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Fiji: A Place called home

Daryl Tarte
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Few people have been in the unique position of being able to observe and record the dramatic changes that have taken place in the islands of Fiji over the past 80 years than fourth-generation citizen, Daryl Tarte.

    eISBN: 978-1-925022-05-6
    Subjects: History, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Epigraph
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Dedication
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Stewart Firth

    This book is by a European Fijian. Europeans have always been a tiny minority in Fiji: 2.1% of the population in 1881, 2% in 1936, 1.4% in 1966, and fewer since independence in 1970. Yet Europeans were central players in Fiji from the time they came in the 19th century, and they dominated the country during the colonial period, from 1874 until 1970. Europeans had advantages of technological know-how, political organisation, and military might that guaranteed their supremacy in societies that were encountering the rest of the world for the first time. Fiji was one of those societies and, in...

  7. Prologue: The Early Days
    (pp. xvii-xx)

    The Tartes had deep roots in England. Apparently the family had been part of the Huguenot’s escape from France in the 16thand 17thcenturies. They had first settled in southern England before spreading to London and Birmingham. It is recorded that John Tarte became Lord Mayor of London in 1614 and that Edward Tarte became Vicar of St Mary’s in 1782.

    My great-grandfather, James Valentine Tarte, became apprenticed to an electrical engineer but had a very adventurous spirit, so when he heard of the rich gold finds in Victoria, Australia, he decided to try his luck. It seems that...

  8. Part One: Taveuni:: The Colonial Period

    • 1. People Along the Road
      (pp. 3-16)

      When I was born in 1934, Fiji was a firmly controlled outpost of the British Empire, having been ceded to the Crown by the Chiefs of Fiji in 1874. The Governor sat at the top of the hierarchical pile. These were colonial civil servants who had served their time throughout the Empire and worked their way up the rigidly stratified structure. Despite his absolute power within Fiji, the Governor had to refer all matters to London for final decision. He ruled the islands through the Legislative and Executive Councils, the former being made up of official heads of government departments...

    • 2. The Old Home
      (pp. 17-22)

      We were told that our house had been built by Methodist missionaries back in the early 1800s. Its three-foot thick walls were constructed from rock and homemade coral cement. It was built on a three-acre block with a separate title and was acquired by my grandfather. Many of the missionaries and their families were buried in an adjacent graveyard, which seemed to me to be crawling with ghosts. I never went near the place on my own. Dad put in a tennis court between the graveyard and the house, and I started wielding a racquet from an early age. The...

    • 3. The Plantation
      (pp. 23-34)

      The operation of the plantation gravitated around Dad. In the 1940s, the Waimeqere Plantation was just over 3,000 acres in size: 1,500 acres were planted with coconuts, there were 300 acres of grass paddocks, and 1,200 acres at the back, bordering on the Couborough Estate of Salia Levu, were under secondary growth, mainly guava. 1,000 head of cattle grazed under the coconut trees and were fattened for the market in the grass paddocks. About 100 families lived on the plantation and were completely dependent on Dad for their income, housing, water, fuel, medicine, meat, and land on which to grow...

    • 4. The Young Overseer
      (pp. 35-42)

      With the end of the war and an improvement on Dad’s financial position it was decided that Jeanine and I should go to school in Australia, she to Melbourne Church of England Girls Grammar, and I to Melbourne Church of England Boys Grammar. I was to be away from January 1946 to the end of December 1953, returning to Taveuni only for Christmas holidays.

      By then I was very different to the boy who had gone away to school. My world had expanded tremendously with boundless opportunities. I was good at most sports, had lots of friends, and had been...

    • 5. Island Life
      (pp. 43-54)

      This was the operation that I came back to in 1953 at the age of 19. I moved into the spare room in the old house and it seemed as spooky as ever. I was never happy there. I bolted the doors at night but there was that damn manhole in the ceiling above my bed where there were strange sounds.

      My day began at six am when Angana served me breakfast. It was always pawpaw, poached or scrambled eggs, toast and tea. I then walked up to the goat yard, opened the gates and let the goats out. I...

    • 6. Marriage
      (pp. 55-64)

      It was at one of these evenings that I met my new friend. I had a warm relationship with her before she went back to New Zealand, where she was training to be a teacher.

      My association with her brought me to the realisation that if I was to make a decent life for myself on Taveuni, I would have to find a wife, otherwise I would end up having an endless string of local girls and be like Eddie Douglas, who at the age of 50 was divorced, single and still chasing girls.

      Adrian and his brother Spencer, who...

    • 7. An Array of Characters
      (pp. 65-72)

      A fascinating array of characters continued to pass through Taveuni. Dad, the inveterate prospector, continued with his efforts to find EI Dorado. He had men out prospecting all over Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. The word was out that if anybody found any unusual rock they should take it to J. V. Tarte and he would give them a reward. He became very friendly with the Director of Mines, Karl Fleischman. I think that Dad and Karl came to some kind of arrangement that if Karl fed Dad information of new finds he would exploit it and if it turned...

