ANALYSIS: Reminiscing The Lowering Of Union Jack For Last Time

Isimeli Bainimara wanted a career in the banking industry. After passing his New Zealand University Entrance exam at Queen Victoria School, he joined the old Bank of New Zealand as
08 Oct 2015 10:10
ANALYSIS: Reminiscing The Lowering Of Union Jack For Last Time
Left image: Prince Charles (left), returns Fiji’s fate to Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara on October 10, 1970. Right image: Fijian Independence Day celebrations in 1970. (Inset: Isimeli Bainimara in Suva yesterday. Photo: Jona Konataci)

Isimeli Bainimara wanted a career in the banking industry.

After passing his New Zealand University Entrance exam at Queen Victoria School, he joined the old Bank of New Zealand as the second local employee in 1963.

He became a commissioned officer in the Territorial Force of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces in 1967.

“I took up the military as a part-time exercise after QVS but I was focused on a career in banking,” he said.

That changed in 1969 when he received a call at the bank.

He was being offered the position as Aide-de-camp to then Governor Sir Robert Foster and transferred to the Regular Force.

He left the bank and embarked on a new career in the military.

“I virtually became part of the Governor’s family.  They had no children with them so I was like their child and I learned a lot of new things in English etiquette,” he said.

He recalled that 1970 was an emotional moment for him to witness Fiji become independent from Great Britain.

He had the privilege of escorting Prince Charles, who represented the Queen, and handed over the instruments of Independence to Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the then Chief Minister.

In Fijian history, he said, the first unique event was the unconditional ceding of more than 300 Fijian islands, the mountains, rivers, surrounding seas with all its people to Queen Victoria by the chiefs. For the next 96 years Fiji became a British colony.

“The second unique event in our history was the attainment of our independence. Unique in the sense that there was no demand, no struggle, no bloodshed – but through dialogue and consensus as demonstrated by the mood in which we celebrated our independence, it would seem that the Fijians did not want to be independent,” he said.

“It was the setting of the sun on Friday, 10th of October 1970 when the Union Jack was lowered for the last time. There were cheers of joy but the ceremony was very solemn and touching. When the military band beat the retreat and played the Last Post, in the presence of his Royal Highness Prince Charles, the distinct voice of our then Chief Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara echoed throughout Fiji.

“Ratu Sir Kamisese said: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, let us salute the Union Jack. The symbol that has governed this country for the last 96 years is coming down for the very last time. We are going to be masters of our destiny. We have come of age. Let us say farewell and ni sa moce to Her Majesty the Queen and to the Union Jack.”

The band continued playing the Last Post. Mr Bainimara was the saluting officer on that memorable day and with his ceremonial sword pointing to the ground in military salute.

“For a few seconds I could not see the green grass in front of me. Alas, I was not the only one. I had one hundred soldiers behind me and there were hundreds of other soldiers and ex-servicemen behind them. And there were thousands of others from all walks of life. In fact, Fiji was in tears.

“It was indeed a unique ceremony – the Union Jack was lowered and no Fiji flag was raised on this day.”

It was the following day that the Fijian flag was raised.

From then to 1975 he attended various military training overseas. He then joined the Ministry of Home Affairs as Chief Assistant Secretary responsible for Police matters as well as Secretary of the Fiji Intelligence Committee and Emergency Services Commission.

It is next move was to the Ministry of Tourism,Transport and Civil Aviation. He later became chief executive of the Fiji Visitors Bureau before he joined the diplomatic service.

In March, 1996 he was appointed Fiji’s Ambassador to New Zealand.

He returned to Fiji in 2002 and was appointed Co-ordinator International Conference in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He retired from Government service in 2003.

When he first arrived in Wellington as a diplomat in 1996 he was recognised as the only foreign diplomat then who could claim to have scored a rugby try at Eden Park.

He was a centre and winger in the Fijian national team that toured NZ in 1970 and played two tests against the Maori All Blacks.

He has served as chairman of Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji and Air Terminal Services (Fiji) Ltd. He is now a consultant for a private  company, Design Graphix, Business by Design.

With his wide experience the event that he will treasurer the most was Fiji’s Independence in 1970.

“It was special and one that I will never forget.”.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj


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