The School of Governance, Development and International Affairs of the University of the South Pacific Post Graduate Studies organized a tour of the National Archives to assist their students in understanding the functions of the Department and the type of primary and secondary resources available. The group was given an overview of access levels for both closed and open records and the volume of the records in the Archives holdings. We met up with Sela Epeli a Post Graduate Diploma student that was part of the group and she shared on her view of the tour.
“My name is Sela Epeli and I am Secretary in the School of Governance, Development and International Affairs at USP and I am also a student completing my Post Graduate Diploma in Development Studies. My research interest, the whole idea of me coming on this organized is because I am interested in doing a family trace on my grandfather four generations back who was a British Official sent to Rotuma and finding out what happened to him when he went back to England. Aside from the family interest my research interest is the development trajectory of Rotuma 30 or 40 years todate and how it has impacted on our Rotuman culture, tradition and especially language which we are sadly losing.”
“The tour today has been very helpful. I like all the sections and of course well you can’t just do research in isolation. For me the Library and Archives Admin Sections were the most interesting for me. I got a lot of information on the processes I will go through, what I need for my research. I would recommend this for anyone interested in tracing family background and on any topic actually. The National Archives is just a treasure trove just waiting to be discovered.”
“You are so understaffed. There needs to be a lot more staff. It’s just sad that there is so much history here, so much information. If only people were aware.”
“I am happy with the support we were given today. I remember coming here when I was in high school, I was lost and I didn’t get what I came for but today it’s like a different story and technology has helped out a lot. It has been an awesome morning.”
For quarter of a century the Royal New Zealand Air Force made some major contributions to the Fiji. Based at strategic locations in Fiji, the RNZAF built the airfields in Nadi and Nausori and later the establishment of the seaplane station in Laucala Bay, Suva. In addition several of their personnel worked at the Fiji Met office, and were deployed in aircrafts to fly around (often ending up flying right through) hurricanes. They also provided medivac services for emergency cases in remote areas, and were key in providing disaster relief after natural disasters. This important era of the RNZAF operations in Fiji is the very reason why author and oral historian Bee Dawson visited the National Archives of Fiji to carry out research.
With a total of sixteen books to her name, the former psychologist
with the RNZAF took up writing as she loved to tell stories. Having written five other books on the RNZAF, Ms Dawson said she “was just waiting for the opportunity to write about Laucala Bay seaplane base”.
“I had met several people whilst interviewing them for my other books who had served at Laucala Bay and I had a lot of materials on it.”
“I think this book is very important as it covers an era when New Zealand and Fiji were working together very closely. At the beginning of World War Two, New Zealand was responsible for the defense of Fiji until the Americans took over that role in 1942. New Zealand construction teams built the first airfields at Nausori and Nadi, and later established the seaplane station at Laucala Bay. During the war New Zealand aeroplanes carried out many patrols around Fiji and escorted ships that were in Fijian waters.
The Fiji Times issue of December 13th 1948 highlighted “the Royal New Zealand Air Forces Catalinas experimenting with “drops” in preparation for providing emergency supplies to isolated communities in Lau”.
After the war the Catalina flying boats (later Sunderland flying boats) continued to support the Fijian people. They worked closely with meteorological services – whenever a hurricane was building up somewhere in the area an aircraft would be sent to fly around, or into, the developing hurricane to take pressure and wind velocity readings which were sent back to the weather people in Fiji. After hurricanes the RNZAF had a vital role flying relief missions to islands that had sustained damage. They took water, food and building supplies, but sometimes the most crucial thing was the medical support. This included medical evacuation of injured people.
“Medical relief flights around the Pacific were a major part of the RNZAF’s work – and the seaplane station at Laucala Bay was central to these missions.
Search and rescue was also important – flights were often sent out to look for missing boats. One of the most famous rescues was when a boatload of Tongan boxers was rescued from Minerva Reef in 1962. “
She also spoke about the role RNZAF played in the construction of the Nadi and Nausori airfields.“In 1941, the Americans were getting interested in the strategic significance of Fiji, even though they were not in the war yet they realised they wanted a safer southern route.
Later that year the Americans contracted New Zealand to upgrade the Nadi airfield. Within a week about 400 people from New Zealand arrived to begin the airfields upgrade. In the end there were over 1200 Europeans and thousands of local labour.
The construction of the Nadi airfield was according to Ms Dawson highlighted in the “History of the Pacific War” as one of the great achievements of the Pacific War. “It was a massive operation and very quickly done.
