Graham Davis: Happy 50th Independence Day, Fiji

Fiji at 50 years
Happy Independence Day ... Fiji as it was a half century ago with children among those celebrating with the new light blue flag. Image: Grubsheet Feejee

COMMENTARY: By Graham Davis

At precisely 10am 50 years ago today, Fiji gained its independence from Britain when HRH, 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 is 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.

The first begins with the government’s official Independence Day film Independence for Fiji 1970 that was made by the Australian Government Film Unit.

Independence for Fiji 1970 – Part one

As someone who was caught up in the excitement myself, I remember seeing it when it was first released and it is a strange feeling to view it again half a century later.

It’s treatment of Fiji and the event itself has an element of the cliche and in retrospect, aspects of it are decidedly quaint.

Captures the elation
But it nonetheless faithfully captures the sense of elation and anticipation that gripped the nation on that brilliant sunny morning 50 years ago today.

The film begins 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.

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 has been one hell of a journey with a great deal of happiness as well as success, and Fiji as a nation is demonstrably still a work in progress. But this is how it all began.

Grubsheet Feejee is the blogsite of Graham Davis, an award-winning journalist turned communications consultant who was the Fiji government’s principal communications adviser for six years from 2012 to 2018 and continued to work on Fiji’s global climate and oceans campaign up until the end of the decade. Other articles here.

Fiji soldiers in ceremonial sulu dress on Independence Day 50 years ago. Image: Grubsheet Feejee
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  1. Thank you for sharing these five wonderful videos! For those of us that were present on that day, these bring back fond memories and intrinsic emotions will remain for as long as our memories allow. Independence Day ended with the Independent Ball at the Trade Winds Hotel and wondering if there was a video of that event too.

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