Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Coconuts at the chemist

Coconuts - and they just fall down from the trees. I was at the local chemist in Geelong this morning picking up scripts and I saw a whole display of health foods, particularly coconut. Well, coconut water for $15, two lots of coconut cream for $35, coconut sugar, coconut chips. I think our relatives ought to pick up coconuts and start working with the pharmaceutical industry! And the oil is not to put on your dry skin but to eat or drink!

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Is this a real Fijian design?

The picture below was posted on facebook, but I wonder if it is really a Fijian design from Cakakudrove because I have never ever seen a design like this.  Perhaps it was made by a vavalagi having a go at painting on masi.

This striking Cakaudrove masi was acquired by a European collector in the 1870's. It was displayed a few years ago as part of an exhibition called 'Tapa: Barkcloth paintings from the Pacific' in Birmingham, U.K.. Many thanks to the Fijian Art Research Project for allowing us to access this Fijian heritage online. Has anyone seen a piece of masi like this here in Fiji?

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Consequences of speaking out

from Fiji Village:
3 MPs of suspended NFP cannot attend next week’s parliament sitting
By Vijay Narayan
Thursday 04/02/2016
Speaker of Parliament Doctor Jiko Luveni
The three MPs of the suspended National Federation Party cannot attend next week’s parliament sitting.
Speaker of Parliament Doctor Jiko Luveni has made the decision after getting legal advice on the suspension of the party.
Doctor Luveni says the suspension of the registration of a political party has the effect of suspending that political party and all its members from Parliament.
She says this means that any such suspended political party and all its members cannot participate in Parliament or in any of the committees of Parliament.
Doctor Luveni also confirms that the political party or any of its members cannot be entitled to any pay from Parliament for the duration of the suspension.
The Speaker will be writing immediately to the individual members affected to inform them of the same.
From left: Tupou Draunidalo, Biman Prasad and Prem Singh
The members are Biman Prasad, Tupou Draunidalo and Prem Singh.
The party was suspended for 30 days on Monday for contravening the Political Parties Decree.
Mohammed Saneem
The Registrar of Political Parties Mohammed Saneem says the suspended NFP’s accounts were not audited by an accountant certified by the Fiji Institute of Accountants as required under the decree.
Section 19 (4) of the decree states that a political party that has been suspended shall not be entitled to any of the rights and privileges specified under the decree.
Saneem says the NFP has 60 days to remedy the breach or face deregistration as a political party.

During this period of suspension, the NFP cannot operate, function, represent or hold itself out to be a political party.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Biman says

The Federation Party in Fiji are considering the future of their presence in Parliament because they feel they have not been listened to at all.  Here's what their leader says -  from the Fiji Times Saturday:

Is our democracy really working?

