The Green Heart of the Capital
Located on the south end of Victoria Parade, Albert Park is more than just a park. It is a place for all occasions, including moments of national importance. Officially licensed as the Suva Cricket Club in 1884 the park boasts a rich history of welcoming dignitaries, holding international sporting events, and has been used as a location for many celebrations and festivals. But first who is Albert? And why has he been bestowed the naming rights to this piece of land which once convinced the Government to move the capital to Suva. Prince Albert was the greatly loved husband of Queen Victoria who ruled the British Empire for 63 years from the age of 18. Being consort to the Queen was not always easy for Albert who was a husband but not master of the household. However he was of great help to the Queen and although doing a great deal of work on his own merit, it was the Queen in mourning who commissioned and inspired monuments in his honour, including in her colonies, after his early death at 42. The new Albert Park pavilion that in 2016 replaced the older one on the opposite side of the park is named after Charles Kingsford-Smith. He was the aviation pioneer who in 1928 piloted the first flight across the Pacific from America to Australia via Hawaii and Fiji in his plane Southern Cross. The flight could have been a disaster if it was not for Kingsford-Smith’s flying skills. Albert Park was the designated landing place for the second leg of the journey, however there was a line of trees running through it. Four days out from the arrival there were still arguments about whether the trees should be cut down. The hesitation came mostly from the Mayor and Colonial Secretary who did not believe the plane would make it. However the Governor Sir Eyre Hutson, who had a lot of influence, eventually convinced them that the trees needed to be removed and had the holes filled with rock, stones and sand. Not only was the landing area prepared at the very last minute, but the space did not provide an adequate safety margin to land. It was only Kingsford-Smith’s skill to pull the nose of the plane around at the very last minute that avoided disaster. It hadn’t been an easy flight in any case. “I never want to go through another such night,” KingsfordSmith said later. “Hawaii to Fiji is a long shot at a dot on the map in the Pacific.” Regrettably more beautiful, historic banyan trees had to go to make way for the construction of the new pavilion, with no city mayor to protest this time. Albert Park is within a richly historic environment. The Grand Pacific Hotel, Government Buildings, Government House, Thurston Gardens and the Fiji Museum surround it. People who have walked this ground in the past 50 years include such notables as Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Pope John Paul II and the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Though the primary purpose of the park was for cricket, tennis courts were added in the late 1880s and more in 1901. The first major development was when the ground was levelled in 1907. Reports state that before that, its condition left a lot to be desired. And Fiji being a staunch rugby nation the park was often used for games which drew crowds of thousands, with the All Blacks playing a friendly match there in 1913. Albert Park is also the traditional home of the Hibiscus Festival. Held for the first time in 1956 in the old Town Hall, it was so successful that for the next 50 years it was held at Albert Park and became a week long spectacle. Hibiscus has been called the mother of all festivals and was inspired by the Aloha festival in Hawaii. In 2015 the venue was obliged to change because work had begun to upgrade the park. Such was the fervor people had for the Albert Park location the Hibiscus Events Group Chairman Hirdesh Prasad had to urge the city populace not to criticise the move to a new location. “People should not criticise but help us. We need ideas and support because this is a people’s festival.” At the 2015 start of the park’s $16.7 million upgrade the Prime Minister said veteran players had nicknamed it the “house of pain” because it was either a mud-bath or so solid that injuries were inevitable. It now has a world class surface that is usable for all occasions. Today it is a picturesque place worthy of a visit, no matter if you are a local wanting to play a pick-up game in the evening or a visitor wanting to find somewhere to sit and rest. It is often the start and finish point of people who take their exercise strolling along the Suva sea wall.
Albert Park symbolises Fijian culture in many ways. In the evenings those wandering past can see multiple sports being played. While rugby is predominant, Albert Park hosts a diverse range from football to ultimate frisbee, cricket to karate, with a bit of yoga and gym exercise on the side. But it is not the sport that epitomises the culture, it is the way that people interact at the park. Most games are unofficial. People join in as they please or start up new ones. It is a place of freedom and fun, of coming together no matter your sport, interest or background. Even youngsters ride their scooters around or race each other. This is the real Fiji.
Timeline 1874: Named after Prince Albert when Fiji was ceded to Britain in 1874 1884: License given to the Suva Cricket Club to use as a cricket ground 1880’s: Tennis courts built 1901: More tennis courts laid. 1907: Ground levelled, not in a good sate...