Nausori Town is a town that is steeped in history and its importance is underlined in the fact that it was situated near the seat of power in the old Fiji which was ruled by warring clans and cannibals. Just a few miles on the east side, outside the town boundary, is the island of Bau, the seat of power in Fiji ruled by Ratu Seru Cakobau who also formally ceded Fiji to Britain in 1874. A stone's throw away from Nausori is Rewa, the seat of the Burebasaga Confederacy and across the Rewa River, is Naitasiri Province and one of its chiefs, the Qaranivalu.
When Fiji became a colony in the late 1800s, Nausori was again, near the seat of power of the colony, first Levuka on Ovalau and later Suva. But its roots were definitely Australian.
The town had the honour of becoming the first sugar mill to be wholly owned by the Colonial Sugar Refinery (CSR), an Australian sugar milling company which developed Fiji's sugar industry to what we know as it is today.
Nausori Town special administrator Napolioni Masirewa shared his piece of history about Nausori, "It was agreed to in 1881 when the colonial
government was looking for land to grow its cane crop. There were various smaller mills in Suva,
Navua but the first big one was in Nausori. The landowners the Vunivivi people ceded their land to the government through the Roko Tui Tailevu Epeli Nailatikau on the hills at Manoca in September 1881. The sugar mill was then constructed in what is now the downtown".
The current lay-out of Nausori Town was how the CSR had laid it out more than a 100 years ago. Some buildings from the CSR era remain intact to this day.
Indentured labourers from India who were initially brought in to work the tea, coffee, copra and cotton plantations in 1879 were hired to work the sugarcane farms in and around the Nausori area.
The Nausori sugar mill was first opened in 1882 and developed the surrounding river valleys into sugar plantations.
Cane was grown in substantial parts of the Rewa Delta from Nausori through Lakena and Vuci Rd right down to Korociriciri, Vusuya, Kuku, Naila, Visama, Wainibokasi, Naselai and Natogadravu and even in Toga. Cane was also planted in Viria district and other parts of Naitasiri.
Regardless the sugar industry in Nausori continued and even with the moody weather associated with the eastern side of Viti Levu, farms owned by Australian, New Zealand and British expatriates continued to flourish. Nausori had a railway system and roads were also built to cater for the sugar industry as the CSR expanded. Sugarcane farms inaccessible by roads or rail carted their crop to the mill on CSR barges and boats. More indentured labourers poured in from India as the sugarcane plantations grew with Nasilai Village and Nukulau Island opposite the mouth of the Rewa River
becoming important staging points for processing the indentured labourers at they were disembarked from their ships.
Just before the turn of the century a disaster struck which is forever inked into the history of Nausori Town. In 1884 the ship Syria carrying indentured labourers ran aground on Nasilai Reef and 56 people perished that day out of the 497 passengers.
A monument which was constructed in 1979 stands as a testimony to one of Fiji's worst maritime disaster at the town end of the old Nausori Bridge.
At the turn of the century, the sugar industry was the economic backbone for the colony CSR had expanded to other parts of Fiji but the indentured labour system was put to a stop by Great Britain in 1916.
While this meant a major shortage of labourers available and which gave the opportunity to the labourers to return to their homeland but a majority chose to stay on. The CSR swapped its plantation system for the small farm system which finally worked. Indians and their families were encouraged to lease sugarcane farms.
Nausori as a town was still in its infancy but the CSR built many structures to be used for socialising. They even built a golf course but that was only done way after Nausori was declared a town in 1931.
As was the policy back in those days, Fiji was a highly stratified society where Europeans, part Europeans, Fijians and Indians had little or no contact altogether unless it is during working hours.
As noted by the late Philip Snow in his book The Years of Hope, European CSR workers usually reside on the top of Nausori Hill with part Europeans at the lower end of the hill and next in line were the Indian managers.
Snow's description of the sugar mill in Nausori was largely limited to his sense of smell where he described it as, "The sweet smelling of burning emanating from the lofty chimney of the mill where centrifugal spinning machines separated the syrup from the crystals and waste, molasses out of which rum was made, pervaded the atmosphere: it lent an enchantment to the still, intimate nights".