Dr Biman Prasad
Saturday, January 30, 2016
The exuberant mood among the people after the 2014 election is fast fading. The realities of the high cost of living, low wages and deteriorating health and education services have not gone away. This is because of a dysfunctional political system born of a deeply flawed and imposed Constitution, and economic policies designed to boost the Government's image, not Fiji's long-term economic future.
The FijiFirst Government has been big on announcements, but poor on implementation. Many of their publicity stunts are carefully crafted by government-hired and publicly-funded public relations firms like Qorvis, with the help of pliant media bodies like the Fiji Sun, a grateful beneficiary of exclusive government advertising contracts. But what good is this for the rest of us?
political environment
Serious questions continue to be raised about the independence of Parliament, state institutions and the civil service.
The highest bi-partisan political institutions are parliamentary standing committees. In these, the people's representatives — from the Government and the Opposition — listen to the views of everybody on important legislation. Then they issue their reports making their recommendations. In most "true democracies", the Government listens and responds meaningfully to these findings. Not in Fiji.
One such instance is the Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights. Last year this Committee discussed the amendments to the Employment Relations Promulgations (ERP) Bill. We agreed unanimously — Government and Opposition members together — to recommend changes which complied with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.
But before these changes could be presented to Parliament, the Bill was changed overnight, without the knowledge of the Opposition members. The committee process, therefore, was just about window-dressing. A bipartisan committee had carefully considered how to achieve the best laws; the Government just went ahead and did what it wanted.
In a similar way, the Standing Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs considered and issued a report that Fiji should unconditionally implement the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT). The Government did not go back to the committee. Instead it moved a motion in Parliament to reject the Standing Committee's report. So the Government members of the committee were forced to vote in Parliament against their own report!
Recently, the Attorney-General interfered in the work of the Standing Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs by asking the Government-appointed chair of the committee to stop deliberating on allegations of torture made by lawyer Aman Ravindra-Singh. The attorney-general said in his view this was not the work of the committee. But his view should not guide the work of a bipartisan committee. He has an obvious interest in these allegations not being heard because they do not reflect well on his Government. But Parliament — an independent institution — has no budget for independent lawyers to advise it.
The draconian Media Decree remains in force. State radio and television media organisations and the pro-government newspaper (which is rewarded by exclusive government advertising contracts), continue to deny the opposition any voice. They openly parrot government propaganda. Media organisations operate under the threat of their editors being hauled before the Media Tribunal and subjected to huge fines and other punishments. The lack of access to a free and independent media has been the single most frustrating obstacle for the opposition parties when they try to make the Government publicly accountable on various national issues.
The only positive thing in all this is that, as I travel around the country, I realise that the people have begun to clearly see through this façade, and the real news has begun to seep through the firewalls.
The Government continues to interfere in how parliamentary funding is allocated. The original allocation of funds by the secretary-general — who is supposed to be independent of the Government was abruptly changed in December 2014. Under the new formula the NFP, with three MPs, gets only $45,000 per annum to run its parliamentary office and conduct its parliamentary activities. The FijiFirst party, despite the fact that half of its MPs are ministers with their own taxpayer-funded civil servants, gets the same amount per MP as the Opposition parties.
In most "true democracies", the Opposition receives a minimum amount of funding to operate on — to pay for researchers, support staff and travel. This is because "true democracy" recognises the importance of a well-resourced and informed Opposition to hold the Government accountable.
Unbelievably, Opposition political parties are required to apply for permits for meetings with party members and others. This makes a mockery of democracy. Why do the people's representatives need permits to meet the people?
The Government, on the other hand, continues to use State resources to do roadshows, meetings and consultations. The Prime Minister seems to be on a permanent taxpayer-funded political campaign tour.
This sort of political dysfunction in Fiji has a direct negative impact on the accountability and transparency of government activities. Because the Government does whatever it wants and does not listen to anyone else, many of its policies and programs are poorly thought out and implemented. If they listened more to other views, the people would get better policies and services.
economic policies
