By Mrs Lilian Derrick
This is the text of the speech given by Mrs Lilian Derrick, a former teacher at Suva Grammar, at the Emerald Reunion on 18th July, 2015. Lilian’s speech indicates why and how the present school needed to be established in the early ‘60s and why it was staffed and populated as it was then. It is an important record and contribution to the history of the school.
Lilian concludes; “Like the remarkable Vatulele red prawns that were enlivened for posterity by the special environment of the Vatulele waters, we may well consider the great stream of ex-Grammarians that has flowed from Suva Grammar over the past 55 years as holding the power to enrich the environment in which present and future Suva Grammar scholars will also be enlivened and be known as remarkable.” Dr Mike Gosling (Ed.)
Greetings to all Grammarians…
May I thank you Ellen for your kind introduction and warm welcome to this very impressive function – one so beautifully planned by President Jasmine and the committee of Suva Grammar’s Ex-students’ Association. Throughout the whole of this week of celebrations to mark the 55th Anniversary of the founding of Suva Grammar, as we know it, I have been deeply touched by the warmth and friendliness with which – after 23 years away from Fiji – I’ve been greeted by so many of you, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all for drawing me back into the Suva Grammar community so warmly and spontaneously.
It has been an inspiring and heart-warming experience for me to share in the happiness of the week’s celebrations and – now – to be taking part in this lovely function – one which brings to a climax the splendid programme of events and opportunities for former students and teachers to meet – not only in a spirit of celebration and friendship, but – very importantly – for us to pay homage to Suva Grammar, the school that has nurtured so many students throughout these past 55 years.
Former students may well refer to Suva Grammar as their Alma Mater, the “bountiful mother” that – for several years of the life of every student – held, loved and supported them as they developed in body, mind and spirit, from childhood toward adulthood, in preparation for the challenges of the world before them.
I am therefore deeply honoured to have been asked to speak with you about this fine school; and that I have been entrusted to do so with a particular emphasis on the role and value of the Ex-students’ Association – which, without hesitation, I endorse as a most important and valuable component of the school community at large – particularly as we widen our perception of Suva Grammar as being far more than a collection of buildings & facilities – but, in fact, a well-developed community of students, teachers, administrators, parents, and ex-students, all having interactive roles and responsibilities through which the buildings and resources provided by the earlier colonial and later national governments are held respectfully, put to effective use and maintained as well as possible.
Earlier, I spoke of our having come, indeed from far and wide, to pay “homage” to the school, a term that only seems appropriate if we think of the school in this broader sense of community, i.e. as a living, thriving entity – one that we honour and respect for its contributions to our lives as students and as citizens in wider society. In so doing, I believe we are also showing respect and gratitude for those (including then-Directors of Education, Mr Maurice McGrath and Mr Gordon Rodger) who foresaw the need for this large co-educational school and set the policies in motion for the school to be built, opened, and staffed in 1960 by a large contingent of graduate teachers from New Zealand, at a time when Fiji was unable to supply secondary level staff because it had no secondary-teacher training Institution, until the University of the South Pacific was established, a decade or so later.
I understand that the Suva Grammar Ex-Students’ Association came into being in the later part of Grammar’s 55 year life, with the purpose of enabling ex-students to express some of their gratitude to the school by perhaps assisting the school to meet various needs that may otherwise remain unmet and, in so doing, could also contribute a valuable and motivating sense of care and support to the school’s Principal, staff and students as they carry out their essential educational activities.
A strong Parents’ Association can also be very valuable in efforts to help a school become better equipped or resourced; there being many ways by which members with special skills or contacts are willing to make them available when alerted to various needs. Ex-students and parents can all be resourceful in identifying the potential that exists within their fields of influence, when efforts or projects are to be undertaken for the well-being of the school.
As an illustration of tapping into this potential, I can relate an incident that had a somewhat amusing side to it. Years ago my husband, a Civil Engineer and former Suva Boys’ Grammar student, received a message which said that the Commissioner for Inland Revenue (the dreaded “Tax” man) would call at my husband’s office on a particular morning, to speak with him. At the time there had been several known cases of businesses being prosecuted for tax offences, so my dear man wondered if he were also being investigated, so he set about checking his tax status and, as his records were all in order, he could not understand what may have caused the intended visit by the Commissioner.
