Prof. Fraenkel is currently on holiday with his family. We asked him to talk about his recent projects and the research he was conducting at the National Archives.
What project are you currently working on right now?
I work on a number of different issues really on the borderline history, politics and economics. I have done quite a lot on the electoral systems in Fiji, current politics on Fiji, the Solomon Islands quite widely on the Pacific as well. I worked on some Papua New Guinea issues, also in Nauru, Kiribati, and Samoa. I was in Tonga during their elections. The project I am currently working on that has brought me to work in the National Archives in Fiji and the National Archives in the UK in London last year is a couple of linked projects. One of the issues of great importance is the sugar industry and what’s happening internationally. In 2017 the LOME Convention and Cotonou Agreement that gave preferential access to the European Market ends and already the impact of that is being felt, I am not only interested in what’s going to happen in 2017 but also the historical origins. Although many people are aware of preferential arrangements were agreed under the LOME and Cotonou Agreements in the 70s to the present few people were aware that these arrangements under LOME Convention were inherited from British Colonial rule under the 1951 Commonwealth Sugar Agreement which tried to stabilise prices but also gave premiums to farmers in Fiji. When you go back the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement was reorganised under the Imperial Preferences in the 1930s in fact the origins of these Imperial Preferences go as far back as 1919. That’s significant for Fiji because in 1920 was the year when the last indenture contract was contract in Fiji so now the sugar industry had to rely on free labour. There was a major crisis back then. Everyone thought the industry would end. Many of the Indian labourers returned to India. It was very significant that these arrangements were put in place that facilitated a reorganisation of the sugar industry. So I am looking through trying to get a historical understanding of exactly how important these arrangements have been at the same time I am also interested in certain incidences that happened back in the 1920s like the PWD strike in Suva which has never really been written up properly. The strike in many ways defined the characteristics of ethnic relations in modern Fiji. I think it is poorly understood event. These are the two projects I am working on.
Where to from here?
I will need to go to the Colonial Sugar Refinery Archives in Canberra from here. From here I go back to work in Wellington and working on the other projects.
What materials have you had access to?
Since I came in this week I have been going through Colonial Reports, Legislative Council Papers, the Fiji Times and Herald and I have also looked through the Colonial Secretaries office files. I am currently constructing the narrative then I will go into specific details later. I am not a historian but I have used the Archives before on other projects. The staff have been very useful and provided me with much assistance. I hope I will be given the opportunity to come again.
On his recent visit:
It’s a lovely thing coming back to Fiji when you have taught at the University of the South Pacific and you meet former students from ten years back who are now in high positions like your Director here.