In 2013, no doubt with the 2014 election in mind, the Bainimarama Government started spending on everything — tuition free education, bus fare subsidies and other social welfare programs. These would be good things if we could afford them and they were delivered well. But they are certainly not delivered well.
School textbooks might be free, but they are useless if they don't reach students on time. Unbelievably, the Government has messed up textbook delivery for the second year running. Now it has called in FICAC to "investigate" its own inefficiency.
Health services continue to stagnate and deteriorate with appalling standards of service in hospitals and health centres. The free medicine scheme, another worthwhile idea run badly, is turning into a disaster. Now FICAC has been called in to "investigate" drug shortages in hospitals.
All of this FICAC investigating might help the ministers pass on the blame to someone else, but it is doing nothing much for the people.
The Tertiary Scholarship and Loans Scheme (TELS) program continues to disenfranchise poor students and their parents by imposing debts on them which they will struggle to pay in the future. A better designed TELS and scholarship program based on means-testing would have brought about better distribution of the benefits and the burden of debt on individual households.
The Government of course is spending big on roads. That is a good thing, if this spending is run efficiently. Only a few days ago, the Prime Minister himself was reported demanding that the Fiji Roads Authority deliver results. If the Prime Minister is complaining, how confident can we be that these hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent well?
After all, these funds don't belong to the FijiFirst party. They belong to the taxpayers. We are the ones who will be repaying the loans taken out to build these roads, for many years to come.
Based on 2013 figures, each woman, man and child in Fiji had a debt burden of about $4440. A child born today automatically inherits a debt of $4440 upon birth — before they've even opened their eyes, grown their first tooth or taken their first steps. This debt figure burden rises with every passing year.
Government debt levels
Government debt stands at about $4.4 billion which is close to 50 per cent of GDP. This means that, like any household that borrows money to spend, we are becoming too deep in debt to be able to borrow any more.
The debt table (at the bottom of the facing page) shows information Government's Budget Estimates and financial data is sourced from the website of the Ministry of Finance. (Refer to table.)
These are devastating figures. Remember that Government's actual revenue figures for 2014 and 2015 will only be known next year. So the percentage of debt to actual revenue will undoubtedly increase if Government's income projections are not met (like previous years, when they have not been met).
The Government is very proud of its economic growth figures for 2013, 2014 and 2015 years. It is worth noting that this economic growth is much lower than in many Asian countries. But the real test of our economy will be how it grows when the Government stops borrowing and spending. The Government's own projections for economic growth has been revised downwards to 3.5 per cent in 2016 and about 3 per cent in 2017 and 2018.
Growing debt repayment requirements mean Government has to find new sources of income to pay interest and principal every year. In the end, this can only be paid for if taxes increase or Government spending decreases. Either way, it is the people who will bear the consequences. It is the poorest people who will bear the biggest burden if Government services decline.
In the 2016 budget, the FijiFirst Government was forced to break its election promises. In the election they promised they would keep the policy of zero VAT on basic food items. In the 2016 budget they broke that promise. Most people see little change in their household bills and the poor people only see their costs rising.
People think that the Opposition just opposes Government policies and offer no alternative. But the NFP, in its manifesto, had carefully proposed a reduction in VAT to 10 per cent, leaving VAT on basic food items at zero. We had a credible plan to reduce wasteful expenditure that would not have created much pain for our lowest-income households.
The Government recently claims that poverty has been reduced. Even if that is true, for the amount of public money it has spent, the reduction is very small. Unfortunately, the Government has kept its statistics secret for so long that it is getting harder to trust their objectivity.
It seems that the Government will only release the statistics that show good things. But, as Professor Wadan Narsey recently pointed out in an article in The Fiji Times, all the information should be available, for everybody to see, as soon as it is ready. In that way, all of us — the Government, the Opposition, NGOs and the public — can work together to achieve the best solutions.
Of course these claimed reductions in poverty are before the 2016 Budget. Now the cost of basic food items has gone up, wages are not increasing and a huge number of people remain unemployed. So it is the next set of figures that will be the real test. Will the Government delay releasing them if they aren't good?
Economic management in Fiji has become dictatorial, confused and inconsistent, mostly reflecting a complete lack of understanding of how business and markets work.
Tax and tariff policies seem to veer in different directions in every budget, depending on which favoured businesses the Government is listening to at the time. Meanwhile some businesses are being forced by the Government to do business they do not want to do.
