Mr Robin Yarrow is the currently the Chairman of the Board at National Trust of Fiji, a retired civil servant, he has served as Permanent Secretary in over four ministries in a 30 year career. He also serves in Boards and Committees such as Nature Fiji and NGOs. A committed advocate of heritage protection, Mr Yarrow is involved in various activities related to biodiversity conservation and protection.
1. How did you find last Saturday’s Museum Open Day?
I consider this Museum Open Day to be the best to date. There was a broad range of participating organizations plus interesting activities and moreover the weather was very good. Importantly, the attendance was excellent, particularly of young people and possibly exceeded expectations. The fact that so many organizations were present sent a strong message to the public that these are all inter-related and ‘connected’ in a heritage sense. It goes almost without saying that information on Fiji’s history and diverse heritage is fundamental to all that we are currently doing as this constitutes an integral part of current knowledge – because not only is this information unique to Fiji but it helps to shape our future. The old saying that if you do not know where you are coming from then how can you determine where you are going to, holds a great deal of truth. In addition, it is always vital to take stock from the past, in terms of both successes and lessons, to not lose track of these and to use this historical information in a careful and thorough manner in order to build on the achievements already made – and in the process to avoid having to ‘reinvent the wheel’ in making wise decisions relating to national development. The fact that National Archives were participating in full force on a historic site within an institution dedicated to heritage conservation was also most pleasing to me personally given my links to both the National Trust of Fiji and the relatively new NGO, NatureFijiMareqetiViti – both of which were also participating in the Open Day. It would be proper that I acknowledge the hard work put into organizing this event by all concerned and in particular by the Director and staff of the host entity, the Fiji Museum.
2. What were your impression of the Archives display?
This display was set up and manned very well and conveyed much valuable historic information. By it being part of a wider group display conveyed the key message that the work and outputs of our National Archives are very much part of the bigger picture and therefore should not be looked at in isolation from other activities. Archival information is also termed public records and it is so important that an arm of Government be dedicated to this mission, to ensure that this responsibility is discharged properly in the interests of the nation – this task cannot be left to simply ‘happen’ on its own. But archives should not be seen as a stand-alone activity and this why it was beneficial and desirable for the participation to have been undertaken with other relevant partners/players.
3. Was there any part of the Archives display that you found particularly memorable? If so why?
As a more ‘senior’ citizen I was particularly interested in the DVDs featuring some wonderful archival film records – that on the Hibiscus Festival stood out for me as I clearly remember the First Hibiscus Festival from the mid-1950s as I attended Boys Grammar School, then located only 200 meters from Albert Park. When the Festival started it was a very modest affair over only 2 days. Watching the various festivals and events over the decades since, including the public judging of the Queens, the float parade, the various cultural nights and other activities brought back many happy memories. In addition, the other DVDs were all most interesting in particular those on the Military and on Infrastructure. The display of selected historic photographs was also a well-mounted one in terms of both subject coverage and geographical distribution.
4. Were you aware that our team were also conducting genealogy assistance with registers to assist descendants of girmitya’s to find details of their forebears? Do you think this was a worthwhile effort?
While I was aware of this excellent initiative, I was surprised by the detailed capacity available. This is a most commendable service which connects families with their ancestors.
5. Do you have any opinion on the Archives Outreach programme like those carried out in Rotuma (and last week Macuata) where we give away to isolated rural communities information packages including DVD’s on the province/area concerned?
Fiji still possesses a large rural population and people in the more isolated areas do not have many opportunities to enjoy and also learn from the important public records and products of our National Archives Service, as these are for all Fijians – Outreach Programmes are therefore extremely valuable and should be continued on the basis of sound planning, so as to progressively cover more of our more remote rural dwellers. However, as internet coverage becomes increasingly available and our rural dwellers become more e-savvy, their ability to access information digitally, including by schools, will assist greatly to make more material from National Archives of Fiji available.
Colonel Ned Taito (Ret) has deposited some important historical publications with NAF. These materials are no longer in print. Below he talks about his deposit.
1) What benefit will these materials bring for Fiji’s collective memory?
To understand the future we have to appreciate the past. The contribution seeks to ensure that the future generations have the opportunity to appreciate the contributions made by those that went before them, in creating the character of the nation we call our homeland.
2) Why have you chosen to bring them to the National Archives for safekeeping?
As custodians of Fiji’s history, the National Archives has not only the mandate but more importantly the will to serve as the custodians of our individual and collective history as a nation.