Of course Mr Snow in his years in Naduruloulou as a civil servant often recalled characters like Bechu who owned an old station wagon and was providing transportation for people and cargo to Naduruloulou once daily. Or his own men in Kitione Lalakomacoi his leases clerk, Choy Raman the revenue clerk and Terry Fenton whom he described as a slender Irishman with an infectious laugh.
The famous Nausori Golf Course was only built in the 1950s so it was a later addition to the town's colourful history and as research showed in a photo taken in 1932 the manicured golf greens at the bottom of Vunivivi Hill was still a grazing paddock. The golf course was closed in 1993 after Hurricane Kina when the building was badly damaged and no major repair works were carried out.
In the early 1930s Morris Hedstrom (MH) and Burns Philp (BP) had already become household names in Fiji and so too at Nausori but other shops like Wing Zoing Wah and later M Chotya Lal drapery and tailoring business, Vishal's Laundry and others to come later.
The British colonial government ruled its domains from the comforts and unfortunately too, the humidity of Naduruloulou, a four-mile journey along the Kings Rd, past Nausori Town.
It was the home to the district commissioner as they were known then and place where every citizens, from the CSR top echelons down to the simple Indian farmer or Fijian commoner had to visit. The Nausori court house, jail house, post office and any other government services was located there.
The Nausori Bridge was opened to transportation on June 12, 1937 and it was officially opened by the then governor general Sir Arthur Richards.
This was a very big occasion because it finally marked for the first time that the Rewa River was finally conquered and laid to rest the inconvenience of having to travel from Suva by road only to disembark to board a boat across the Rewa before continuing the journey on a motor vehicle again.
The occasion was done with full British pomp and ceremony and attended by hundreds of people from all walks of life. The Rewa is one of the longest rivers in Fiji but also more importantly the widest of them all — over 400 metres wide at places.
"The old Nausori Bridge used to be the major linkage of Nausori Town to nearby provinces and to other major town centres around Viti Levu. It was once known as the greatest land mark in Fiji," Masirewa says.
Prior to this, the main mode of transport in Nausori was by boats, especially up the river to Waidina or down to the Rewa Delta, Naililili Catholic Mission or even down to Suva. Boats like the Sir John Forest, Adi Keva and the Adi Rewa were some of the boats the plied the Rewa River ferrying cargo and passengers to and from other parts of Fiji.
Upriver the Rewa River used to be a sight with the people living in the upper Wainimala and Wainibuka rivers would normally travel by bamboo rafts, bilibili, to Nausori as it was one of the main trading centre for them.
Kendrik Smithyman, a New Zealand born poet whose father William Smithyman had worked in the sugar plantations of Nausori before World War I broke out, wrote a poem about the Rewa River. And his first lines were: "Where cultures and fallacies meet, Rewa is more than a river, more than a way of life. She serves a community, of difference."
The colony steadily grew and so too Nausori's importance as it is home to the only other airport in Fiji where international flights can land apart from Nadi. The advent of tourists and as the world took to air travel than shipping as the main mode of international transportation.
And it was at this juncture that Nausori parted ways with the sugar industry with the CSR moving all its operations to the western side of Viti Levu. In 1959, the Nausori sugar mill closed down after operating for 77 years and also being the main economic driver for the town.
Moti Lal, 62, who later became a mayor of Nausori Town and whose father had moved to Nausori from Suva to open a tailoring shop says he witnessed the day the huge chimneys came down.
"Yes, yes, I think back in the 50s I saw the chimney of the Nausori sugar mill coming down. I still remember that day very well but I was still a young boy back then," Moti Lal said.
"The sugar industry ended its operation in Nausori in 1959 and this was mainly due to the unfavourable weather condition, the low yield of sugar in the cane grown in the area and lastly the drop in sugar prices following World War II," Masirewa says.
And the rice industry replaced the sugar industry as Nausori the surrounding areas has abundant land for agriculture.
Masirewa says the Nausori Town Council is trying its best to preserve some of the town's historical heritage.
"The council has approached the Department of Culture and Heritage about the conservation of the town's heritage places. Initially we are working in conjunction with the Fiji Museum in the collection of historical data on Nausori and then later we will deal with the recording and documentation of heritage sites in Nausori through the National Trust of Fiji," Masirewa says.