“The New Zealanders laid the foundations and then we did the major upgrade for the Americans. They were around for a little while but in 1942 the Americans took over the defence of Fiji and from then on the New Zealand troops and any other troops were under the American command.
The RNZAF station at Laucala Bay was also a significant employer of local Fijian labour. Many local people worked in the hangars, on the marine section boats, in the bars and as house girls.. The officers were encouraged to hire local help as it would assist them during their stay. “They were given allowances to pay and it made life easier and of course the employment it offered.”
At the National Archives, Ms Dawson was able to gather information and identify images for her book.
“There were a number of very comprehensive files that I looked through. These were mostly to do with the closing of the station in the mid 1960s. I also found many photographs – and some of these are absolutely ideal for my book. I have photo-copies and will order them once the manuscript is written. I have got many valuable local insights and some very good photographs. I have also got excellent information from files at the National Archives.”
She commended the National Archives for their friendly and keen-to-help attitude.
Her book likely to be titled ‘RNZAF Station Laucala Bay’ will be published as part of the RNZAF’s 80th birthday celebrations in 2017.
The National Archives of Fiji has been selected to be part of a global study on Information Culture in Archives commissioned by the International Council on Archives, and carried out by Dr Gillian Oliver and Dr Eric Boamah. “Learning to Walk the Talk: A case study of the National Archives of Fiji”. The research is aimed at helping archivists understand and apply the key concept of Information culture as part of the next generations’ recordkeeping practice. The case study is part of a multi-national research programme supported by the International Council on Archives.
After conducting interviews and an organizational analysis the Oliver and Boamah are very positive of the direction the National Archives of Fiji is taking. “The future looks very bright indeed. There’s an amazing journey ahead which will doubtless be very challenging. In our interactions with staff we witnessed the vision, the motivation and collegial work ethic that will be essential to success so I have no doubt that the National Archives of Fiji will achieve its goals. “It was truly wonderful, from both personal and professional perspectives. We learnt a great deal, the input from staff at all levels of the Archives will make an enormous contribution to development of internationally appropriate recordkeeping strategies.”
A Programme Director at the Master of Information Studies in the School of Information Management at the Victoria University of Wellington Dr Oliver has 15 years of experience teaching with records and archives.
Over the years Dr Oliver has taught for seven years at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand before she joined the Victoria University of Wellington. She was also fortunate to spend a semester at Tallinn University of Estonia. During her stint at these institutions she has seen changes in the way information is managed at Archival institutions.
“There is so much awareness now of the importance of facilitating access to archives and increasing awareness of archives. The proliferation of digital information is forcing re-rethinking of practices that were appropriate in a paper environment, but impractical in the digital age.
Her advice to any archival institution striving to work at world class level:
“To be outwards focussed – to understand their environment, the needs of their users, and to build strong relationships with key partners locally and internationally e.g. other cultural heritage institutions or government ICT agencies. No Archives is an island!”
We were so privileged to meet Anna Walker in Melbourne the other week to begin the Fiji Oral History programme, with the generous support of the Fiji High Commissioner in Australia Mr Yogesh Punja, Dr Kirstie Close-Barry, Dr Tamarisi Yabaki, and others. During our visit Anne handed over some historical photographs and documentation of the important work she did at the Fiji YWCA, and spoke at length on her experiences and the role of the YWCA as an incubator/catalyst for multiculturalism in education, development, the arts, women’s issues, children’s issues, and human rights. It started with the YWCA kindergarten which was the first multicultural kindergarten, and then went on to play a leading role in bringing down the race barriers in many sphere’s of life in colonial Fiji. For example, at one time the Suva basketball body wouldn’t admit non white teams so the YWCA organised another league for people of all backgrounds. In no time the new league had around 25 teams and the old league had about 6, in the end the two merged and the practice of race based admittance was done away with.
Anne’s full interview will be put up soon on the National Archives of Fiji youtube channel. Fiji’s history is full of powerful stories, we hope to capture these stories and “fill in the gaps” with our Oral History programme so that we can all benefit from the varied and enlightening lessons of previous generations.
How important are photographs as historical items?
“Photographs are extraordinarily significant. In Australia we get allot of bushfires and if a family home is completely destroyed one of the first things they say is “I’ve lost all my photographs”, or they’ll say “at least I was able to get my photographs and get out.” Its the first thing people mention, forget about legal documents and insurance documents and things like that. Those things can be replaced, its their photographs, the special memories that people really cherish.”