3) Please describe the materials you have brought to deposit.
The items include publications and images from four peacekeeping mission. Three of which I served in.
The CD of images from the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) includes images from the tour by the band MAKOMA. I did not serve with RAMSI
Two publications are from the UN Mission in East Timor where I served as Public Information Office (PIO) at the HQ of the Peacekeeping Force (HQ PKF) and was responsible for working with the local media in terms of capacity building and in facilitating coverage of PKF efforts in Timor Leste. The majority of the CD contain images from UN PKF Media Office (PIO).
I served as the Civil Affairs Officer at Sector West HQ from June 200 to December 2000 in the Town of Suai, Covalima District, on the East Timor border with West Timor (Indonesia) under the auspices of the United Nations Transitional Authority East Timor (UNTAET). From October 2002 to September 2003 I served with at the UN PKF in Dili with the United Nations Mission in Support of East Timor (UNMISET). During the courses of the years the country was known as East Timor, then Timor Lorosae then Timor Leste.
There are two blue coffe table booklets highlighting two anniversary’s celebrated by the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights. The Golan Journal magazines that I had donated earlier to the National Archives included quarterly magazines published by HQ UNDOF at Camp Faouar, Syria where I served as the Spokesman from July 2013 to August 2014
The two posters were produced during two deployments to Bougainville. The South Pacific Peacekeeping Force (SPPKF) deployed in 1994, while the Truce Monitoring Group or TMG (renamed by the Australian as the Peace Monitoring Group – PMG) deployed in 1997. I deployed with the first Fiji contingent to TMG.
ANU Historian Dr. Vicki Luker, Executive Editor of The Journal of Pacific History visited NAF to investigate World War footage. Dr. Luker was very enthused by the Digital footage available at the Fiji Archives. She has a long association with the Archives stretching back to 1972, and is excited by the opportunities this digitised footage presents to Fiji and those studying our history.
“Exciting work, with potential to preserve heritage and link heritage to descendants and researchers, and involving NAF in cooperation with other agencies with similar interests or complementary expertise.”
Dr. Luker’s visit was enabled by a recent Memorandum signed between The Australian National University and The University of the South Pacific for a close working relationship.
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.
Students of the School of Governance, Development and International Affairs of the University of the South Pacific Post Graduate Studies have lauded the services of the National Archives of Fiji. The visit to the National Archives was to assist students in understanding the functions of the Department and the type of primary and secondary resources available.
In an organised tour, the students were given an overview of access levels for both closed and open records and the volume of the records in the archives’ holdings.
Sela Epeli, a Post Graduate Diploma student that was part of the group, shared on her view of the tour.
“The whole purpose of coming to this organisation is my interest in carrying out a family trace of my grandfather who was a British Official sent to Rotuma and finding out what happened to him when he went back to England,” Mr Epeli said.
“The tour today has been very helpful. I enjoyed visiting all the sections.
“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 and what I will need for my research.
“The National Archives is a treasure trove just waiting to be discovered.”
A total of 12 students from the School of Governance, Development and International Affairs of the USP Post Graduate Studies visited NAF. DEPTFO news
Taito Raione, the senior conservator at the National Archives of Fiji, with a copy of the first The Fiji Times. Picture: ATU RASEA
WHAT was discovered as library deposits is being documented as an important piece at Fiji’s National Archives.
The original volume of copies of The Fiji Times dated September 4, 1869, in Levuka up until December 31, 1870, are being compiled and preserved at the National Archives office in Suva.
National Archive senior conservator Taito Raione said the original copies — if kept in a room with stable temperature and stable relative humidity — would last for another 100 to 200 years.
“This is my 26th year here and when I started here, it was in a very deteriorating state, very brittle. These Fiji Times copies were falling to pieces so we had to collect the pieces and two years ago I decided that we have to do something about this,” Mr Raione said
“Otherwise if people want to come and view these pieces, we will have to give them the microfilm copies and not the original because it was in a deteriorating condition.
“We undergo seven stages before copies of these papers go back to its original stage.”
This, Mr Raione explained, included dismantling of all the pages in this first volume and the recollection of all pieces together and the washing of the papers in special solutions to remove dirt and impurities from them.
LESLEY BRYANT is a retired microbiologist and librarian. Through the National Archives of Fiji, she was able to find important information that would change her life forever.