For example, Government is forcing private pharmacies to participate in Government's free medicine scheme, even though these pharmacies cannot even recover their costs in doing so. If the Government wants services from private business it should, like the rest of us, be required to pay those businesses properly and fairly.
The culture of servility and sycophancy has become so deeply ingrained under the FijiFirst Government that some business people behave like obsequious fools. Few are prepared to criticise government policies.
Big businesses who are benefitting from bad government policies will pay the price in the long term. Their sycophancy and servility will to perpetuate a culture of bad governance, favouritism and ill-will. If the next government does not favour them, they will be the first to be demanding good governance — but it will be too late.
The economic and political deception of the FijiFirst Government is likely to cost the country and our people dearly.
First, there is the political deception that has been created that Fiji has a "true democracy" under the 2013 Constitution. The Government is forever talking about its "true democracy" — in its speeches, statements, even its advertisements. If this is "true democracy", I wonder why it has to remind us so often? Is it because perhaps people aren't convinced?
Many of Fiji's international partners, including the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), have called for a review of the 2013 Constitution. They know it does not promote genuine democracy. The separation of powers, the derogations in the Bill of Rights, the ouster clauses, and the existence of draconian decrees all render the Constitution undemocratic. More importantly, they make it unsustainable in the future.
The dubious claim that this Constitution ensures "equal citizenry" (another favourite mantra of the Government) is another deception. Just because we are now calling everyone a "Fijian" does not ensure the protection of minorities and other ethnic groups.
The reality on the ground is a stark reminder to many that there is no such thing as equal citizenry. Appointments in the civil service, government boards, and other government-controlled organisations, and selective awarding of government contracts continue to be based on patronage. Recently the Fiji Sun has reported that the Government is investigating staff members of Fijian Holdings Ltd (a private company) for "political agendas". Apparently their crime is not to support the FijiFirst political agenda!
In the Ministry of Education, some staff have been promoted 5-7 ranks upwards in a single sweep, bypassing many qualified and experienced people. Similar cases have been highlighted in the Health Ministry.
This is a result of the lost independence of State institutions responsible for these appointments. The provision in the Constitution that all appointments below permanent secretary level will be done by the respective permanent secretaries, in consultation with the minister responsible, is a recipe for disaster. Ministers will demand senior positions for their cronies and yes-men.
Already we see ministers deciding which people are recruited, promoted and sacked at their whim. The current reform of the civil service by creating a Ministry of Civil Service and removing the Public Service Commission as an independent institution responsible for the civil service, is going to spell further disaster in the future and will be difficult to reverse.
Flawed economic policies, aimed mostly at looking good for politics, will cause much economic pain in the future. Fiji's economy has grown modestly in the past few years on the back of remittances, tourism, borrowing and tax cuts. But borrowing and tax cuts are one-time tricks. After the so-called asset sales to fund spending in 2016, what will be the next rabbit that Government will pull from its hat? That is when the economic pain will deepen, which will take a long time to reverse.
Can we get out of this rut?
It is time to change course
The time for dictatorship and arrogance is over. It is now time for dialogue, it is time for bipartisanship in Parliament, it is time to free the media, and it is time to engage meaningfully with our development partners. It is time for the people to demand better. Moreover, it is time to change course.
The NFP has always advocated dialogue as a means of resolving national issues and our political record shines proudly untarnished from this approach.
I once again call upon the Prime Minister to shed his Government's patronising and dictatorial attitude and initiate a process of sincere dialogue on key national issues such as the review of the Constitution, a process to address the grievances of the indigenous Fijian people, the repealing of draconian decrees, and a process to address the deep concerns within the sugar industry.
Telling Opposition leaders to "jump in a deep pool", telling gay people to shift to Iceland and shackling the nation with debilitating debt is not much of a political legacy.
True nationhood, common and equal citizenry can only be achieved if we work together. Reciprocity, humanity and national interest should be our guiding values if we are to succeed at bipartisanship, and not arrogance and condescension.
We continue to offer our hands for bipartisanship. It is now up to the Government to reciprocate with sincerity and respect, in the national interest.
* The views expressed are the author's and not of this newspaper.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Thank you for the condolences

