Cold Melbourne to warm Fiji experience

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Angus Delaney with the women of Namosi. Picture: ATU RASEA

It took me 10 days and a visit to a village before I realised the biggest differences between Fiji and my hometown of Melbourne.

Some differences were obvious and immediate – the weather for instance.

When I stepped off the plane in Nadi I was greeted with blue skies and sunshine, whereas Melbourne just experienced its coldest morning in four years.

Suva is also smaller and more peaceful than Melbourne, but I truly became aware of the differences when I piled into a car with Fiji Times reporter Elena Vucukula and photographer Atu Rasea, setting off for Veivatuloa Village in the Namosi province, just over 48km from the Capital.

Our drive along the coastline did bring to my attention one similarity between Fiji and Australia – bad drivers exist in both.

It seems traffic and impatient motorists are universal.

Arriving in Veivatuloa Village felt like a uniquely Fijian experience.

Despite living in humble homes with less developed infrastructure than that in Melbourne, people seemed truly more content.

They smiled easily and laughed freely, welcoming me with coffee and biscuits, handshakes and hellos.

Despite the fact that I was obviously not from Fiji, I was treated with an incredible kindness, respect and lunch.

Often Australians are told of the wonderful Fijian hospitality but I admit I believed it was a marketing ploy to attract tourists; however my afternoon in the village proved it to be authentic.

Australian’s are generally easy going, but we are reserved with newcomers and keep our distance.

The timing of my visit to Namosi also alerted me to the contrast in leadership and politics in Fiji and Australia.

I arrived to witness Tui Namosi Ratu Suliano Matanitobua retire from Parliament, with traditional leaders and community elders appointing a former finance manager Maciu Katamotu as his successor.

Ratu Suliano said he was stepping down so he could care for his ill wife and it also comes after he was found guilty by FICAC (Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption) of corruption-related charges earlier this month.

This blend of traditional and political leadership surprised me.

Leadership appointments within parties in Australia are often cut-throat and rife with backstabbing.

The members certainly don’t share kava together afterwards.

In Australia, however, we have more reason for faith in our political system, with Ratu Suliano calling the 2006 coup a “carnage of democracy” in a statement to the media.

I think Australia’s democratic system is something I’ve taken for granted.

I’ve also taken for granted the impacts of climate change.

Despite voting for action and attending protests in Melbourne, I hadn’t come to terms with the true impacts of global warming until standing on the coast in Veivatuloa Village.

The ocean laps incessantly at the shore there, flowing freely over a seawall that can do nothing to stop the rising sea level.

This is perhaps the most devastating difference between Australia and Fiji – that despite not contributing to global warming, the homes and cemetery of Veivatuloa Village are at risk of disappearing. Australia, with ever emerging coal and gas projects, is avoiding the worst of it.

My first real trip to a village not only taught me about how Fiji differs from my Melbourne home, but gave me insight into Fijian life.

To me, the people here are generous, welcoming and content with what they have, rather than disappointed with what they don’t. However, they face complex problems of a political and environmental nature.

I hope throughout my stay in Fiji I can learn from their contentment and learn more about the issues they face.

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