Next day the said Commissioner arrived and after a few pleasantries, he said “Well Brian, you’re an old Boys’ Grammar man and, I’m Treasurer of the Suva Grammar Parents’ Association so, as a favour, would you be willing to provide the Parents’ Association with plans and specifications for a swimming pool for Suva Grammar? Absolutely no questions about tax matters but, instead, a request for a favour for the school!! And of course, as the Parents’ Association had raised sufficient funds for the pool, it was built. It was there that Lyndall Fischer, who is here tonight, an ex-Suva Grammarian and champion South Pacific swimmer, began her development as a star swimmer.
I therefore wish to use this opportunity to encourage us all to consider how we might contribute toward the Ex-students’ Association being a strong enduring influence, whether the many ex-students be based in Suva, in the wider reaches of Fiji or even abroad. It is important that we all acknowledge the potential that lies within the multitude of former Grammarians to show practical support for their old school through the co-ordinating efforts of the Association itself and to exercise their influence wherever their paths may take them.
Suva Grammar has now stood facing the sea since 1960, its doors open, ……year after year ……. to receive the hundreds of girls and boys who have spent several of their most formative years in its classrooms, assembly hall, library, laboratories, art room, wood – metalwork and home- economics Centres, in the play-grounds and on its sports fields. Together with the teachers, support staff and parents, Suva Grammar became a great community of purposeful, inter-active people, wherein the over-riding purpose has always been the broad development of its students – not only intellectually, but also socially, emotionally and ethically.
Prior to 1960, Suva Boys’ Grammar and Suva Girls’ Grammar were separate schools catering for the educational needs of the older children of various local and expatriate families living and working in and near Suva. Each of these schools had a boarding hostel for children from wider areas. With rapid post WWII development of the civil service and the business sector in the 1950s, many extra expatriate families were being brought to settle in Suva, and more school places were required for the children of these families – also a curriculum that would enable many of the children to reintegrate into schools abroad, when their parents finished their assignments in Fiji, or the older children wished to enter overseas universities or other tertiary training Institutions.
These are the main factors that led to the establishment of Suva Grammar as the large co-educational school we know, the founding Principal being Mr Norman Webb, followed by Mr Colin Ussher, both of whom I knew well and respected highly, as very experienced and able educators and administrators.
Here tonight we have some members of that earliest cohort of staff. Joan Eden and Grant Farnsworth were staff members in the 1960s -70S; but who could forget Mr Graeme Eden riding his bicycle beside his squad of panting, sweating trainee runners and his impassioned radio commentaries of weekend rugby? And what of Mrs Anne Ussher spurring the girls through their physical- education and sports games? I have such clear memories of science masters, Peter Beveridge and Keith Huddleston, of Judith Beveridge, Senior Mistress Janice Huddleston, Jane Ricketts, Jane Usher, Mrs Clunie, Doug and Joan Cater. At the western end of the buildings Mr Nuku, who in later years became Headmaster, engaged the boys in producing impressive well-finished household items – an inlaid wooden tray and a lovely matchbox holder being brought home by two very pleased Derrick boys and kept in use for many years.
The School very quickly established a Parents’ Association which took a great interest in all manner of things for the good of the school. Ideas about school uniforms were debated among the parents and agreements reached, annual Fairs were organised and funds raised for amenities and improvements. Parents’ and Ex-students’ Associations can be very effective and, on occasions, formidable when cooperating on a project.
I’m sure many of you will also clearly recall the ways in which staff, students and parents worked together to stage some wonderfully costumed musicales and concerts at the School – HMS Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado come to mind.
It is evident that Suva Grammar developed far beyond being just the collection of those buildings that arose in 1960. In effect, it quickly became a very active thriving inter-active community of students, staff, parents and other supporters, a community in which a great range of learning, personal development and creativity has been taking place for many years.
I therefore find the “Shipwreck” theme chosen for tonight’s celebration very apt, as we can use it to help identify the kinds of human responses that would most likely enable a group of castaways, or beginners of a raw enterprise, to organise themselves from scratch, much as Suva Grammar did from its inception, so as to survive and thrive, rather than stagnate or sink into hopelessness.
Foremost would be the need for individuals to cooperate, in order to build a resourceful inter-dependent community through which available resources could be identified, gathered and shared, skills and creativity contributed and mutual care experienced. I am confident these and many other such positive attributes remain strong among the whole Suva Grammar community, including the ability to delight in each other’s company, to have fun and celebrate together – just as we will be doing tonight.
It is this important concept of community that I again wish to highlight as being vital, as we think about the success and the living breathing nature of the Suva Grammar community at large – consisting, always, of its inter-dependent members – its students, teachers and supporters – ideally parents and ex-students, but also a wise and encouraging Board of Governors.