    • 8. Sale of the Plantation
      (pp. 73-78)

      By the mid-1960s I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with life on Taveuni. Jacque and I had strained relationships with the Vatu Wiri Tartes and Dad, and there were few other people on the island with whom we shared common interests. Added to this was the need for further education of the children. Richard was reaching the stage where he would have to go to boarding school in either Australia or Suva. I had him booked into Melbourne Grammar School at the time of his birth, but he was still too young for this and I could not afford it.


    • 9. Farewell Taveuni
      (pp. 79-82)

      As we moved into the 1980s, Taveuni became more of a backwater to the rest of the nation. Only Adrian and Spencer clung to the lifestyles that had made the Tartes different. In a way, they were a complete enigma in the late-20th century. Adrian for his part was always innovative and progressive in his utilisation of the land resources and he continued to run a diverse and profitable plantation. Spencer struggled on with copra and cattle but the bottom fell out of those markets. They ruled their employees with a rod of iron and maintained an incongruous lifestyle with...

  9. Part Two: Greater Fiji:: Life In The Nation

    • 10. Sugar
      (pp. 85-102)

      For well over 100 years, the growing of sugar cane and the production of sugar has been the main economic activity in Fiji, with over a quarter of the population dependent on its wellbeing.

      When I began work as Secretary of the Fiji Sugar Board in 1968, the sugar industry had reached a crossroads. For decades it had been the backbone of the Fiji economy, being the greatest foreign export earner and the largest employer. There were some 15,000 cane farmers delivering their cane to a single miller with four sugar mills. The millers employed some 4,000 labourers and the...

    • 11. Tourism
      (pp. 103-110)

      Colonialism changed Fiji forever. So did the growth of commerce and industry—like sugar. But from the middle of the 20thcentury, it has been tourism that has changed the face of Fiji.

      The main reasons that people come to Fiji are to experience the natural beauty of the islands and the sea, and to be charmed by the Fijian people. Yet in the 19thcentury, when Europeans first came to its shores, the Fijians were regarded as some of the most brutish and bloodthirsty cannibals on earth.

      Many of the islands are exquisitely lovely and the Fijian people have...

    • 12. Commerce and Industry
      (pp. 111-120)

      Like so many other things in Fiji, commerce and industry is defined along racial lines.

      Throughout the early part of the 20thcentury, big business such as retail, manufacturing, sugar and copra, wholesaling, importing and exporting, and construction, were controlled by overseas organisations or local Europeans. The smaller retail shops were owned by Indians and many of the corner shops, bakeries and market gardens were in the hands of Chinese, while Fijians were confined to the produce markets.

      A story attributed to the esteemed Fijian leader Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna says it all: A Fijian, a European, an Indian, and...

    • Interlude: A Fijian Delicacy—Balolo
      (pp. 121-124)

      ‘You might have given me some warning,’ Jacque said. ‘Three couples coming for dinner and these Sydneysiders are used to some pretty heavy gourmet dining.’

      I delicately suggested to my loving wife that we search the deep freeze. Which we did. And just when I was about to conclude that there weren’t any real treasures, Jacque straightened up with a smile, thrust forward a frozen parcel and said, ‘What about this? I’m sure they’ve never tried worms before.’

      I put my arms around her and smiled. ‘Worms it is, sweetheart.’

      The solid, green-coloured mass was placed in a large bowl...

    • 13. Diplomacy
      (pp. 125-130)

      A nation’s main contact with the outside world is often through diplomatic missions.

      Diplomacy is the conduct of relations between one state with another by peaceful means, but the real purpose of having a diplomatic mission in a country is often vague. When the British Empire was at its height, its motivation for establishing relations with foreign countries was strategic, primarily to extend trade. It’s debatable whether that has changed. Britain was the first to set up a consulate in Fiji in 1874 and it has had a base here ever since.

      Other countries with full diplomatic missions in Fiji...

    • 14. Politics and Leadership
      (pp. 131-140)

      There has never been any shortage of self-proclaimed political leaders in Fiji.

      While living in the isolation of Taveuni during my childhood years, the term ‘politics’ was seldom used, for there was no such thing as party politics. We only knew of the colonial administrators who ran the affairs of the nation. That began to change in the 1960s as Fiji was steered towards independence and local leaders were given more authority and assumed the stance of politicians.

      My first experience of such a person was when Freddie Archibald was voted into the Legislative Council. Freddie was a part-European from...

    • Interlude: A Conversation of Spirits
      (pp. 141-146)

      You could not see them, nor could you hear the way they communicated, for they were merely vapours. But they were indeed the spirits of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau.

      They floated in the breeze above Vanuabalavu and looked down upon Laisenia Qarase sitting on the ground cutting copra. ‘This is ridiculous,’ exclaimed Mara angrily. ‘The man was elected leader of the nation. How long before Bainimarama has elections?’

      ‘He said September 2014,’ responded Ratu Penaia, before asking, ‘Do you think Qarase made a mess of things?’

      ‘Perhaps. Unfortunately he was a victim of his own...

