Fiji Time

Four years after my third visit to Fiji, I was back for a fourth, as part of my Ph.D. fieldwork at the Australian National University. I spent several weeks there from May to the start of July, and another on my way back to Canberra at the end of August, interviewing more than thirty political figures on questions of tradition and politics in their country. Six years after the country’s first coup, I was apprehensive about how the trip would go, but it went well. Although I didn’t get to interview prime minister and 1987 coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka, I interviewed many other people I’d been reading about for years, including former and future prime ministers.

During those weeks I stayed in a flat owned by ANU in Suva (since sold, sadly) and used the library at the University of the South Pacific as a visiting scholar. There were visits to the Regal Cinema to catch some movies, at a time when Fiji was still without broadcast television: Disney’s Aladdin and Sylvester Stallone’s Cliffhanger both stick in my memory. At the end of May I joined the crowds watching dozens of traditional dancers celebrate Ratu Sukuna Day in Albert’s Park. They’re all in this gallery, which features scans of slides I took during the trip (the only slide film I’ve ever shot, and at first I wasn’t used to it and underexposed everything).

In June I was joined in Suva by my father, a far more renowned Fiji scholar than me, who was heading to Vatulele to continue his research on Fijian material culture. We spent a few days together there, and then went for a short road trip around Viti Levu, first to Sigatoka, through the Highlands to the north of the island (retracing our steps from 1989), around to Rakiraki, and then down the King’s Highway through Ra, Tailevu and Rewa.

At the end of the month, I made my way to Sigatoka again to catch a boat across to Vatulele, to spend the weekend there with Dad and his host family. It was a bright, still day for the crossing; from the small open boat I watched flying fish skim along the water beside us. On Vatulele, we spent the weekend visiting the main villages, attending church, eating dalo and the most perfect bananas I’ve ever tasted, seeing ancient cliff paintings, and enjoying a postcard-worthy tropical sunset. We also visited the Vatulele Island Resort, which hadn’t been open for long at the time. On my last morning, I made my way over to the resort to catch a lift in a seaplane to Nadi, while Dad stayed on the island. I had to hang around for hours (reading Peter Conrad’s Down Home, about my own island) before the plane arrived to pick up a couple of resort guests and me. My shots from the air on the flight back to Viti Levu round out this gallery.

It’s been fun revisiting these photos; because they’re slides, I hadn’t seen them in 27 years, over half my lifetime ago. At the time, I expected that my research would take me back to Fiji before long; but as things have turned out, I’ve never been back. These photos taken as a young man, and visits as a child to Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Beqa and Ovalau, are my memories of the country, but I hope that one day I’ll get to make some more.

Fiji 1993

15 November 2020 · Memory