Thank You  from the Ratawa  family



Many family members and friends have kindly given us cards, emails, messages on facebook, food, money, whale’s teeth, mats, kava, made phone calls, or visited us in sharing our grief on the passing of our beloved Rev Peceli Ratawa on 27th December 2015. Thank you to the East Geelong church for just being there. Vina’a va’alevu.



And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied:“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.” Minnie Haskins

Read Eulogy at http://geelong-visual-diary.blogspot.com.au/

  photo taken at Vorovoro Island when the tribewanted eco-tourism was in operation.

Isa, Padma is treated so unfairly

I missed this article in December but I think it's important not to be silent as so many people have been about the unfair treatment by the Fiji Government towards Padma.MONDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2015

by Professor Wadan Narsey

I have previously refrained from writing about the Bainimarama Government’s banning from Fiji of Dr Padma Lal (wife of Professor Brij Lal) from Fiji, because she is my sister and it would be perceived as a “conflict of interest”.

But more and more, senior executives in government and public enterprises suddenly resign, allegedly “for personal reasons” which often means, given that they are at the height of their experience and ability, that they were being pushed out.

Or they are just brutally given their marching orders, resisted with futility sometimes, just as some executives at a major media company were, and to rub salt into the wound, their marching orders are often given by expatriates of dubious merit, appointed to high positions by the Bainimarama Government.

If they are lucky, they are put out to pasture in sinecure appointments here and there or in embassies overseas.

Prominent newspaper publishers have been deported for doing their jobs professionally and ethically.

You can draw up your own list of such persons.

What is shocking however, is that there has been no public outcry at possibly unfair terminations of contracts.
Dr Padma Lal and Professor Brij Lal

It might be too much to expect individuals to protest publicly. They may feel too exposed (it is hard enough for them to criticize the government privately to me, as they look over their shoulders to check who might hear).

But one does expect organizations associated with the “dis-employed” person to publicly register their protest if there is any possibility of an unfair dismissal decision.

But that does not happen either, just as it did not when Dr Padma Lal (and Dr Brij Lal) were banned from entering Fiji.

I shall only write about the failure of institutional responses, and only with respect to Dr Padma Lal, about whom the Bainimarama Government said not a word, and whose only “crime” seems to be that she is married to Brij Lal.

Who is Padma?

She is a Gujarati girl from Toorak, one of the first science graduates and indeed gold medalist from USP, who later taught at USP.

She did pioneering work in marine biology, and a pioneering PhD in environmental economics in relation to Fiji’s marine environment and the interface with commercial agriculture.

She became an expert in the sugar industry, with her book Ganna (“sugar cane” in Hindi) bringing together a collection of articles analyzing most problem areas in the sugar cane and milling industries, including detailed analysis of the productivity (or rather the lack of it) in the cane farms and sugar mills.

She has worked for, and developed solid reputations with international scientific research organizations like ABARE, IUCN and CSIRO.

She was deemed good enough in 2008 to be the Chief Guest at USP’s medal awards ceremony, conducted under the current Vice-Chancellor.

She also recently applied for a professorial position at USP in her field, and was denied an appointment for unstated reasons, despite being a regional person eminently qualified for that position.

She and her husband bought a house in Suva, intending to spend more time and work in Fiji and the Pacific.

Unlike her abrasive, undiplomatic and politically incorrect older brother, she networked widely and contributed in many fields.

She served on the Gujarat Education Society Board; participated in the events of the Rajput Society (thedhobis) of which she and I are part; she was a Rotarian; and goodness knows what else she threw her abundant energy at.

She was an ideal peaceful decent law-abiding citizen and resident of Fiji, far more than the myriads of foreigners who have been welcomed in Fiji by the Bainimarama Government.

Yet Dr Padma Lal has been banned from entering Fiji, for no other reason than that she was married to Professor Brij Lal.

This academic, armed only with her laptop and spreadsheets analyzing the productivity of the sugar industry or the economic value of some marine environment, was deemed by the Minister for Home Affairs and former RFMF officer Timoci Natuva, to be dangerous for the security of Fiji.

Questions were asked in parliament, with totally unconvincing answers being given as the cause for the banning, other than that it was a “collective” decision coming from the Prime Minister’s Office, they had the “right” to make the decision, and the decision was final.

How utterly ridiculous.

