Six months into my contract, I was beginning to understand there was a hierarchical structure influencing all aspects of life in Fiji. The Fijian Great Council of Chiefs FGCC, made up of ethnic Fijians of chiefly rank, held sway over both the country’s political process and its armed forces.
In 1987 a democratically elected Labour coalition ousted the Fijian conservative party, and for the first time in its history the country was to have an ethnic Indian Prime Minister. This was intolerable to the FGCC, and the result was an army coup and a parliamentary disfunction lasting for many months. There were to be three more such coups until democracy held sway and the Great Council of Chiefs was disbanded in 2012.
In my time in Fiji though, the chiefly system prevailed and the Board of the Uluisaivou corporation was chaired by a Suva based appointee from the Great Council of Chiefs. Most of the remaining board members were made up of the chiefs of ten of the villages in the Uluisaivou area, all of whom paid homage to the more sophisticated Chairman from Suva. It was to be my total inability to connect with this chairman that led me to refuse the offer of a two year extension of my contract when it expired at the end of 1980.
In August 1979 the NZ High Commissioner to Fiji Richard Powels, together with his wife and small daughter spent a weekend with us on the ranch. We explored the property together and talked about the problems and possible solutions.
Richard was a good listener and was to be an ally throughout my stay though careful not to overstep the bounds of professionalism. He agreed to my request for an un-budgeted study tour, and he agreed to the employment of an expatriate head stockman, but as he was leaving to return to Suva on the Monday morning, he advised me to consider taking a more Machiavellian attitude to my dealings with the Suva hierarchy. I nodded wisely, but as soon as he departed, made a beeline for my Arthur Mees encyclopedia to research the meaning of Machiavellian. I found the word was coined after Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian renaissance diplomat published a best seller, outlining the maneuvering and political chicanery that had underpinned his illustrious career.
I was a gritty young farmer, perhaps a little naive, who’d come here to help the Uluisaivou people establish a commercial cattle ranch. Did Machiavellian mean I should turn a blind eye to nepotism, and the rubbery accounts and optimistic forecasts being presented at our board meetings? If that was the case, it couldn’t have been more removed from my comfort zone.
Thursday 6th September 1979. 7:00 AM to the office. The stockmen took 100 cows to Koroka. Eramasi’s gang continued with building the Koroka fence. Peni’s gang worked on the new Spring paddock fence. Tevita and I rode around Valivali and Namiqa blocks. We got home at 6:00 PM. To find nothing else had been achieved during the day. I’d sent the Bedford truck to Vaileka for a warrant, but they refused to perform the test because the cheque wasn’t stamped Uluisaivou Corporation, and hand written and initialed text wouldn’t do.
Two men went for their driver’s licence in Rakiraki, but the testing officer didn’t turn up for the booked appointment. Two men were sent by the local nurse for X rays to the Raki Raki hospital but were told it had to be done in Suva. The truck parts due up from Suva to the Vaileka Service station didn’t arrive, and Nalago was hit by a stone flung up by the rotary slasher and knocked unconscious. He seems ok but he’ll need a few days off.
Friday 14th. September. 5 am. start doing office work. I organised staff then went to Vunisea village and discussed the money to be put aside by the cane cutters for the housing fund. Returned to the office, grabbed the vet kit and went to the cattle yards to cut two horses. Was confronted by 6 full grown bulls and 5 horses to operate on. Castrated them all, returned to the office and drove the men back to their villages.
Distributed wages and got home at 7:00 PM.
Tuesday 25th September. Away at 5:30 am. to pick up stockmen and get them to round up steers for sale. Arrived back to be confronted by an Indian farmer on my doorstep alleging that a horse I bought last month from another farmer was his. Pacified him and advised him to get the police to handle it. The police duly arrived with a line-up of dubious suspects to see if I could identify the one that sold me the horse. I couldn’t and we ended up keeping the horse.
Wednesday, October 3rd. Nice weather after the rain. Most of the staff employed turning the Super heaps ready for the helicopter to spread tomorrow.
A series of disasters today. Our cattle have strayed onto Tevita’s garden and caused extensive damage. The 165 Tractor Gearbox has packed up, and the D4 bulldozer hydraulic pump can’t be serviced until Thursday due to lack of parts. Besides that, the Isuzu truck motor is missing badly.
