Fascinating read of Fiji

TARTE’S insider yarns about the wild and wicked ways of Taveuni planter society, the highjinks, family feuds, toffee-nosed attitudes, clandestine affairs and outright adultery make fascinating reading.

But Daryl Tarte called it quits as a young family man in 1968 and moved on to a career based on Viti Levu, although his father remained on the Garden Island for many more years and Daryl continued to make monthly working visits to the old plantation.

When Tarte was born in 1934, Fiji was ” firmly controlled outpost of the British Empire … a society divided by race” into “lazy buggers”, “coolies” and “half-castes”.

Young Tarte was unaware of the complex issues of race and government, his world was a lush and peaceful island populated by some weird and wonderful characters linked by the government road, the dreadful state of which his father never ceased complaining about.

In the chapter on Tarte’s final farewell to Taveuni after his father’s death in 1981, he notes the roads, telephones, water and electricity remained hopelessly inadequate, with no government priority on spending money on an island that no longer generated much revenue.

His own extended family was as colourful as any: great Uncle Rood who drank and abused his labour; Uncle Herbert who disgraced himself by falling in love and marrying the daughter of an Indian copra cutter and got banished; and his own father who also had a Fijian family.

There were many others including the Douglas family who had Black Watch connections in Scotland and a large number of illegitimate children referred to as the Black Douglasses; Myrtle Crabbe who spent her days drinking gin and her nights drinking whisky; Jack Taylor who was ostracised by European society but “didn’t care a damn about European society”; and the odd magistrate who once excused himself from dinner at Tarte’s to go to the toilet and then complained that it was blocked, and perhaps young Daryl may have stuffed a cat down it. (The innocent young Daryl was as horrified as any by this suggestion.)

But like their labour, the family lived off the land and from the sea and for most of his life Tarte’s father was indebted to the bank.

Things changed and Tarte was involved in breaking down some of the barriers; for instance pushing to open membership of the tennis club to Fiji Indians and having his own love affairs with local women; and his father brought cinema and boxing contests to Taveuni for all to enjoy.

The second part of the book is about the life of the nation and covers the sugar industry, in which Tarte has played a leading part and other areas he knows intimately, including tourism, diplomacy, commerce, leadership and the clubs.

These sections contain the same gossipy detail and pen pictures of people such as Swami Rudrananda, Ratu Napolioni Dawai, AD Patel, Tui Johnston of Carpenters, the Gokals, early tourism stars including the Raggs, Dick Warner and Mac Patel, leading lights including Ratu Sir George Cakobau and Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, as well as the skinny on some of the politics that all makes the book a worthwhile read.

Interspersing these topics are short pieces, some quite fanciful, that he titles “interludes” and range from balolo and hibiscus to the veli and Rotary.

The place Tarte calls home is not the garden paradise of the planter or adventure playground of his youth, but the place of rich interaction and diverse ethnicities, of good friendships, conflicts and coups, extremes of wealth and poverty and of unparalleled beauty.

He comes through his writing as someone who deeply values what Fiji is and what it can become, and the qualities of vakaturaga (behaviour), veidokai (respect), vakarokoroko (deference) and yalomalua (humility).

Tarte resigned from his executive post in the sugar industry in 1999 to devote more time to travel, corporate affairs and writing.

He has so far published Fiji, a coffee table book; Fiji, an historical novel; Islands of the frigate birds, an historical novel about Kiribati; Stalker on the beach, a novel about the Pacific; Turaga, a biography of Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau; and co-authored 20th Century Fiji — the people who shaped the nation.

Fiji, A Place Called Home has been republished in Fiji by the USP Press under a co-edition licence agreement with the ANU Press in Australia.

The local edition was launched at USP AusAID Performance Space by the vice-chancellor and president of the USP, Prof Rajesh Chandra.

* Fiji, A Place Called Home by Daryl Tarte (Fiji Edition 220pp) is available at USP Book Centre: email maharaj_v@usp.ac.fj, website www.uspbookcentre.com. Price: $F19.95.

* The views expressed are those of the author and not of this newspaper.

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