it was necessary to remove the border post gates to enable them to pass through’. Edgar Parnell recalled that, ‘the plans for the Co-op stores were prepared by a government architect attached to the ‘Works Department, I think it was the same man who was given the job of guiding in the plane carrying Princess Marina, with a pair of table tennis bats, when she arrived for the Independence Celebrations.’

Trevor Bottomley recalled that, ‘when we first moved into the “new town” we had a PWD water bowser parked permanently on the Mall side of the house for water; paraffin Tilly Lamps for light; and a paraffin fridge on loan from the Vet Department. Quite comfortable, really.  We did virtually all “shopping” in Mafikeng - going at least once a week. Sheila Bagnall, however, was less easily pleased, ‘I went into the hairdresser’s this morning - they don’t cut hair but she had someone coming in January if I care to look in again!’  Derek Haldane, manager of the President Hotel, had a problem of a different kind,

‘In 1970 when we took over the President hotel we inherited from Massey Hicks a rule that women wearing trousers were not permitted upstairs in the evening, on the ridiculous assumption that trousered women were all prostitutes.

The application of this rule caused much friction, especially with the ex-pats, at a time when ‘trouser suits’ were fashionable. The rule came crashing down, when a Nigerian Diplomat staying in the hotel with his wife (or a woman, who may have been his wife) wearing trousers was not permitted upstairs. Very quickly, we had a visit from an embarrassed David Findlay, Seretse’s Personal Secretary who wanted to know if we really knew what we were doing? ’

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