From July 22 to August 3, 2010 I was privileged to travel home to the Fiji Islands to celebrate the 50th Jubilee of my former school, Suva Grammar School (SGS), with five decades of current and ex-SGS Scholars. The theme of the celebrations was “Give Back To Grammar”. I wanted to record my impressions.
Suva Grammar (the school motto “Seek and Ye Shall Find” remains the same) has an interesting history of 127 years, dating back to its forerunners, including the Suva Public School (1883) and the Girls Grammar School and Boys Grammar School (1917). Born in 1949, I attended both the Girls Grammar at Selbourne Street and Boys Grammar (“Quit Ye Like Men”) on Victoria Parade. I was therefore among the privileged students who got first use of plant and equipment at the new Suva Grammar School from 1960-1965. I recall I had to repeat Form 5 (as I was more focused on my first love than I was on study) and did not complete Forms 6 & 7 or become a prefect as Headmaster Mr. Webb had promised me should I have returned to SGS in 1966.
Nevertheless, the solid grounding in education I received at Suva Grammar was instrumental in me studying Year 12 maths and gaining entry to university in Australia on my third attempt when in my early 20’s. And yes, I later went on to complete accountancy, theology, and Master of Business Administration degrees, and a Doctor of Philosophy 40 years after leaving Suva Grammar. So it was with some emotion and pride that I revisited my old classrooms and reminisced with ex-scholars about the early days of my time at SGS. Mind you, I still cannot understand all these years later why we students in the 1960’s were taught French and not the Fijian and Hindustani languages. This, in my view, was a tremendous oversight in an age leading up to Fiji’s independence.
It was pleasing to hear the current Principal, Mr Waisake Ravatu, speak of restoring discipline and academic excellence to Suva Grammar. With current class sizes averaging at 45 and a school population of 1,437 students in 2009 (89% Fijian, 2% Indian and 9% minority) – compared to 452 in 1960 – Mr Ravatu was keen to let us know that the roll will be reduced in time to around a more manageable 900 students. His goal is to “…create a Grammar similar to the illustrious one many of (us) grew up in but tailored to suit its evolving state”. The school now has a Chaplain whose role is to work with the school’s current custodians to establish Christian values and ethical behaviour in students. Having sent my two sons to a Christian school in Adelaide, I concur that having a Chaplain to guide students and parents is a positive attribute of Suva Grammar.
Under the theme “Give Back To Grammar” some FGD$30,000 was raised under the auspices of the SGS Ex-Scholars Association and plans are in hand to donate funds to the school for much needed library books, school maintenance and other projects. One of my goals with The BULA Project is to raise $5,000 to assist with these activities. Over the next few years I would like to offer an Australian Gold Coast University Scholarship to one male and one female student in their final year at Suva Grammar. Please visit my Donations page if you would like to join me in “Giving Back To Grammar”!
Some people who attended the SGS 50th Jubilee:
Patron: Gerald Barrack
Teachers: Joan Eden, Jane Rickets, Janice Huddleston, Lesley Chapman
Others: Anne Barrack, Annette Lepper, Elaine Lepper, Walton & Roslyn Morgan, Tom Ricketts, Eileen Jack, Rona Bentley, Christine Bentley, Louise Bentley, Robin Yarrow, Michael Yarrow, Skipper Boyd, Milli O’Connor, Patrick Bower, Noelene Buchner, Caroline Sorby, Coleen Hurley, Lyndal Probert, Desmond Sanareive, Walleen Gough, Ricky Gothe, Beverly Curtis, Deloris Wedlock, Wayne Miller, Lesley Miller, John Sokia, Karen Hazelman, Shirley Hazelman, Sandra Hazelman, Herbit Hazelman, Ingrid Billings, Stan Whippy, Ellen Whippy, Denise McGowan, Craig Marlow, Raddock girl (?), Hedstrom girl (?), Robyn & Rosemary Mitchell, Ken Williams, Greg & Julie Watts, John & Betty Hunt and Mike Gosling.
Highlights for me were the walk by current and former Grammar students from Suva Market to Albert park on Saturday 24th July led by the Fiji Police band – awesome :), the church service at Veiuto on Sunday 25th July with superb singing by students, the day at Nukulau with the 60’s generation, a night at the Golden Dragon, Zipping through the trees at Wainidoi (where I bought some fresh marsala from local growers), and the Jubilee ball on the final Saturday night attended by 1,200 Grammarians. It was just great to see so many folks dressed up like we used to for the RSYC New Year’s Eve Ball! And of course, I loved just being home in Fiji and enjoying the people, food and weather.
I was talking with a 74 year old Fijian gentleman (former civil servant) on the coach over from Nadi to Suva on my arrival in Fiji. Towards the end of the trip I asked him, “What percentage of people did he feel supported Bainimarama?” His answer: “When Bainimarama came to power 95% of the population was against him. Now, 95% of the people are for him.” “And why do you think this is so?” I asked. “Because people are getting the services they require from government, which they failed to get for so many years under previous governments.” Let’s give Prime Minister Bainimarama an A+ for uplifting the general level of happiness and functioning of government in Fiji! It was plain for all to see.
Suva city was clean, orderly, no army and few policemen to be seen. The Chinese are making their presence felt as small business and shop owners. Young people were registering their mobile phones by July 30 (something that Singapore brought in two years ago and which Australians seem to take offence at), supermarkets and Suva market were bursting at the seams with stock and local produce, respectively. Most cars seem less than 5 years old. SUVs and twin-cab Hilux’s were the order of the day.
Of the several Grammar events I attended they were packed with young well educated articulate people – the vibrancy of an educated society. Goodness knows where they all worked (some came from overseas I expect) but spending was quite free. Taxis cost $2 – $3 a trip in somewhat rattling cars, but with 6,000 cabs in Suva bringing each owner around $100 per day gross, the folks must have money to spend. Even house girls were taking taxis from our old home at Vuvui Road and not waiting for the bus. Suva to Veiuto was 70 cents bus fare. Supermarket food prices were pretty much the same as Australia, albeit at FGD$1.61 to AUD$1.00. And MHCC is such a fine store – on a par with Myer and David Jones in Australia, with a fabulous food court. A far cry from my days working in MH’s in Suva – how well things have progressed! Plus 45,000 Aussies a month are going to Fiji with 600,000 tourists expected in 2010. Go Fiji!
At this rate Fiji will regain its place as “The way the world should be”! I felt more safe personally in Suva this trip then I did for the RSYC celebration a few years back. Mind you the girls outside the Mecure Hotel in Martintar were pretty scary and as forward as ever!! I visited the RSYC three times but saw no one I knew, except for a 5-minute chat with a close friend who was dealing with his yacht racers.
Could I live in Suva, in Fiji? You bet! It would mean making a bunch of new friends and being pestered constantly by almost every shop keeper in Nadi town to “just come in and have a look”, but the weather and food were perfect, beer and dancing superb, and the realization that around 15-20,000 people have now been through Grammar, and they are as passionate about the place as we were in our day. Yes, the school needs more paint and the library more books. The toilets are bad. And Joe Nuku and Farnsworth would faint were they to see the poor state of the tech block. But Grammarians are a hardy lot and many have risen to the challenge to give back to their school in money and kind.
I’m so glad I went to the SGS 50th Jubilee celebrations. I had a ball! The office holders and committees under Jasmine Tan, President Ex-SGS Students Association, who organised the event and the many wonderful activities have my gratitude for running such a flawless program and all giving so generously of their time and resources. Vinaka vaka levu!
See you all at the next celebrations,
Mike Gosling (SGS 1960-1965).