When Lesley Bryant visited Fiji in 2006 to celebrate her 60th birthday she didn’t know that the trip with her mother, daughter and granddaughter would change her life. Her journey to self-discovery brought her to Fiji, took her to Samoa where she connected with her Samoan lineage. All this was made possible when she visited the National Archives of Fiji and discovered a handwritten certificate authenticating her South Pacific heritage.
“When I was planning to celebrate my 60th birthday, I told my family I wanted to visit Fiji and Samoa to get a sense of place for my 8th great-grandparent. I had previously visited Britain and Germany where my other great-grandparents came from and had found that really important in understanding my origins although I did not reconnect with any family there.
To my surprise my mother and daughter said they wanted to come too. My mother had hidden her Samoan heritage, even from us, because growing up in North Queensland in the 1920s she feared being labelled ‘Kanaka’ (a derogatory term applied to indentured Pacific Islander labourers working on cotton and sugar plantations in Queensland).
Ms Bryant had access to microfilmed Birth, Deaths and Marriage records. Assisted by staff she was able to identify a certificate after carefully search through each catalogued entry. The discovery of the certificate shed light to her family history and she commended the Archives for helping her make the connection.
All I knew were names and dates and that my mother’s father had been born in Fiji and his mother was Samoan. I told my story to the first Samoan I met in Australia and, as she suggested, I Googled ‘Fiji Archives’ and requested my grandfather’s birth certificate by email. I was amazed to receive a prompt reply listing birth records for him and 4 of his younger siblings and offering to post copies! Copies of the handwritten originals arrived soon after. These corrected his birthdate (ours was about 1 year out) and confirmed that he was born at Nausori in a ‘wooden cottage’ where his Cornish-born father worked as a ‘sugar boiler’ for CSR and gave us his Samoan mother’s correct name Caroline Aull. (We were never certain how to spell her surname because of different handwriting.)
Soon after I was at a conference in Brisbane where there were many delegates from Australia’s near neighbours. One asked ‘Where are you from?’ and when I said ‘Gold Coast’ he said ‘No, WHERE are you from?’ and I was able to tell him about my Samoan great-grandmother and he said ‘That’s it, I can see it in you!’ Others from Fiji asked my great-grandmother’s name and said ‘Oh, we know your family well!’ I was stunned!! The birth certificate led her to share stories with her Aull family here Suva, Fiji. She along with her mother, daughter and granddaughter relived history with her Fiji family and realised that John, Bill and Claire Aull’s father and her great grandmother were first cousins through their Samoan line. This information then led her to Samoa. With the help of the National Archives and her new found friends, her family reconnected with her Samoan family (Aull) in Fiji and her family in Samoa (Ainu’u).
“When we told what little we knew of our Caroline Aull to our new-found families – that she was a ‘Samoan princess sent to marry some high-chief in Fiji but instead married a Cornishman and both were disowned by their families for doing so’ – the Ainu’u family remarked that would explain why they have the Fijian names Katapau and Kapuana in their family. So that helped solve a mystery for them too! They explained Katapau is how they say Cakobau and we all wonder if Caroline was sent to marry into the Cakobau family and marvel that she was able to marry my Cornish great-grandfather instead. Fortunately the family has lived happily in Queensland since the late 1890s.Since her last visit to the Archives, Ms Bryant has been able to find a microfilm copy of her great grandparents’ marriage certificate with the assistance of the Archives staff. She then went on to obtain a registered copy from the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages here in Suva. “Last November, I again visited NAF and the Director and staff kindly helped me see a microfilm of the hand-written marriage certificate of my great-grandparents which allowed me to correct typographic errors made when the Registry Office ‘transcribed’ it some years ago. With help of friends in Levuka, I have been also able to decipher the minister’s name and visit the Methodist Church where the marriage took place. Now my mother (94 this year!) is proud of her Samoan heritage where once she hid it for fear of being shamed! We all have a better sense of our Pacific roots too. The family reconnections meant so much to me and my family that I decided to connect with descendants of ‘Kanakas’ in the hope that they too could be proud of their roots and reconnect with their families in the Pacific. As a result, I was deeply involved in the 150th commemorations of the first arrival of these labourers to Beaudesert, Queensland ‘ASSI 150’ in 2013 and to Levuka, Fiji ‘FM 150’ in 2014 and soon James Muller will be releasing a documentary film he has made of the latter. Sincere thanks from my family to NAF and the wonderful staff there without whom none of this would have been possible. I would urge anyone interested in family history in Fiji to visit NAF where I was met by efficient and warm personal service.