There is no comparison to be made between Dr Padma Lal’s talents and contributions to Fiji, with those of the individuals who made the decision to ban her.

So why have the institutions been silent?

The quiet institutions
The management of the University of the South Pacific, of which Dr Padma Lal is undoubtedly one of the luminaries, both as a student and academic, said not a word in protest, and neither did the Staff Association.

Neither did any of the other Fiji universities utter a word of protest.

The Fiji Association of Women Graduates said not a word.

The sugar industry organizations who all stood to benefit from Padma’s work said not a word.

The IUCN, Padma’s employer, said nothing publicly.

The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement and the Women’s Crisis Centre, both led by CEOs who were both junior to Dr Padma Lal and know her extremely well, both professionally and socially, said not a word.

The Gujarat Education Society and the Rajput Society said not a word in protest.

The Hindu religious organizations (yes, Padma was a practicing Hindu) the Arya Samaj and the Sanatan Dharam said not a word, and neither did any of the Christian religious organizations.

The CCF said nothing.

The Rotary Club said nothing.

The Law Society, perhaps not concerned about what happens to foreigners even if they are distinguished former citizens making great contributions to the country of their birth, said nothing. But neither are they particularly concerned about the lack of justice for their own fellow citizens.

A massive number of former academic colleagues of Padma Lal, many of whom appear often in Fiji and in the media extolling the virtues of the Bainimarama Government, said nothing publicly. They also include a very prominent current Minister in the Bainimarama Government (Dr Mahendra Reddy) who worked closely with Padma in researching the sugar industry.

What is going on?

Not lack of ethics or morals

It would be too easy and wrong to accuse all the individuals who are heads of these organizations of personal cowardice or lack of morals and ethical principles.

I know that most (not all) of the individuals concerned are upright law-abiding moral citizens.

Should any friend or relative suffer a death in the family, they will be there to share grief, just as they gladly share the joy at births and weddings.

So how explain the institutional silence at the injustice against Dr Padma Lal, which is so blatant and clear-cut that not even the Government propaganda outlets have supported her banning.

Even a prominent academic arduously pro-Bainimarama blogger in NZ (Professor Croz Walsh) expressed dismay that the Fiji government was spurning the enormous potential contributions of Dr Padma Lal (and Professor Brij Lal) to Fiji.

How explain that collectively, the institutions they lead, have demonstrated for the last nine years, a horrible silence in the face of so many injustices to individuals in government and public enterprises.

One can only conclude that despite the election of a parliament, there continues a culture of intimidation, fear and silence, even when individuals in our society are blatantly denied their basic human rights, including the right to visit Fiji, or even the right to life.

This does not bode well for Fiji’s future.

Pastor Martin Niemöller, a victim of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, once wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Meanwhile over in Lau

Climate change is real, the rising sea is real, and it is affecting some islands in Fiji.  This is from today's Fiji Times.  Help arrived in the form of food for the people of Ogea Island in the Lau Group because a cyclone came their way recently.

Changing landscape

Mere Naleba
Saturday, January 23, 2016
While there have been many talks about climate change, villagers of Ogea Island in the Lau Group are experiencing the effects every day.
Ogea Village has a population of 129 people and many fish for daily sustenance from the comforts of their homes whenever the tide is high.
The island is also one of the eight islands visited by a government damage assessment team after Tropical Cyclone Ula.
Ogea villager Iliesa Vakarau said in most instances, it had become a norm for the elderly men and women in the village to sit by the windows of their houses along the seashore and fish.
Speaking in the iTaukei language, Mr Vakarau said it was hard trying to grow root crops on the island because the soil had been infiltrated by sea water.
Seventy-five per cent of cash crops on Ogea had been destroyed by strong winds and heavy rain from TC Ula.
Mr Vakarau said most villagers still did not understand the full effects of climate change.
He said whenever there was high tide, sea water reached the doorsteps of houses by the beachfront.
When the government team arrived on Ogea Island, villagers were happy to receive food supplies of rice, flour, sugar, tinned meat, tinned fish, oil and powdered milk.
Children were seen eating tinned meat straight out from the tin.
Eastern divisional planning officer Eliki Masa said the Commissioner Eastern's Office was aware of the situation on Ogea and was looking into the matter.

