Fiji-ing Day

The RFMF soldiers during the Fiji Day celebration at Albert Park in Suva. Picture: RAMA/FT FILE

Everybody experiences a different Fiji Day and no doubt has different experiences in different years.

This year a new arrival to our beloved country asked me what went on during Fiji Day.  She seemed a little worried.

She comes from a Pacific country that has had its ups, downs and conflicts as well as the sort of urbanisation, pollution and poverty problems that beset developing nations.

But like Fiji, it is a lovely place with nice people and I was surprised that she had some anxiety about our national day.

I told her she could pop over to Albert Park on the day and take a peek at what was happening.  She continued to look worried.

“There are guns there,” she said.

Indeed, but as I explained they were merely to celebrate the occasion with a rousing salute. After that, all the babies in the audience usually did crying, which was almost as loud.

There would also be the traditional parade by the army, the police and the Fiji Corrections Services.  The line-up seemed a bit grim, even to me, suggesting we must be patriotic – or else.  But they do look smart and for somebody who has never seen the turn-out before, quite a show.

The National Fire Authority and Search and Rescue agencies were to later liven things up with a display of how to save people, which always goes down well with the Fiji crowd.

I fell into remembrance of such days past, including the very moving first independent Fiji flag raising at the park.  Prince Charles read out a personal message from the Queen in a nice, plummy voice.

The ill-mannered media gang swear it began as she invariably started such speeches, with the phrase: “My husband and I”, which made us all fall about giggling and chortling.

The resounding 21 gun salute sounded suspiciously like 22, but it was probably just the echo.

What it was most definitely was a moment of excited anticipation of a new era with all sorts of prospects for improvement.

Certainly the days of colonial rule were over and even its most enduring elements were fading, although some lingered on for a time.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the decision to scrap the Queen’s Birthday was made on economic grounds, as a move to boost economic output by reducing the number of public holidays.

In the morning the army would march as they do now for Fiji Day, irrespective of weather.  If the ground was seriously muddy, it would be left littered with military sandals that were sucked off in the mire while our doughty soldiers marched on, semi-barefoot, to Government House.

An afternoon garden party followed, with sandwiches, scones and cake laid out on tables around the grounds.  We of the media paid much attention to the party tables and were critical of any shortcomings.

According to my confidante at Government House, the staff did a heroic job without adequate facilities for catering to hundreds of guests.

There were desperate times when they stored the sandwiches and cream cakes in the hospital mortuary to keep them fresh overnight.

The guest list included everyone who had ‘signed the book’, either as a visitor or to add their name to some condolence or message from Fiji.  Everybody wore their best; suits, hats and gloves were present and those who insisted on fashionably high heels spent the afternoon wrenching them out of Government House lawn.

In recent years the government pays attention to those who can’t make it to a celebration, taking Fiji Day to children and elderly folk in homes.

Schools make sure their students get involved by holding celebrations the day before the holiday, Fiji Day Eve as you might say.

This year the school the Hound of Cullen attends got the children to paint t-shirts with Fiji blue paint and he chose to do a string of vine leaves.  Very nice.

There was also food involved, everyone had to bring a local vegetable for a soup.  The Hound was asked to bring churaiya bhaji, to which he was strongly opposed and the grounds that it wasn’t nice.

Our six-year-old, Tufaan Taylor, the hurricane of Flagstaff, came home from her school full of excitement about the story of Fiji’s independence.

As she tells it, there was a king who took over Fiji, and a queen who gave it back.

This may not be strictly what happened, but it has the elements.  They also discussed the flag, but because I was trying to negotiate the horrendous traffic at Flagstaff corner at the time, I missed most of what she was telling me.

To make up for my inattention I told her that she knew the person who had designed our flag.  At first she refused to believe it but was finally convinced  -you know, comes to parties on our veranda, white hair, drinks white wine.   Tufaan was overcome with awe and amazement.

“Wow, she must be very old, maybe 100,” she commented.  Not even close, but old enough to suggest we should smarten up our behavior as a nation before celebrating our 50th anniversary next year. Seems a plan

The views expressed are the author’s and not of this newspaper.

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