Of Dis and Dat: The drainage and environment enigma (Part 2)

The name “ Point” carries with it a certain amount of social stigma, but in the days when the centre of St John’s was occupied by the upper and middle classes who lived in a style that was above and beyond the imaginable reach of the folks in the Point and Grays Farm, to say that you came from Point or Grays Farm was enough to reward you with an upturned nose or a sneer and toss of the head that told you that “you are a nobody!”

In political history, the Point used to be that small collection of houses west of Barnes Funeral Home that was limited on its western border by Boysie Destin’s home. The Point used to be a part of the Constituency of St John’s City South and was not, as it is now, an integral part of St John’s City West.

It was out of this area that Hell’s Gate Steel Band, under the captaincy of Eugene, sallied forth to captivate St John’s and on the red post office box (now in the museum at Long Street) that Fundoo (Bruce Bloodman) mesmerised hundreds of Hell’s Gate fans at midnight of the last night of the last lap that signalled the end of Christmas celebrations. That was the real, original Point.

Today, Point is an amorphous area that includes Booby Alley and the stomping grounds of King Court and Co of 1736.

Across the water was the watery, swampy place known as Perry Bay, which is today unrecognisable from the photographs of the area taken by José Anjo circa 1920.

About 1956, the problem of the waterway that came from Turnbulls and Grays Hill and passed through Grays Farm on its way to the sea at Perry Bay received prominence. I think that Reginald St Clair Batson was the surveyor and water engineer at Public Works department. I also believe that Colonial Development and Welfare Funds were used to attempt to solve the drainage problem in the area. In so doing, some attractively flat lands were exposed and the people were specifically forbidden to move onto the lands and build.

The temptation was too great. Especially when the people were told “Comrades, they want to prevent you from occupying lands that are your heritage.” Subsequently, the problems of flooding and of trying to build a gutter to alleviate the flow of excessive water that arose from torrential rains blossomed and grew until, over the years, it became political dynamite, that was immortalised by King Obstinate about “De water in de gutter dong in Greenbay, it nar go no way.”

Those who grew up in the area know about Brooklyn Bridge and its problems and the persistence of Parsah Pond with its loads of rubbish and what happened when heavy rains fell. To that, add the presence of hundreds of pigs that used to enjoy playing in the slimy ooze and it became the formula of a gigantic health hazard and a gigantic political problem. Twin problems that have been festering for nearly two hundred years!

The pressure from the southeast spread of St John’s increased after the demise of King Sugar and the disappearance of the loco lines emanating out of the area. The area known as Cushoo Hill/Browne’s Avenue suddenly presented itself as a new area in which to live, but a partially flat area that was fraught with problems of flooding, mosquitoes and water-logged soil. Because the plans for a development of the region had not been a condition precedent for a logical expansion containing canals, that would siphon off the excess water in both normal and flood times, the hodge-podge southward creeping of settlement, continued apace.

With increased population came the pressure to compete for votes. With politics, came promises versus competing promises. Overnight, the personal expansion problems that confronted the private mini-developers, surreptitiously became a burning constituency issue for those aspiring to be members of government, seeking to represent the area, in parliament.

Similarly, the expansion of Bolans into the area known as Palm Beach West, which is an intrinsically swampy area has, during these modern times, been invaded by housing expansion and every time that it rains, the unsuitability for housing has been manifested by serious flooding. I suspect that government has been the prime mover in this worrisome housing development that has spanned a number of years. I believe that an intensive physical survey combined with a detailed topographical investigation and planning where permanent, drainage canals had been built before development had been commenced, would have prevented this recurring social and political embarrassment.

On the old maps of Jolly Hill Estate, the area was known as Bowlands. Bearing in mind the illustrations in geography books about the formation of Ox Bow lakes that used to be taught at the Antigua Grammar School, I have always associated the name Bowlands with a wet area containing streams, whether in wet times or not. The old-time surveyors used to note the presence of streams and depressions on their maps. I don’t know if it is still done, but Bolans is a modern corruption of Bowlands.

The question that has been exercising my mind has been whether the presence of a swamp has had any positive influence on the behaviour of the people who live in, on, and around it. Did the Colonial authorities exercise any specific duty of care in determining whether the ex-slaves settled on land that used to be a huge cemetery that was surrounded by a swamp? What has been the result of such a settlement on the people who settled there? Was the cutting edge reaction to the stimulus of pressure from the city nearby the result of co-mingling with the people of the international ships that regularly traded on the waterfront at the Point?

The people of the swampy section of Bolans have not exhibited any political or social initiative that seem to have had any effect on the island or on the southern region of Antigua.

Could the presence of a large number of expatriates have blunted the aggressive initiative of the inhabitants of this area? Has it been location and proximity to the exits from the hinterland of St John’s and being the actual termination point of those exits — in fact, of being the only entry points of external travel and trade from abroad — that provided the stimulus, to the people of the ghettoes of the Point and Grays Farm, to have caused them to make such a significant contribution to the social, cultural and political development of Antigua?

If your intellectual curiosity has been stimulated, think on these things!

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