The Nabalabala village people are claiming Isakeli’s house, and our house are starving the village of water, which is patently impossible, and Jone Raicebe has a bad rupture and had to be taken to hospital. To top things off, Epeli was kicked in the head by a horse and will need a day or two off work.
I called the helicopter to organise topdressing tomorrow but couldn’t raise a reply. Knocked off at 7:30 PM.
Wednesday 24th of October. 5:30 AM organising staff.
Another without you day! Isakeli (my deputy) is in Suva. Marika (in charge of Sugar Cane gang) is away with a dangerous attack of a mild sore throat. Kara (my secretary) is off work with a toothache. All tractors are out of Commission for one reason or another. And also our Bedford truck is off the property, carting gravel for the Roko Tui (The paramount chief of the Ra Province.)
We put the bulls out with the cows today. This afternoon Ratu Voata, Fiji Minister of Agriculture, came and looked around the property for a couple of hours.
Tuesday 30th October. Helicopter started topdressing Vunibua-1 block this morning. Usual trouble with workers, mainly because of lack of yaqona. (Kava) Men at quarter speed until yaqona produced. I feel very old with flu today. Handed over to staff and went home.
Ten of the men in the above photo were chiefs of Uluisaivou villages, the remainder, including myself, were Uluisaivou corporation staff members. The gentleman in the yellow shirt, far right, was my very close friend Josefa Maveli, chief of Raviravi village. It was a great privilege to work with all these people throughout 1979 and 1980.
Friday 14th December. Board meeting in Suva. I tabled my “Ranch Managers Report on Study Tour.”
NOTE: The tour itself was a marathon, lasting 28 days. We visited agricultural research centres and rural development projects in Queensland, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. I’d returned to Fiji with a notebook full of information and was confident I had the answers to the majority of problems I’d set out to solve. I asked the Board to endorse the blueprint I’d circulated, as a sensible way forward. This was deftly deflected by the Chairman who tabled the document and moved on to the next agenda item.
This meant there was no Board resolution, but I’d copied my recommendations to NZ Foreign Affairs and to the Permanent Secretary of the Fiji Department of Agriculture and received no negative feedback. I took this as tacit agreement on the way forward and acted accordingly. Perhaps this is what a Machiavellian attitude meant? I was to learn that the NZ High Commissioner had authorised my study tour, without referring to the Suva based Board chairman, Tom Vuitilivoni, and John Stone, the expat. General Manager. This created a political divide that never healed.
Thursday December 20th. Farewell lunch in Suva for John Stone whose contract had come to an end and he was returning home to NZ. I Saw him off at the airport at 6:00 PM then drove back to the ranch where the staff were celebrating the completion of the new staff bure. (Traditional Fijian grass house.) There was a full blown yaqona session in progress which lasted all night.
Proud builders of the new staff bure.
Friday 21st December. Late start, we spent the morning distributing the wages and preparing for the Xmas wind up which started at 2 pm. The new bure is a roaring success. We had Yaqona, speeches, beer, dancing, and more yaqona. The helicopter scattered lollies and the pilot and his wife spent the night with us.
Monday 11th, Feb 1980. Arrived back from three weeks holiday in NZ. Very wet, feed everywhere due to 15 inches of rain in January. I was greeted on arrival at work by men trying to start a Landcruiser by towing. Typical Uluisaivou scene!
Spent the day driving around with leading hands. At Raviravi village I was shown two Uluisaivou calves they’d found in the bush with ropes on them. Have reported to police.
Had a welcome back sevusevu (tribute ceremony,) and yaqona session with staff
Friday 4th April
Mr T. Vuetilivoni
Board of Directors
Over the last three weeks you have made it quite plain that my role here is that of ranch manager only. You reiterated this publicly at the recent Land Development Authority meeting in Suva, though it was me who had to compile the report for the meeting.
I am well capable of performing wider responsibilities than those of ranch manager, and, as you know, have had to do so on numerous occasions since John Stone returned to NZ in December. I have been approached by.M.A.F.to compile five year estimates of development expenditure for
D.P8, plus stock reconciliations until 1985 to be completed by early next week. This is well within my capabilities but is not the function of the ranch manager.