Monday, January 18, 2016

After fifty years of ordination

I found this file that Peceli wrote for a gathering of ministers remembering their ordination.  It was from 2014. The photo was taken at a National Conference of Fijian congregations of the Uniting Church - a few years back  - the three in the front have passed on - Aminiasi Qalo, Inoke Nabulivou, Peceli Ratawa. Isa, now Peceli has left us and I remember his colleagues Aminiasi and Inoke.
Fifty years since Ordination 1964 to 2014

Thank you for the invitation today to share with others who were ordained forty or fifty years ago. A question I ask is why I have survived when most of my colleagues have passed away. I am 78 which is regarded as elderly in Fiji. When we look back to the years since our Ordination we give thanks to God for the opportunities, and I am grateful for the experiences in Fiji and also in Australia and for my wife Wendy and family.
I started very young in the ministry going to a Bible School when I was sixteen and I turned 21 while I was in the theological college in Davuilevu Fiji. The old system then in the Methodist church was to have three years study and three years practical work before ordination. The Principal at that time was Rev Tippett and another teacher was Rev Cyril Germon.
A few things I learnt early in life – was that once you have been ordained you are marked for life. Also it was a time of following a leader, people who become a mentor to us. Like Rev Setareki Tuilovoni, Rev Setareki Rika. They noticed that I knew the Fiji Hindi language so that I would be able to work amongst the Fiji Indian community at some stage. I worked in a mountain village in Navosa then was sent to the Indian Division to Lautoka. My induction was not in a church but out of doors at the main Lautoka football ground to a mix of all kinds of people. Wendy and I married about that time. After working in other places our family moved to Australia and we were in Hopetoun when the Uniting Church was formed. It was unusual then to have Pacific Island ministers in Victoria. In the Mallee I learnt more about the Australian way of life and I took up golf which was a great way of meeting the men who were not always in the Sunday church and then they started coming to worship possibly to talk to me about my wins at golf.
I am grateful for the time I spent with Aboriginal people in the Mallee and was at that time involved in meeting with in Swan Hill, Robinvale and Mildura and the Berriwillock wheat scheme funded some of my travelling. One thing is about the stump jump plough. Some people are rather tough like mallee roots left in a field. Instead of crashing into them, the stump jump plough gently rides over them. I think this is how we can manage our lives so that we don’t get offended and hurt by those who reject the Christian faith.
In Geelong East our family developed – the boys at Geelong High School, their footie, their tennis and Deakin for George. Wendy was on-campus at Deakin and I was closer to Melbourne to visit the Fijian congregation at that time in Richmond. At the Ormond Rd church the congregation were brave to have me as minister for nine years. My preaching was never brilliant but I did my best. One woman often commented positively. One day I asked her – ‘Hey Doreen, how did it go today?’ She answered, ‘Fine of course, but actually I didn’t bring my hearing aids today.’ The good relationship with some of our Geelong East and St Andrews members has continued until today.
Retirement is not letting go for a minister. We wanted to remain in Geelong so bought a house at 13 Boundary Rd. I found volunteer tasks to do such as Donation in Kind, some study at Monash, some locum ministry connecting with churches, and playing golf. These days I’ve slowed down due to health matters but still go most Sundays to Altona Meadows/ Laverton Uniting Church to support a small Fijian group there. In Geelong we have a strong Fijian network with many young couples. We call our group the Fiji Geelong Friendship Club. Last week we celebrated Fiji Day for about 30 people in our back yard with traditional food such as cooked in an underground oven. And at present we have a household of twelve at weekends, so retirement is not dull. Wendy and I thank God for the long journey.
Peceli Soqovata Ratawa

October 2014.