Popular Pacific historian soon to say ‘adios’ to USP

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Professor Alan Quanchi ... Fiji the start of a "dream career". Image: Solomone Rabulu/Fiji Times

Report from Pacific Media Watch

Profile by Ivamere Nataro in Suva

If you’re a person who loves history and values culture then you would certainly want to meet Fiji’s Professor Alan Quanchi.

Dr Quanchi, commonly known to his peers and students as Max, is an academic by profession and is leaving the University of the South Pacific.

He specialises in the teaching of Pacific history and has been doing so for 43 years.

Growing up in rural farming areas of Victoria, Australia, Max was determined to attain his dream career. His humble beginnings and his perseverance made him the first member of his family to complete high school and matriculate.

Max, who was born in 1945, is the youngest of three brothers. According to him, he was too young to enter university so he spent two years training to be a primary schoolteacher. And if you know Max as well as I do, believe me when I say, his students love to attend his classes.

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However, the saying “destiny works in mysterious ways” was exactly how life turned out to be for Max as history became a focal point of his journey when he managed to achieve a BA Honours degree and MA thesis on Fiji’s history in 1973 which, according to him was a breakthrough.

Max says his research and findings on Fiji’s attempts to cede itself to Great Britain drove him towards the study of Pacific history.

‘Hooked over Fiji’
“I was hooked after discovering about Fiji’s history,” he said.

And for the next 30 years he visited Fiji and most Pacific countries on a regular basis with a quest to quench his thirst for Pacific history and culture.

Now who would ever dream someone who played basketball, was an Australian Football League player and surfed was on his way to becoming an academic? This was possible when he received his doctorate from Monash University in Australia.

Max stated his journey could not have been possible if it were not for mentors such as Professor John Legge and Dr Jack Lacey who pushed him to become what he is today.

“They were responsible for heading me towards an academic career. They made me aware of the importance I can play, in turn, as a mentor to young Islanders.”

His passion for history was evident in how he presented himself to history critics, as he recalled in the 1990s when he responded to a speaker who argued the Pacific was a basket case and needed to learn more from the rest of the world.

“I pointed out that this thinking needed to be reversed, and that it was indeed the Pacific that had a lot to teach the world. The world needs to pay attention to the success in terms of harmony, conflict resolution, cultural maintenance and survival.”

And not only is he stern in his opinion of Pacific history, he also shares characteristics that lightsup a person’s world on a gloomy day. His humorous personality made him one of the friendliest lecturers on campus.

Sense of humour
Friends Felicia Leitupo and Wendy-Jane Powell in their description of Max stated they had only known him for a year and it seemed like a lifelong friendship.

“Max has a great sense of humour and is a very sociable person,” Leitupo says.

The jolly 70-year-old historian, according to Powell, has also adopted the rich cultural background and friendliness of Fijians. And this is true for a man who rarely loses the bula smile when extending his arms welcoming students and friends to his abode.

As a person who can create friendship with strangers, Max is also a widely respected person when it comes to the learning sphere.

Within the four walls of the classroom, he presents himself as a person with high calibre in the mastering of Pacific history.

His years of teaching in USP allowed him to not only better understand Fijian history and culture, but also engage in the publication of textbooks such as that for Year 9, Fiji in the Pacific and co-author and editor of five recently introduced history textbooks for Year 11, 12 and 13 students.

His book Postcards from Oceania, reviewed last month in The Fiji Times by Vinesh Maharaj, was launched by USP Press late last year and he said his favourite postcard was the one that reversed the gaze by having Fijian subject clothed, and the photographer naked.

Fiji archive of the past
“The postcard has disappeared now but a hundred years ago, photographers trekked inland to places like Namosi to take snaps, later converted into postcards. They are an important archive of Fiji’s past.”

He is an award-winning researcher of USP for the past two years, as well as with other small universities across the region on online course development.

Max is the author of more than 100 books, articles and reports.

A popular speaker, he has spoken on Fiji TV and over the air, at numerous schools, Rucksack Club and recently at the WWI commemoration conference at USP.

Mikaele Vakasilimiratu, formerly with the social science team at the Ministry of Education’s curriculum development unit, recalled that Max had run professional development for history teachers back in the 1990s.

“He was then co-ordinating the regional Teaching the Pacific Forum (TTPF) project funded by Japan and when he came to Fiji and joined USP he carried on in his own time with this guidance to our teachers,” he said.

Max has also taught in schools such as the University of Papua New Guinea, Queensland University of Technology and Monash University in Melbourne.

Tantalising local food
Having developed a taste for tantalising local food, Max said his favourite was “grilled fish from the market”.

But for a drink he certainly is not a fan of yaqona, although he said there were certain occasions where he had to give in to Fiji’s traditional drink.

Now that he will soon say adios to USP, he says Fiji is a “fantastic and exciting” place to live in and has a lot of potential as a Pacific country to develop.

He said he planned to continue teaching in the University of Goroka in Papua New Guinea or the University of Queensland in Brisbane and for a person such as Max who knows no barrier, sky was the limit even if the tides swept against him.

When asked about what job he would take if life did not throw him into the profession he is in, Max jokingly said he would gladly be a rock star or be part of the Miss Hibiscus pageant.

His words of advice, knowledge and friendliness will surely be missed by all who consider him a friend and if only the hands of time could turn back to the exciting interview which shows his friendly personality, I would gladly allow history to repeat itself.

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