I have in the past. Worked unsparingly for the corporation. However, without your demonstrable support, I would be better to concentrate on the ranch manager role only.
If you wish me to prepare the estimates for M.A.F I will take this as an indication of your acceptance of me as the senior executive here until the New Zealand and Fiji Governments have resolved the question of our general manager.
If you are reluctant to do this, would you please contact Mr C Henderson of M.A.F. and arrange to have someone else compile the necessary report.
Friday, April 18th. 2 inches of rain last night, and very heavy rain all morning. Knocked staff off and sent them home, too wet to work. Went to Yaqara at 3pm after the rivers had subsided enough to get through.
Horses weren’t ready as promised, so drove the Isuzu truck back empty. Arrived at 10pm with hand break jammed on and the bearings burnt out on the drive shaft.
Monday 21st April. Innumerable problems to deal with today. Toga came back from Nativi village to apologise for his resignation and requesting reinstatement, which was a relief. Qilai came to beg for some fencing gear from the corporation, and when I agreed presented a sevusevu which was touching but time consuming. Leka convinced me to agree to a $10 personal loan.
Then it was time for a Board meeting to attend to a wages negotiation. Local labourers committee rejected my 2 cents an hour wage rise offer and held out for 5 cents. There were other magnanimous gestures we had to make which will increase our payroll by $10,000 pa. I drove the board members to their villages and arrived home at 8pm.
Friday 25th April. Departed 6 am for Suva. Road in dreadful condition due to Queens road. being closed. Delivered report on my thoughts regarding the Memorandum of Understanding to the 3rd secretary at the High Commission. Took a courtesy copy to the board chairman, who, as usual is unavailable for any discussion. Also took a copy to the Permanent Secretary of Agriculture.
Tuesday the 20th. May. A new problem to deal with today. David, (not his real name) one of our stockmen was arrested on a rape charge. This was allegedly committed in a nearby sugar cane field, and I had no intention of trying to get to the bottom of it myself. The police came and took him away and sadly we have possibly lost one of our best stockmen.
Thursday 22nd of May. Picked up David from Vaileka police station. He has been given two days of freedom and may not be as guilty as first thought.
NOTE: David was welcomed back to work a few days later and that was the end of the matter so I suspect a deal was done. The chairman asked me at the time of the offence, “what on earth did you call the police for? This sort of thing with cousins goes on all the time.” In chapter 7, I mentioned the tabu between cousins from one parent’s lineage that meant you couldn’t have physical contact or even eye contact with these cousins. But very close contact and even promiscuity, is tolerated between cousins from the other parent’s lineage. I didn’t understand exactly how that worked, but all Fijians do. I doubt these old customs are tolerated today.
Friday 20th June. Two NZ Army Iroquois helicopters (as seen in the TV series MASH,) arrived and laid out 2,000 fence posts on two adjacent steep ridges in a couple of hours. This would have taken more than two weeks by men with bullocks! We then used the choppers to drive some cattle off the adjoining crown land and back onto our property. The army guys enjoyed the fun – and so did I!
Wednesday 25th June. Today we had a Board Meeting at Uluisaivou that got bogged down because the corporation hasn’t paid the rent again. Another annoying stuff up by our Suva administration. Samuela, the chief of Nayelevus, forbade me to use the cattle yards until the rent is paid.
Friday 27th June. Two gangs still planting and harvesting cane. Organised a mini board meeting at Nayalevu village to discuss the unpaid rent. This necessitated a big Sevusevu with all sides given the opportunity to talk. Face was saved all round. The good thing about Yaqona is if you drink enough everybody feels sleepy and hot heads become cool! The cattle yards are still out of bounds to us but we have permission to load the Roko’s cattle for the function tomorrow.
Saturday 28th June. I Loaded the Roko Tui’s 4 prime bulemakau, (cattle beasts) and drove them to the large fundraising gathering at Nanukoloa. It was a beautiful day and about 500 people had come from far and wide. The cattle were to be slaughtered and the meat distributed to the people. I was asked to provide the carcases at 3pm, but the word got around and when the time came a vast crowd had gathered around our truck. I asked the police to guard an imaginary line and not let anyone past it. I drove about 30 meters back, clambered on top of the steel cattle crate and dispatched the cattle with four head shots. To my horror I saw a bullet from my hunting rifle had passed through the head of one of the animals, on through the steel plated side of the cattle crate and out over the beach where people had been walking a few moments before. Luckily nobody had noticed the bullet hole in the cattle crate and I thanked my lucky stars there wasn’t a body lying on the sand. That was probably the luckiest moment of my life!
