IN a new book and CD, NZ broadcaster IAN JOHNSTONE hopes to remind people about the exciting days when Fiji and many of her neighbours became independent nations. He's been listening to the stories told by the Pacific leaders who bravely took their people forward when they set New Flags Flying
TWENTY years ago I had the good luck to record nine of the Pacific's most famous sons as they talked about the years from 1962 to 1986 when people who had been colonial subjects became citizens of independent nations as Australia, Britain,New Zealand, France and the US left most of the islands they had controlled for 100 years.
In Apia, Rarotonga, Nuku'alofa, Suva, Port Moresby and Honiara, leaders told me what it was like negotiating with their former masters and then leading their people, some unwilling, and all under-prepared, into an uncertain future as an independent nation.
Those conversations gave me some unforgettable moments:
Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's regret that he had to give up his dream of being a doctor; his sorrow when Britain forced Fiji to go it alone; his memories (with a catch in his voice) of the 1970 Albert Park Independence ceremony;
Father Walter Lini, still angry about the way France and Britain bullied Vanuatu;
Sir Peter Kenilorea confessing his fears about what might happen when Solomon Islanders had to step into the unknown;
Sir Robert Rex, chuckling about the dram or two of whisky which gave him the courage to persuade the United Nations Assembly to accept Niue's plans for self-government.
We broadcast the interviews over Radio NZ International, then put the tapes on the library shelf and forgot about them until 2009, when I was with some young Pacific media students.
We were talking about the early days of Independence, and I was trying to explain the important part played in Fiji and the region by Ratu Mara.
A student said, "Excuse me, sir, who was he ?" Then came more questions about Tupua Tamasese, Sir Tom Davis, Sir Michael Somare, and others I had interviewed.
The students told me there was hardly any published information about the Independence period, or many of the leaders who had taken their countries out of colonial rule.
When I told my good friend, former diplomat Michael Powles about this, he said: "Of course people want to know their history — we'd better do something about it."
So, with help from UNESCO, the Forum Secretariat and NZ's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Michael and I interviewed men and women leaders from Nauru, Niue, Tuvalu, Kiribati, FSM, Marshalls and Palau. These gave us a complete record — from the best sources — of the stories of Pacific Independence.
You can read all the leaders' stories, along with useful background information, in New Flags Flying; Pacific leadership and, better still, you can hear them tell their stories on the CD that comes with the book.
Now, everyone can find out about their own country's path to Independence from the courageous leaders who took them there not very long ago.
Thanks to help from AusAID, copies of New Flags Flying will be provided to school and college libraries. Order yours now from USP Book Centre, Tappoos, Bookmaster or any good bookshop.