Such a community is never complete or static, it must constantly be open to refreshment, as some members depart and others are drawn in, bringing with them their skills and goodwill. Its members also need to be determined and persistent in working for, and expecting, high standards of workmanship and scholarship, no matter what the circumstances may be. This ensures progress, and helps to build character and confidence in the members of the community, especially the developing students whose lives are influenced by positive role models.
While preparing to come to Fiji for this Emerald Anniversary I was impressed by the thoughts expressed in a speech by an Australian University Vice Chancellor, who had returned to visit the University he had attended as a young man, a University that had become faced with great challenges and changes, due to the many rapid and far-reaching changes in society itself. He spoke of that University needing to examine the legend of its existence – i.e. its “story”, the story of what it had already been for so many years, …… and to accept that there was now need to seek a new legend, a different “story”, as that University would need to adapt to the changing needs and conditions of the present era and the demands of the future.
This has led me, in all sincerity, to suggest that we might also now speak of Suva Grammar in this way – in terms of legend – the legend being the story of its first 55 years. Many of the fragments of that greater story have been shared among us during this past week, and some are included in this speech, …. but all form the substance of something unique and extraordinary – Suva Grammar – as it has been over 55 years, and as it can yet be into the future, as it seeks and find its way to creating a new legend for the next half century or more. Surely it is no accident that the School’s wonderful Motto is “Seek and Ye Shall Find”.
In case you are tempted to think of a legend as just some sort of make-believe story, I must protest, and ask that you take another view – the view that every legend is usually about something remarkable and extraordinary, such as the unique prawns spoken about in the legend of the famous red prawns of Vatulele, the story of how they are said to have become so unique and special.
Whilst the legend describes how already cooked prawns, ones gathered from the streams of another island in Fiji, returned to life when rejected and tossed into the waters of Vatulele, (along with the young man who had taken the perfectly cooked prawns as a gift to the chief’s daughter), the story is probably a very condensed form of what was no doubt a much larger detailed story, involving many communal people and their interactions, a story told and retold over a very long period of time, until it passed into folk lore as a simple beautiful resolution of a longer drama.
So a legend, such as that of Suva Grammar’s first 55years which we are celebrating, is really the distillation of all the efforts, achievements, disappointments, successes, hopes, joys and memories of a community, into something that, in its own way, has come to be considered sacred, admirable and remarkable. From it, a further great legend can surely grow.
May we be inspired by such lessons from folklore to have confidence in the Suva Grammar community to create a new and wonderful legend to describe what we hope and trust will also be Suva Grammar’s extraordinary uniqueness in the future.
Having lived in Australia since 1992 – and my five ex-Grammarian sons no longer living in Fiji – I had wondered if I would again feel strongly connected with the Suva Grammar School community and the Fiji I had known in earlier years – through almost 40 years of residence, BUT … as I’m sure we visitors have all found this week … school-based ties are very strong and special! The bonds are never broken, but continue to rest deep within our minds and spirits, ever ready to be awakened and refreshed.
I hope and trust that we will all treasure and maintain this refreshment of our esteem and affection for Suva Grammar and that as we prepare to return to our homes and commitments, whether they be in Fiji or abroad, we will each now find ways to put our esteem and affection to great purpose, in the interest of Suva Grammar and its pursuit of its newer legend.
In closing, I would ask you to think again of the legend of the uniquely remarkable Vatulele red prawns that were enlivened for posterity by the special environment of the Vatulele waters. We may well consider the great stream of ex-Grammarians that has flowed from Suva Grammar over the past 55 years as holding the power to enrich the environment in which present and future Suva Grammar scholars will also be enlivened and be known as remarkable, and that the school itself, Suva Grammar School, will again be described in legendry terms when its story is told in later years.
I thank you for sharing this time by listening to what I have had to say during such a night of fun and celebration, and I wish to thank and congratulate President Jasmine and all Members of the Ex-Students Association for working so hard to arrange this week of wonderfully enjoyable Emerald Anniversary celebrations, and for their ongoing deep commitment to the future welfare of Suva Grammar School.
I also wish to thank the Principal, staff and students of Suva Grammar School for their generous warmth and hospitality to so many of us during our visits to the school during this week of celebrations and to assure them of our support and gratitude for their work and aspirations in upholding the name and values of Suva Grammar School. May Suva Grammar continue to be very richly blessed.
PGCE; CNFE; Dip G& C (USP)
18th July, 2015 – Suva, Fiji.