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Brief histories of the first clubs of each geographic region
Rotary Club of Suva, Fiji, First Club of the South Pacific Islands
Rotary International District 9920
A Part of Our History of Rotary in the Pacific Region
Historical Review of the Rotary Club of Suva
Suva is the capital city of the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. In this year of writing (2006) the population of the islands is approximately 820,000. Fiji has been an independent nation since 1970. It’s nearest large neighbours are Australia and New Zealand.
The Rotary Club of Suva was the first Rotary Club to be founded in the South Pacific islands. That was in 1936. Henry J. Guthrie of the Rotary Club of Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand was the prime mover. On a visit to Suva he was able to enthuse a sufficient number of prominent business and professional men to form a club. On the 26th of March 1936, Rotary International admitted Suva to membership of the then 53rd District, bringing the total number of Rotary Clubs in the world then to 3 943.Today there are over 31 000 clubs in over 166 countries with a total membership exceeding 1.2 million.
Fittingly it was the same Henry J. Guthrie of the sponsoring club, Dunedin, who came to Suva to present the Club Charter in July 1936. He also brought with him from the Dunedin club a brass gong, which has managed to survive 70 years of weekly beating from 70 different presidents.
The nineteen charter members of the Rotary Club of Suva were:
David W. Amos (President), Alec S. de Montalk, Don Junor, R.C. (Besu) Evans, Harold Mayo-Harris, Malcolm M. Brodie, T.W. Alport Barker, A.P. Matthews, Frank C. Exon, C.A. (Terry) Fenton, Carl F. Corbett, Dan B. Costello, Rex C. Evans, Clive A. B. Joske, Ben H. Marks, I. E. Mitchelmore, Len Noerr, W. (Bill) N. A. Paley and Frank Williams
From that nucleus the membership increased to 33 by the end of the Club’s first year and remained around the 30 mark for its first decade. But the outbreak of the war in 1939 resulted in some members going overseas and in the demand of the war effort preventing others from meeting their attendance obligations; and early in 1940 it seemed as if the Club would hand in its charter. With the approval of the District Governor, however, the Club’s rules were relaxed and its activities limited, and it was thus enabled to remain in existence.
The number rose in the post-World War II years and by 1955 had reached 46. By the time Fiji had become an independent nation in 1970 the number of members in the club had increased to 90, but a club of that size proved too big for comfort-not only was there an apparent decline in the quality of fellowship but the range of possible meeting places had become unduly restricted. In 1971, therefore, the Club sponsored the Rotary Club of Suva North; and thereafter membership of the Suva Club gradually declined to more manageable proportions. It was 68 on 30th June 1979 and membership gradually increased to 81 in January 1986.Over the years 2 more Rotary Clubs opened up in Suva, the Rotary Club of Suva Sunset and the Rotary Club of Suva East dwindling the numbers down to the present membership of 39.Today it is still the largest club in Fiji. In the early 50’s continuity of membership improved steadily as the Club became less dependent on short-term expatriate members. The first locally born members, Ben Jannif, Edward Grant, Oliver Singh, Tony Moore and Gordon Honson were inducted in 1949; thirty years later almost exactly a half of all members were locally born, while a substantial number of others were former expatriates who had taken out Fiji Citizenship. Today 95% of the members are locals.
The Suva Club sponsored the Rotary Club of Lautoka in 1958, an Interact in 1965, a Rotaract Club and Rotary Club of Apia in 1970, and the Rotary Clubs of Labasa and Suva North in 1971.
1975-1976 was a memorable year for the Suva Club. First, its fortieth birthday was celebrated by the issue of two postage stamps commemorating ‘forty Years of Rotary in Fiji’; secondly Ali Asgar, one of the Club’s past presidents, served with distinction as District Governor from outside New Zealand; and thirdly the Rotary Clubs of Suva and Suva North jointly hosted the annual conference of District 292. This conference, the first to be held outside New Zealand, opened on 26th March 1976- the fortieth anniversary of the presentation of the Club’s charter.
Some of the Club’s early achievements were the supply and installation of a master radio and earphone sets for the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in 1936.
The following year the Rotary Club of Suva with the help of New Zealand Rotary Clubs provided modern talkie equipment suitable for open-air projection to the lepers on Makogai, an island that cared for islanders from the entire South- West Pacific, who had been afflicted with the scourge of leprosy. Silent movies were shown in the evenings on a screen on the grass under the stars, the men on one side and the women on the other. Major film companies were approached for libraries of suitable films and the response was immediate and generous. Hearts of film magnates were touched by the Makogai story and the splendid work of the Roman Catholic Order of the Sisters of Mary who tended to the lepers on the island. Their story, via Rotary, reached the ears of the chief executive of one of the major American automobile concerns. In due course a gleaming wagon reached the island with the compliments of the manufactures and of Rotary. Through Charter member Len Noerr, who voluntarily gave ten years of devotion and technical skill to Makogai and its apparatus, and the Medical Superintendent and Honorary member of the Club, Dr C.J. Austin CBE there was a continuing link with the island. Another charter member of the Suva Club, Frank Exon, whose Company donated the first radio telephone to the Makogai Leprosy Hospital, installed it and taught the more technically-minded sisters to operate the daily with the mainland and so broke down the communication difficulties which the island had hitherto suffered.
In 1945 the Suva Club undertook responsibility for the cost of one year’s tuition of a young Fijian at the Queen Victoria School as a tribute to the memory of the Fijian war hero – Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu – a soldier of the Third Battalion, Fiji Infantry Regiment, who had been killed in action on Bougainville sacrificing his own life for the sake of his comrades.
In 1947 the Club resuscitated its Child Welfare Clinic Plans, which had been put on hold because of the War, pooled funds with those collected in the Lautoka district, and by the end of the year saw its long deferred hopes realised and the first mobile Child Welfare Clinic handed over to the Medical Department.
It was the Rotary Club of Suva that brought into being the Fiji Amateur Athletic Association as a result of a community service project ably led by Rotarian W.H.B (Bill) Buckhurst, who had the park, which is now behind the National Stadium, named after him.
In 1951-1952 through community service the Club decided to throw its weight behind the Scouting movement, and plans for a Hall and Headquarters started.
In the early 50’s a substantial cash donation of $3 300 was given towards the construction of Nabua Fijian School. Rotary began it with a cash grant, Government followed with a sizeable subsidy, and then sturdily independent Fijians made the rest possible either by penny collections or by giving their labour voluntarily during its construction.
The second half of the 1950s the Club undertook an ambitious project for the establishment of a Youth Centre at Marks Park, Suva, by raising a sum of
11,192 pounds from public donations and a Rotary-sponsored lottery. A Government grant of 10,000 pounds was gratefully received to supplement Rotary’s fundraising. The Centre was handed over for management and day-to-day use to the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).
Community service projects instituted by the club during the 1960s included the construction of a wishing well at the Triangle, Suva; the presentation to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital of a mobile dental clinic; and the construction of a Scout Hall at Samabula. These were followed by the establishment of the Fiji Blind Society in 1970 and by the presentation to the St. John Ambulance Association in 1975 of an ambulance.
One of the on-going successful projects that the Rotary Club of Suva had undertaken in the early 80s was known as INTERPLAST. Three teams of Australian surgeons and nurses visit Fiji twice a year and perform plastic surgery at three hospitals in the country for 2-week periods at a time.
Other Rotary programmes in which the Rotary Club of Suva has participated over the years have included Rotaract, Interact, Student Exchanges, RYLA and Handicamp and through the Rotaract Club of Suva, sponsors the annual prefect seminar conducted by Rotaractors.