Monday, September 1st. I loaded a horse into the truck and went to Raviravi early this morning to look at Rokomai block because we are having real problems with cattle getting away. Was confronted with a lurid tale of a man at the top of the block threatening anyone who came near with a machete. I rode on up the hill to find him pleasant and conciliatory, though I didn’t doubt he could get nasty. This episode took up most of the day because a five mile walk was involved. However, we discussed his grievances, sorted him out, and checked out some good country.
Friday, 5th September. Early drive to Suva in response to written summons from the Board Chairman to discuss our poor relationship. Turned out to be a cordial discussion that belied the peremptory tone of his letter? I think he’d angled to get a copy of a nasty letter on file in case he wanted to produce it later.
Wednesday, 8th of October. Fruitful discussions in Suva with. Board Chairman. High Commission, and permanent secretary of M.A.F. regarding draft Memorandum of Understanding.
Thursday 9th October. I circulated a detailed paper today entitled, “Uluisaivou the next 5 years” It sets out a detailed plan accompanied by budget estimates on my view of the best way forward for Uluisaivou.
Tuesday, October 21st November. Brief interview with Chairman this morning, he says he still hasn’t had time to look at my report. Had a fairly long discussion with Fiji Ministry of Agriculture and the High Commission. Very busy day. Two punctures on the way home.
Letter to K W Fife.
Acting General Manager
New Zealand High Commission.
P.O. Box 1378
17th October 1980
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has agreed that you should receive a higher duties allowance equivalent to two steps in the Clerical Executive Scale, which would put you at the top step of grade 007. 106. The new salary rate will be retroactive to January 1980, when you assumed de facto responsibility for the management of the project from Mr. Stone, whose assignment finished on 31 December 1979. The necessary adjustments in arrears will be made to your salary shortly. We hope that this revision will be acceptable to you, in recognition of the extra workload. You have undertaken on behalf of the corporation.
For High Commissioner.
Letter to Board Chairman
Mr. T. Vuetilovoni
Chairman of the Board
27th November 1980
Dear Mr Vuetilovoni
I will be leaving Fiji when my contract expires on 7th January 1981. I decline the offer to stay on for the following reasons.
1. I have had no success at projecting through you to the Government of Fiji, my grave worries about the financial future of the corporation and its very real management problems.
2. Professionally, I am not able to stay when urgent and pressing management decisions continue to be held back by you or ignored.
3. My leaving will I hope, encourage all involved to address themselves urgently to problems at the project site, so that in the future the recommendations of expatriate management, and the opinions of the local board members may be taken into consideration too.
I will be issuing a brief written statement in Fijian to local board members in the near future, setting out my sorrow at having to leave when I still have so much to offer to the project.
Ken W Fife
Acting General Manager
Tuesday 2nd December. 6 am. Office work, then staff meeting from 7am, to 8am. Drove to Suva and had 3-hour session with the High Commissioner, the Deputy High commissioner, and the 2nd Secretary. They couldn’t convince me to withdraw my resignation so we will finally be leaving on 7th of January 1981.
Thursday, 4th December. Spent all day with NZ 60 Minutes TV crew starting with early morning shots at sunrise. We drove around a lot of rugged country, the cameramen shot a lot of film, and then they conducted an interview while men drafted cattle in the yards. They stayed for dinner – an interesting day.
Letter to K Fife
New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and fisheries
December 9, 1980
I have followed with some concern the recent deliberations and machinations which have grown from the development of the new memorandum of understanding. I can only say that I understand the way you have reacted to the circumstances. While for purely selfish reasons I would have preferred you hadn’t resigned, I think that for your own peace of mind, you really had no other option than to take the step that you did.
I hope that we will have an opportunity to meet on your return to New Zealand, and I assure you that the statement of support which I gave you in Suva is still valid.
Advisory Services Division
NZ Dept. of Foreign Affairs
Wednesday, 7th January, 1980 was the day of our departure. Our possessions were loaded into a large wooden container which was nailed shut and waiting to be shipped back to NZ. We had our last look around and with heavy hearts drove down the hill to Nabalabala village to attend our farewell ceremony. The sky was threatening, and a steady drizzle had set in.
