“Warden Wadan (1974)” (22 July 2016)
While teaching USP mathematics in 1973, I took on a part-time position of “warden”, under the jovial Director of Community Services (Bob Murphy) and alongside full-time wardens Joe Nailati, the delightful Filimona Delailomaloma (former Miss Hibiscus) and my Mr Car Fix-it the jovial Ram Padharath (later to become brother-in-law of Dr Sunil Kumar, through an equally jovial Rina).
One of the perks of my warden’s position was the “onerous” requirement to live on USP campus, which I took gratefully as it gave me independence from the claustrophobia at my family home in Toorak. My one room flat for several years was a room in the USP Singles Quarters Line, which is now the USP Staffing Office, lodged alongside old historian June Cook and newly arrived Peace Corp, Howard Van Trease.
My flat soon became a week-end camp for some senior USP students, with many hitching up in life with the assistance of the numerous parties held there, often culminating in a midnight swim (and a skinny dip for some) in the USP Swimming Pool, a short stagger away across the grass- there was no U8 Lecture theater then or the phone exchange offices or the current staff office shacks. Many will remember so well the sonorous singing and guirar playing of Napolioni Masirewa and Ropate Qalo, frequently welcoming the dawn.
My most onerous task as “warden” was to round up any students drinking illegally in the halls and take them to drink more safely out of sight into the long parra grass where the technology buildings are; I often had to join them and hide their bottles of excess liquor until needed. The late Helen Aikman (later to become wife of Jone Dakuvula) was a popular member of the drinking gangs and hit on by most senior Fijian students not only because she was a pretty and vicacious red-head, but also the daughter of the first USP Vice Chancellor. Having Helen part of the group was not only an advantage to Jone Dakuvula, but also the drinking group: when the students’ booze ran out, Helen would lead a sortie at mid-night to the Vice Chancellor’s house (now the USP Guest House beside the old USP gate- opposite Fatty’s shop). We were caught in the act only once, and that by Mrs Aikman, who looked quizzically at Helen and frostily at me, while we slunk out with the booze wrapped in a duffle bag.
Another “onerous” task as a warden was to patrol all the staff houses on campus where students were invited (usually female students were the invited ones, while their boy-friends crashed the party) to the expatriate staff’s frequently wild week-end parties, where several staff marriages dissolved and sometimes reformed in different permutations.
The interesting colonial habit of inviting only USP girls to the parties of expatriate male staff, extended even to the great Fiji Government bash at the Trade Winds at Lami, for the visiting Prince Charles, who was offered the pleasure of dancing with pretty USP supposedly intelligent girls, chosen because they were Fijian, Indian, Chinese, European, Kailoma and Islanders. Their boyfriends of course suitably sulked, fumed or fulminated, and some boycotted the event for its blatant sexism. The pretty girls chosen were then pleased as punch (although some did become very prominent feminists later).
As a warden, I remember a certain senior USP student (later to be a secondary school head-teacher in Nausori) dripping blood after a fight at a party on campus, taken to the CWM to be patched up at mid-night, put to bed in the student hall, and then having to be rounded up again at 4 am in the morning at the same staff party, where he was searching for his girl friend.
Then there was the famous all-out brawl between the Fijians and Samoans, at the USP students club overlooking the swimming pool, over whose turn it was to hit the next billiard ball. My Samoan student Sapa (usually dressed to lectures in blue overalls but later to become a doctor in Samoa) used a billiard stick somewhat differently on a Fijian student’s head, the brawl escalated, student leader Ata Maia heroically stood on a table pleading for calm, which ensued for five seconds, until a flying chair dislodged him from his perch and began the brawl again. With discretion the better part of valor when the Fijians and Samoans were at (either on the rugby field or in a bar-room brawl), I remember crawling out the window. Having amply demonstrated their lack of maturity, the Students Club experiment was duly shut down until reopened next to the CRC, some decades later.
Those were also the days Samoans would also periodically brawl with Tongan students (continuing their rugby rivalries off the field), while any Indian student assaulted on USP Campus (by any other group) usually led to fiery protest meetings, with the usual result that hordes of Indian students, mostly from the sugar cane belts, would patrol the USP campus, brandishing their cane knives, until tensions died down. Some, like Pramod Rae, became political leaders later.
The USP students never got away from their scourge of nationalistic and ethnic groupings, largely because USP management gave them special funding for their “cultural activities”, thereby also weakening the broader Pan Pacific student identity.
Yet many cross PIC friendships did form, to be realized at every regional meeting of civil servants or politicians. Decades later, despite the political fissures on campus, it was great for me as a USP lecturer to visit any of the USP member countries in the region for teaching and research, to find former students and USP graduates holding the highest of positions in their respective countries. Required confidential data and reports poured into my lap, to the amazement (and delight) of expatriate consultant colleagues whose typical experience was that Pacific Island civil servants jealously, possessively and obsessively guard the information, which in most developed countries, would be “free public access”.
The USP Alumni Association and the unit at USP ought to seriously think about initiating a project to pool the recollections of USP Alumni into a compendium, for the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of USP in 1968.
For those who are super-critical of USP’s lack of intellectual development since then, they should remember that USP was started, not a hundred years ago like Otago University or Sydney University, but a mere two years before Britain granted Fiji independence, not exactly an accolade for Britain’s “management” of the transition of its former colonies into independence. Most other USP Member countries were still colonies then.
Nevertheless, the USP intellectual and academic spirit flourished for the first four decades, under the expatriate vice chancellors who usually defended academic freedoms, until five years after the Bainimarama coup, when the financial screws were tightened on its first Indo-Fijian Vice Chancellor, who then chose to keep tightening the screws for his own personal agenda (stories to come).
Footnote on terminology for who do not know the Pacific
In this period at USP, the term
“Fijian” was always used for indigenous Fijians
“Indians” gradually became replaced by “Indo-Fijians”
“European” was used for whites (from which ever country they came from)
“kailoma” referred to mixed race people, usually Europeans and Fijian
Fiji “Chinese” were seen as “Asians”
The “Pacific Islanders” term excluded “Indo-Fijians” (even though most were born in and lived in the Pacific Islands) who faced all manner of discrimination at USP especially from some white and islander expatriate staff, who resented the dominance of Indo-Fijians among the students, and who rabidly sought to limit their appointment as staff (more to come).