“Everybody has their own personal collection of photographs, but they also mean allot to a community and to a country as a whole. If townships grow and change, its a fantastic resource to be able to understand how the community used to be and how it has changed and grown. For our own personal collections its about family and community as well, remembering our past, appreciating our present and being able to anticipate our family in the future looking back on these photographs. It can be heart breaking when people loose a collection of photographs, but it can also be incredibly heart warming when people rediscover photographs, or realise that they haven’t actually lost all the photographs in a disaster for example. Photographs to me constitute a core of who we are as people and what our memory is.”
Please describe the training you have carried out here at the National Archives.
“So myself and the conservation section, and the digital continuity section here at the National Archives of Fiji have spent the week looking at both the preservation of the photographic material, of the collection as a whole and intensive hands on conservation of photographic materials. So we looked at the storage areas and the various collections that the National Archives of Fiji holds and we talked a bit about the ways to go about preserving whole collections of photographs. Then we spent three days in the conservation laboratory here, working on experimental photographs. Photographs which we could practice on, not working on photographs out of the collection, because photographic conservation takes allot of practice, and in the training phase people should have the freedom to experiment and push the boundaries so they understand what works and for one problem and what works for another.”
“So we covered:
• surface cleaning (front and back)
• humidification and flattening
• disaster response
• and in-painting (retouching)”
How would you describe your time here at the National Archives of Fiji?
“This is my first visit to Fiji and its been absolutely fantastic. The people here at the National Archives of Fiji have been so welcoming and so friendly that personally its just been an uplifting experience.”
“To come and work here with the conservators at the National Archives of Fiji has been just been a wonderful week and I’ve taught them and they’ve taught me and I think we’ve all come away from it better trained and better educated people. The team here at the National Archives of Fiji knows everything they need to know about preserving photographs. When a collection comes into the care of the staff here, it will get the best care Fiji can provide, and when it comes to hands on conservation treatment I believe they will probably have the best conservation training in Fiji and probably the English speaking South Pacific.”
Ms Jackson was able to impart her valuable knowledge with the NAF team as part of the Twinning programme between the National Archives of Fiji and the National Archives of Australia, funded by the people of Australia through the Australian High Commission.
According to Senior Archivist Digital Continuity, the training will add immensely to Fiji’s heritage. “It was amazing. There were photographs that were badly damaged, and I thought absolutely nothing can be done with these. But now we know how to salvage these important pieces of Fiji’s history, this training was a godsend.”
This is the third stage of a twinning programme between the National Archives of Fiji and the National Archives of Australia made possible by funding through the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The First Secretary of the Indian High Commission Mr. J. Varma was full of praise for the National Archives of Fiji at the Ministry of Education’s Girmit celebrations at Syria Park Nausori on May 14th.
“I from the High Commission of India would like to congratulate the National Archives of Fiji for preserving the records of people who came from India because it’s based and proven with the records that the National Archives of Fiji is preserving. And I find it very comprehensive with the details being put there and the mode of preserving records is excellent and the records are clear and it has a story to tell the people. I would like to congratulate and motivate the Department of National Archives to continue working in this manner. The Girmit story has a lot of lessons and I’m grateful that the National Archives of Fiji is preserving them and wish you all the best. Vinaka”
His Excellency the President Major General (Ret’d) Jioji Konousi Konrote was also very impressed with our Girmit exhibition, and expressed his surprise that the National Archives had so much to offer. “Thank you very much. This is Very impressive, very impressive. This information is so important for our nation to know. Please keep up this very good work you are doing” he said.
Part of our services on the day was to help descendants of Girmityas to trace their heritage by using the Girmit records. This was very well received with numerous individuals successfully finding the details they were after.
On display were:
– Indenture records (Immigration pass, shipping records, plantation records)
– Photo’s of Girmityas
– Audio Visual footage
– Deed of Cession (and Fijian translation)
The National Archives of Fiji (NAF) is partnering with the iTaukei Affairs Board to preserve Fiji’s tribal records. This will see NAF carry out scientific archival conservation works on the Vola Ni Kawa Bula (VKB) records to ensure their long term preservation and continued accessibility for Fiji’s indigenous people.
“The VKB is very important, it records all the clans of the 14 provinces of Fiji. If your name is in the VKB records, it established which mataqali (clan) you belong to, links you to the ownership of the land, qoliqoli (fishing grounds) and other resources the mataqali has. You cannot receive lease money (equal distribution) if your name is not in the VKB. You don’t have the right of ownership of land etc. if your name does not appear in these important records,” said iTaukei Affaris Board principal administration officer Mr Tevita Cokanasiga.