    • 15. Sports
      (pp. 147-152)

      Fiji is a sporting nation.

      Fijians engaged in traditional spear throwing games in ancient times but these died out after the arrival of the British. Yet it was some years later before sports became a part of regular life. An Irishman introduced rugby in 1916 and it quickly gained popularity among Fijians, who played it in bare feet. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that a team went to New Zealand and won every game on tour, a feat never repeated. Chiefs like Ratu George and Ratu Penaia excelled at the game and gave it great impetus. Ratu Penaia would...

    • Interlude: China Rose
      (pp. 153-156)

      What, you may ask, do the names Devil’s Gold, All Aglow, Mini Skirt, Blooming Blazers, Blue Berry Tart, Brown Bomber and Terry Smith have in common? They are the unlikely names given to some hybridised blooms of the Hibiscus rosasinensis, otherwise known as the China Rose, or, more commonly, the Hibiscus.

      Developed by the gardeners of Chinese Emperors and Mandarins as something exotically new for their masters, the hibiscus is now more synonymous with the South Pacific Islands of Hawaii and Fiji, and places such as Florida, Australia and Madagascar. It is the state flower of Hawaii, and the most...

    • 16. Clubs
      (pp. 157-162)

      The Suva community is made up of many races and groups of people. Whenever one gave a public address, it was prefaced with recognition of the chief guest, perhaps the Prime Minister, then members of cabinet, followed by members of the diplomatic corps, and finally ladies and gentlemen. This, then, was the hierarchy of society. But the groupings of the ladies and gentlemen are extremely diverse. There are, of course, the racial groupings: Fijian, Indian, European, part-European, Tongan, Samoan, Solomon Islander, Rotuman, Chinese, and others.

      The expatriates comprised a separate group. They came mainly from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, the...

    • Interlude: Rotary—Service Above Self
      (pp. 163-164)

      When the 19 members of the Rotary Club of Suva sat down for their charter dinner in July 1936, few of those present could have foreseen the profound changes that would take place in Suva, Fiji, in the South Pacific, and throughout the world.

      The world was emerging from the Great Depression, Nazism was raising its ugly head, and the island nations of the South Pacific, as well as Australia and New Zealand, were still regarded as sleepy appendages of the Crown in the antipodes.

      Rotary in the region, Fiji Rotary in particular, has also changed. In 1936, the Suva...

    • 17. Religion
      (pp. 165-170)

      Religion has always been a powerful force in the lives of Fiji people.

      The early missionaries converted Fijians from cannibalism and for many years the dominant religions were Methodist, Catholic, Church of England and Presbyterian. Then came the Seventh Day Adventists, Assemblies of God and many others. The indentured Indians brought with them the religions of the subcontinent, Hinduism and Islam. During the 20thcentury, most of the world’s other religions found their way to Fiji and won converts.

      While all these religious teachings have been of great benefit to the people, undoubtedly the churches’ greatest contribution to the development...

    • Interlude: The Veli—Fiji’s Hairy Myth
      (pp. 171-176)

      We began the ascent of Mount Uluiqalau, Fiji’s second highest mountain from sea level. The 1,230 metre peak is the apex of the island of Taveuni. From the coast to the top, the climb is a steady 45-degree slope.

      For the first 300 metres, we follow a rough horse track that threads its way through a coconut plantation. With little shade from the mop-headed coconut trees, the fierce tropical sun beats down upon us. It is a relief to reach the cool shade beneath the dense foliage of the giant hardwood trees which we encounter over the next 300 metres....

    • 18. The Underprivileged
      (pp. 177-182)

      Back in the 1960s, an author from overseas wrote a book calledWhere the Poor are Happy. He recounted life in Fijian villages and tried to show that while the people had very little wealth or material possessions they were, nevertheless, happy.

      While this thesis had some merit at the time, the Fijians have since lost much of their innocence as they have been caught up in the complexities of modern life. To live in a small thatched house in a remote village with your own piece of land and have the support of the community for the duration of...

  10. 19. Media: The Voice of the People
    (pp. 183-186)

    The media has always had a tremendous influence on the economic, social and political life of Fiji. Newspapers are, after all, ‘the nation talking to itself.’

    The age of the media began with the establishment of theFiji Times&Heraldin Levuka in 1869 by a man named George Griffiths. The business moved to Suva when it became the capital in 1881, and passed through various owners until it was acquired by Murdoch’s News Corporation.

    For many years it has been published not only in English but in Hindi and Fijian. It has, by far, the widest circulation and...

  11. 24. Conclusion
    (pp. 219-220)

    Fiji and its people are very special to me. In this book I have tried to capture the beauty and charm of some of the islands. In previous chapters, I have given sketches of its diverse people: Fijian, Indian, Chinese, European, other Pacific islanders, and people of mixed race. One of the unique pleasures of life is walking down the main street of Suva. It’s a busy little metropolis with an incredible diversity of people going about their daily business. Yet they always have time to stop and exchange a few words or simply smile and be courteous. What makes...