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View of the oldies

Colin Deoki
Thursday, November 29, 2012

ON a recent trip home, I was taken to the new Tappoo building in Suva.

What an incredible view of nearly the whole Suva bay from their food court.

As I enjoyed the panoramic views of the Bay of Islands and, further in the background, to Mount Korobaba and Joske's Thumb, I thought back to the days we spent as kids in this idyllic part of our beautiful capital. The huge expanse of sea and surrounding countryside was our "playground".

As kids we'd make tin boats from rusted old roofing irons. We'd flatten the long corrugated tins with a hammer, plug the holes where the nails used to be with fresh coal tar "borrowed" from the road on a really hot day (sorry PWD, it was us Naiqaqi kids who did it), then used bits of wood to bend the flattened tin to shore up the bow and stern in the shape of a boat. Then a bunch of us would launch our tin boats from near the old sea scout hall beside the Fiji Development Bank building.

Our oceangoing "racers" would get us all the way to Walu Bay where we'd spend nearly the whole day fossicking then head back to the Suva wharf. On our way home we'd paddle up Nabukalou Creek to stickybeak what was happening in the centre of the city around MHs. (And how refreshing it was on this trip to see fish actually swimming in Nabukalou Creek compared to the days when it was almost a hazardous waste dump).

When we got older quite a few of us Naiqaqi kids joined the First Suva Sea Scout group. It was the beginning of a whole new chapter in our lives where we learned many useful skills. We were taught respect, honour, mateship and survival. We learned what it meant to be there for each other and how to survive with nothing more than a scout knife and a match to light a fire. If it rained the fire-lighting challenge took on a whole new meaning because we weren't allowed to use paper — only wood shavings to start a fire. Getting a fire going in all kinds of weather conditions became an art form and we relished the challenge.

It was some of the best years of our life as we learned to sail, scull, swim and retrieve objects from deep water. We learned about first aid and life-saving skills for the land and sea.

I remember sailing to Mosquito Island in the scout boat "Seahawk" — that famous little whaler that could tell a thousand stories of everything from near death experiences to stuff that, even today, would make some of us blush with embarrassment. We'd spend nearly the whole day larking and swimming at Mosquito Island. Sometimes, we'd swim across to the mainland in Lami then jog to the cement factory. At the back of the factory was a track leading up to Mount Korobaba. For the fun of it, we'd scurry up to the top. After enjoying the breathtaking views of Suva Peninsular we'd sprint back to the bottom, jog all the way then swim across to the island.

It was the journey back from Mosquito Island we dreaded the most because the prevailing headwind and the shallow keel of our boat made it virtually impossible to sail home.

So out came the oars and for nearly two agonising hours we'd have to row back to the scout hall near the Suva sea baths. As we got closer to shore our spirits would lift as it meant that the gruelling backbreaking work of manning the oars was about to end. Even though our arms ached and felt like lead weights, we'd make plans to do it again the following week.

As I thought back to the kids we grew up with, it dawned on me that there were children from every ethnic background and from a host of different schools in the First Suva Sea Scout Troop. Most of the kids were from Suva Grammar School, a few from Marist Brothers' High School and a smattering from other schools. What's even more amazing is, after nearly 45 plus years, some of us still stay in touch. And as providence would have it one of those kids from our scouting days became my brother-in-law.

This trip home was especially memorable because we managed to reunite with my oldest childhood friends — the Wilder family — including many of their first cousins. Our get together was an amazing waltz down memory lane that saw us trek through every street and home they lived in. As we reminisced about the good old days living in Suva's Kimberley St where we first met it was hard holding back the tears.

What made it even more memorable for all of us was that we had our grown-up children tagging along with us. They got a historical perspective of the "oldies" early years in a way that fascinated them no end because they got it from aunts and uncles who had grown up together as family and friends. And what a thrill it was for every member of the family as we remembered long-forgotten adventures that had everyone in stitches.

I realise how privileged we were to have lived at a time where we could enjoy the simple adventures of the great outdoors. What saddened me on this trip back was that I hardly ever saw children out fishing or boating like we did in the "old" days.

Today's kids, it seems, are glued to computer games and the internet keeping them from enjoying the great outdoors Fiji is blessed with. I've often wondered whether this could be one of the reasons why there are more obese children in Fiji. Or, was it just my imagination?

I believe that our bodies have been made for physical fun and adventure — not to be sitting glued to a screen. It's unhealthy, un-invigorating and robs children of much needed nutrients that come from being in the great outdoors. Fiji is one of the few countries in the world blessed with the rare and bountiful gift of a safe environment, free from deadly spiders and dangerous animals that can kill and maim as in many other countries around the world.

Children from countries the world over would give their eye and a teeth to have what you, the children of Fiji, are naturally blessed with.

So please please please, don't take it for granted. And please protect the mangroves, the rivers, the sea and the environment. It's the only one you have and it must be protected for future generations. And for goodness sake, can someone who has the authority please do something to tear down those wretched walls near Deuba beach. They're not only an eyesore but they're robbing everyone from enjoying what's been an iconic recreation spot for thousands of families over the years.

I have fond memories of going to Vunidilo beach cabins and spending time with family and friends enjoying the beautiful sand beaches of Deuba.

Please protect your natural environment and don't sell out to businesses who have no conscience or concept of what it means to preserve and protect Fiji's natural resources.

* Colin Deoki is a regular The Fiji Times contributor. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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