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When liquor was prohibited

Matilda Simmons
Sunday, November 26, 2017

ON FRIDAY, November 22, 1957, the former governor of Fiji, Sir Ronald Garvey announced what he called the most important piece of legislation to go before the Legislative Council — the Liquor Ordinance.

A proposal was put forward for an amendment that would allow the drinking of beer to all races in Fiji. Prior to this, in September 1956, the governor said, a committee would be appointed to see how this could be done.

"I said, then that this decision to lift the restrictions on beer had been arrived at after very careful and deliberate consideration, and I wish to repeat the following words that I then used: 'It has taken me almost four years to face the position squarely myself and to realise that there is only one real solution to our liquor problem and that is by educating our people to a proper sense of responsibility in the consumption of liquor. This can only be done by a gradual lessening of a system of control which has proved a failure… '."

In a time where colonial Fiji was deeply segregated (right even to the selling of beer to Fijians which was prohibited), many iTaukei were not allowed to roam freely in the city. They were encouraged to remain in their vanua or village setting.

Slowly changes began to take place. The Fiji Times carried out a report on this amendment of the Liquor Ordinance on this day, Tuesday, November 26, 1957. It reported many mixed reactions from Fijians after the colonial government first announced in 1956 its intentions to allow all races to buy beer. Sir Ronald, was intent on getting the new policy going.

"I am glad to say that the Secretary of State has informed me that he supports this new policy. The committee has now reported and with some modification, the Government has accepted the committee's proposals on the practical means for implementing this change. It is hoped that this new freedom will come into effect early next year," he was quoted as saying by this newspaper.

"I hardly add that the success of this reform depends entirely on the sense of responsibility of those persons to whom it applies; and I sincerely hope that they will confound the critics by refraining from the abuse of freedom.

Many Fijians who lived through this period recall the occasion.

One is Manasa Kalouniviti, who grew up in the Suva suburb of Toorak, in the early '60s.

Mr Kalouniviti said, during that time, he remembered his relatives were allowed to buy only two bottles of beer at a time.

How far we have come from those days.

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