When we entered the village, instead of the expressions of good will we were expecting, there was a general air of angst as though the sooner we were gone the better. There was a brief ceremony, some hastily made Leis were hung around our necks, and some food laid out on a trestle that nobody including us was very interested in eating. The chairman’s farewell speech was short but surprisingly kind, and then it was over. I sought out Jone Raicembi and asked him what was happening. He told me that a 4-year-old boy had been found floating face down in the adjacent river before we arrived, and it was touch and go whether he could be revived. He was ok now, but in the minds of these superstitious people this event was connected with us leaving, and the ancestors were showing their wrath.
I’ve never been back to Uluisaivou so have no way of gauging the legacy we left in the minds of the people, but on that gloomy day, while our three kids were chatting excitedly in the back of the car, I was speeding along the familiar track to the main road. Convinced I was a failure, and the people were pleased to see me go.
About half an hour into our three-hour trip to Suva we came to a village we’d driven through a multitude of times. A man was standing on the side of the road, and he waved to us to stop. He gave us a beaming smile and said, “We heard you were leaving and I’ve been waiting for you. Come and have a farewell yaqona with us.” We parked the car and walked up the hill to his bure where we were met by a handful of people with welcoming smiles. This village was not connected to Uluisaivou, yet the difference between the two farewells couldn’t have been more marked.
For the first time that day I relaxed, in the realisation I’d done my best, I could hold my head high, and finally leave the problems of Uluisaivou with the moribund Suva bureaucrats to solve.
And life was still good.
ULIUSAIVOU, FIJI, – MANAGEMENT REPORT FOLLOWING DEBRIEFING SESSION WITH MR K. FIFE ON 30. 3. 1981
This report was made up from three main sources:
1. NZ Advisory Team Report, October 1980
2. Discussion with Mr. Fife on 30. 3. 1981
3. Mr Fife’s “Uluisaivou Corporation: The Next Five Years”
It should be obvious to all those interested in Uluisaivou’s future progress that a valuable resource for positive change and reorganisation has been Mr Fife. Many of his ideas have appeared in written reports by other people, and in the New Memorandum of Understanding. Few of his ideas and proposals have been disputed as not being in the interests of the corporation or the Saivou people. It was unfortunate that the management and administrative structure was such, that Mr Fife had to involve himself with so much mundane administration that he could not get on with the job of implementing more of his proposals.
It was equally unfortunate that the Board, and the Fiji and N.Z. Government personnel involved, could not, or would not, at times, give Mr Fife the backing he deserved.
I hope this report, plus all the other advisory reports produced during the past 12 months, get their due attention, and are acted on accordingly.
No amount of report writing will bring about change unless there are key people at the top who can get on with the job of planning and implementing.
Hopefully our next general manager along with a capable executive officer can devote their time to planning change and their subordinates can effectively implement the change, rather than one man trying to do the lot.
Farm Advisory Officer
NZ Society of Farm Management
LINCOLN COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE
Canterbury, New Zealand
18th February, 1982
Extract from a letter written to me by Stewart Pittaway, (MNZSFM) M. Ag Sc. Farm Advisory Officer.
I arrived back in NZ on 31st January. 1981 was a rather busy year. During the last three months I was very involved with Uluisaivou. The reason for this was that virtually nothing had happened on the scheme at a management level since you left. NZ Aid personnel visited in mid-1981 and the new aid director asked that Fiji sort out what they wanted to do with it.
Fiji Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries then prepared a report. This was finished about Christmas 1981. Largely this report involved. Stuart Revell, Ian Partridge, Forestry Department, Kafoa, and myself. All we tried to do was to sort out a straightforward programme for the place. Much of it is along the lines you suggested in your various writings. Hopefully this will be accepted by New Zealand and the project can proceed.
Too much has happened to tell you in this letter. Some interesting pieces are that, as you predicted, an over-stocking problem became apparent in May / June. When this was realised (too late) they started to sell off everything by which stage the shortage of feed had really started to show.
There has been quite a severe current account problem throughout the last six months of 1981.
Well, I could go on forever, but I’ll leave it at that.