At precisely 10.00am 50 years ago today, Fiji gained its independence from Britain when H.R.H the Prince of Wales handed our founding Prime Minister, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the formal instruments of independence and the Fijian flag – our noble banner blue – was hoisted for the first time over Suva’s Albert Park.
It’s hard to convey the sense of excitement that gripped the entire nation at the time. Fiji was united as never before as the jockeying for influence that had marked the pre-independence negotiations was set aside and the nation set its eyes on the future. Yet there’s plenty of evidence of that excitement in the films that were taken at the time ( it was before the video age ) and they are well worth watching, even if the quality isn’t exactly 4K.
The first begins with excerpts from the government’s official Independence Day film that was made by the Australian Government Film Unit. As someone who was caught up in the excitement myself, I remember seeing it when it was first released and it’s a strange feeling to view it again half a century later. Its treatment of Fiji and the event itself has an element of the cliche and in retrospect, aspects of it are decidedly quaint. But it nonetheless faithfully captures the sense of elation and anticipation that gripped the nation on that brilliant sunny morning 50 years ago today.
It commences with the lowering of the Union Flag for the last time on the previous evening after 96 years of British rule. It’s been striking to read in the Fijian media this week the recollections of some of those who were there that they felt a deep sense of loss when the “Union Jack” came down. Colonial rule in many other places was unhappy but to a far lesser extent in Fiji. Most people, in fact, had a great affection for Britain, the Queen and the Union Flag and the formal end to almost a century of British rule triggered deep emotions among many people, coupled with pride that we were now an independent nation making our own way in the world.
It’s been one hell of a journey with a great deal of instability and unhappiness, as well as achievement and success. Fiji as a nation is demonstrably still a work in progress and as we enter our second half century, face an unprecedented challenge from the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. But this is how it all began.