In addition he said these records enable the iTaukei Affairs Board to carry out other vital work to safeguard the welfare of the indigenous people. “With these records we are able solve land conflicts, decide on customary title disputes, proceed in the orderly filling of vacant chiefly post, and support sustainable development in villages.”
To date NAF has carried out conservation works on 10 items and returned these to the iTaukei Affairs Board. Director archives, Mr Opeta Alefaio said that while NAF does not usually conserve materials of other organisations, the VKB records are very significant and needed to be accommodated. “We have over 6 kilometers of historical records dating back to 1835, so there is already allot of conservation work to do. However, the archival concept of “distributed holdings” is applicable here. So that even though the documents are owned and in the custody of another entity, they are significant enough that we have a philosophical or moral obligation to ensure their safekeeping. We are very happy to have earned the trust of the Taukei Affairs Board, and jointly work towards preserving this essential cultural resource.”
This strategic partnership has also been flagged by the iTaukei Affairs Board as positive. “Archives is an important ally for us, they are helpful, resourceful, and always willing to spread their wings wide to help in areas related to their field” said Cokanasiga.
When most kids are planning their next trip to the nearby river for a swim this school holidays, the high school students of Naburenivalu village, Namena, Tailevu chose to visit the National Archives of Fiji for their careers programme. Tour coordinator retired military officer Sairusi Davui said since he moved back to the village two years ago he began observing the path the children were taking after leaving high school. He then began planning a careers day to introduce the students to the world of work.
“This tour is for them to consider their career path. The tour is a reward for them because for most of them this is the first time to the Archives and we have enjoyed coming here and I am sure they have learnt many things about choosing the right career.
The fifteen students from Forms Three to Seven took the opportunity to enquire about subjects and the work experience of the staff. One has decided that she will strive towards her goal to work at the National Archives.
For Form seven student of Dawasamu High School Sera Titilade this is her second visit to the Archives and she is convinced that this where here future lies.
“I last came here in 2013 and my interest began then and it hasn’t stopped. I took up the opportunity to come back and I am still very interested in working here. I am on the right path with my history, geography and Fijian subjects. “It will be really exciting to work with Fiji’s history, reading and studying about how we were in the past and helping protect our history.The students attend Tailevu North College, St Vincent High School and Dawasamu High School.
The National Archives of Fiji has been part of the Ministry of Rural and Maritime Development organised Government Roadshows for the last four years. The Roadshows are held in four provinces each year and each venue is different the following year. The three day programme is a much anticipated event for these rural communities as Government services are brought to their door step.
For the Archives thorough preparations are done and archival materials sourced according to the venue of the roadshow. Units such as Recordkeeping, Library and Digital Unit sort through their treasure trove of records for materials pertaining to the province and area where the roadshow is to be held. These materials were historical photographs & audio visual footage, Land Claims Commission Reports (Pre-Cession land sales) and Colonial Secretaries Office records.
In September 2013 three Archives staff joined a sixteen member team under the then Ministry of Information for the Nadarivatu Government Roadshow. It was a success. More than 200 people visited the archives booth during the two-day programme. Eleven villages and six schools were able to visit the booth. The contents of the display set up by the team mainly focused on historical and land information on the Nadarivatu, Nadala and Nadrau Region.
According to the Archives officers the highlight of the programme was when village elders were able to identify with people in the photographs on display.
A 70 year-old gentleman identified his grandfather’s Atunaisa’s photo. His grandfather was reportedly 100 years old at the time the photo was taken.
Another visitor to the booth Ratu Viliame of Nubutautau identified his great grandfather and namesake’s photo. His namesake was the son of Nawawabalavu, the chief who killed Rev. Thomas Baker.
In another roadshow similar sentiments were echoed by visitors to the Archives booth. A 79 year old man during the Nalaba, Ra Roadshow, was emotional when he saw a photograph of his father dated in the 1950s.
“This is like a dream come true. You have a dream in the night and here you see the reality there in front of you. We are really honoured for the Government’s generosity and for the National Archives of Fiji for bringing over to Nalaba things that we have only heard of in that happened in the past.”
This year there are four Government Roadshows scheduled for:
- Saqani, Cakaudrove
- Bukuya, Ba
- Vunisea, Kadavu
- Dawasamu, Tailevu