mailife - - Advertisement - By ROS­ALIE WIL­LIS Pho­tos by IVAMERE ROKOVESA

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...

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