A page of tributes and remembrance for Otago alumni that have been supplied by family and friends
Dr Colin Geary
Dr Colin Geary’s service to the University of Otago was remarkable not only for its duration, but for the great diversity of roles he fulfilled during his time there.
The former head of pathology died peacefully with his family by his side on August 23 at age 84. A private funeral was held in Wellington in October.
Born in Dunedin in 1937, Dr Geary spent much of his life in service to the University of Otago and the greater scientific community.
After graduating with his Bachelor of Dental Surgery with commendation degree in 1962, Dr Geary’s interest in basic science and research led to a PhD in biochemistry and a Nuffield Foundation Commonwealth Travelling Fellowship in medicine.
He continued his work in pathology as a senior lecturer in 1978 until becoming head of the department in 1988, a role he fulfilled until his retirement in 2002.
In 1990, Dr Geary was instrumental in overseeing the merger of the pathology and clinical biochemistry departments and the setting up of a new degree programme in medical laboratory science.
He was known for transforming the department from a focus on service pathology to a strong research facility that produced a growing number of excellent medical scientists.
In 1984 Dr Geary was appointed as an administrator of the Medical Research Council, now the Health Research Council, to encourage research and provide on the spot interpretation of council policy and to give general advice.
At that time he had been involved with research for 20 years with special interests in cancer studies using animals and in kidney changes in diabetes.
Dr Geary served as deputy dean and acting dean at the Dunedin School of Medicine on multiple occasions.
He was Master of University College 1993-96 and conducted major reviews for university residential colleges, and was also a quinquennial fellow of Knox College and a fellow of St Margaret’s College.
He was a director of the Hutt Valley Health Corporation, now the Hutt Valley District Health Board, from 1996 to 2000.
For many years, Dr Geary was a visiting professor for the University of Malaysia and visited many universities in China to establish collaborative research and educational links.
In 2014, a position was established in honour of his lasting impact, called The Colin Geary Visiting Professor of Pathology.
The recipients of the position included eminent research professors from Sydney, Melbourne, Washington DC, Cambridge and Oxford universities.
Dr Geary was also an accomplished veteran middle distance runner who completed several marathons.
Dr Geary spent 25 years in the New Zealand Territorial Forces, where he began as a national serviceman.
In 1962, he was posted to the mobile dental unit, then moved to the university medical unit in 1966, where he served until his retirement from service in 1982 as a lieutenant colonel and commanding officer of the university medical unit.
He left a significant mark on the military in the form of a recommendation to the minister of defence, which asked that women be allowed to join the university medical unit on an equal footing to men.
It was accepted in 1975 and within a year the first female recruits joined the unit.
The opportunity for equal employment subsequently spread to other units within the Territorial Forces.
Dr Geary was the honorary aide de camp to Governor General Sir Denis Blundell from 1975 to 1976.
He is survived by his wife Diana, children Fraser and Melinda and grandson Antonio.
Dr Fred Fastier
It was with sadness that I received news of Dr Fastier’s death.
My name is Judith Babich, was Judith Fraknóváry when I knew Dr Fastier.
In the years 1958-1962 I was a student at St Dominic’s College, Rattray Street, Dunedin. My Best friend lived some distance further up from the school, in Maori Hill. She asked me to join with her, the badminton club in the Maori Hill community hall.
I did that and played there for the duration of our secondary school years, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening, often doing homework in the back room while waiting for my turn to play.
There, also a member and very regular player was Dr Fred Fastier. Ever a pedagogue, he was pleased to show the tricks of the game to me and other new recruits to the game. I often played with or against him in mixed doubles and had occasional conversations when sitting out, between matches. I was told he was a university professor but to me he was just another club member and badminton player.
At that time, I never expected to be a pupil of his again, in a different capacity!
I was in the small group of students in 1963, the first intake into the newly formed Bachelor of Pharmacy School. The class was small, maximum of only 20 students accepted, after the initial Medical Intermediate year, which we shared with future doctors, dentists, home science and BSc students.
It was in our fourth and final year of study that I came to meet Professor Fastier again on a regular basis. He was our Pharmacology teacher. The BPharm course was so new and unestablished that our lectures were scattered in halls and lecture rooms, whatever happened to be available. Pharmacology was taught and practiced in Knox Hall. We had to rush from place to place, streets apart, to get from one lecture or practical to another.
Lectures by Professor Fastier were always interesting, laced by anecdotes about his own experiences of testing drugs because “one needs to experience them to really understand their effects,” always under qualified supervision, of course.
He recalled to our amazement, that he tried LSD, again, under supervision, and that he had a “good trip”. He understood now, why some people would want to experience such effects, over and over, again. As with other drugs, this is how addiction develops.
He was interested and involved in researching the effects of the karaka berry. Experiments were undertaken in the Burrows Welcome building close to our small Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Pharmaceutics laboratory cum lecture room. This is when I first heard about the way Māori tempted the native pigeons into a woven flax trap, exploiting their keenness for this berry. The birds got drunk on its juices and thereafter made easy feast for the trappers. I often wondered if the poison also made the feasters drunk. I never found out.
During a discussion session after a term exam in pharmacology, Dr Fastier brough to the attention of our tiny class of 4 or 5, that he liked the way I presented my answers in the exam paper. I was thrilled to hear him say, that it was what he liked to see: answers laid out in tidy blocks, to the point, and correct. “There is nothing worse than reading and searching pages of guff for small amounts of real content. Clearly tabulated answers tell the marking person what the pupil knows, and no time is wasted coming to conclusion about the value of the answers”. I never forgot that and advised our son to that effect, when it was his time to pass university exams, which he did brilliantly.
After the graduation ceremony the class scattered, and it was only rarely that there was news about a member in the Pharmacy Journal or elsewhere.
When news of the 50th year jubilee of BPharm reached me, I was interested to see my old Alma Mater and Dunedin, the city where so much of my growing up took place. One worry was that ours having been a tiny class, no one of the group would attend. After a request about who was attending, news came that Richard Griffith was coming as well as some others who were in some of my classes but did not graduate with me. Great news indeed!
I am so pleased I persuaded my husband to come with me, inducement of visiting Central Otago vineyards afterwards gave him impetus to do so.
There were some familiar faces, mostly of the class after us and some who graduated before because they had their first year accredited, having practiced pharmacy in some capacity already. Richard was the only one there who graduated with me. It was great to exchange life stories.
One of the most memorable parts of the occasion was the welcome speech by Professor Fastier. Just like the exam answers he liked, the speech was short, sharp and to the point!
After all those years it was great to find that I did not need to introduce myself to Dr Fastier, nor Mr Rob McKeown. They both remembered me, and I was pleased to see them still looking and doing well.
During our conversations at the midday function, Dr Fastier explained that he gave up pharmacology teaching and took up philosophy! Clearly a mind relentlessly active, even at age 93! When asked if he would like a ride home, he replied that “No thank you. I will catch the bus, as always”.
That is the last time I saw him, walking off slowly, wearing his overcoat and carrying the bag of memorabilia, to catch the bus!
During dinner that night, I set next to Mr Rob McKeown and with Richard Griffith and wives. It was a wonderful occasion, not to be forgotten, like the people that made it so!
Rest in Peace Fred Fastier!
Dr Charles McKinnon (Mack) HOLMES MB ChB (Otago) FFARACS, FFARCS
11 June 1935— 26 March 2020
Dr Mack Holmes died peacefully in Dunedin Hospital on 26 March 2020 after a brief illness arising from renal failure. He was born in Dunedin on 11 June 1935 and educated in part at Harrow after WW2, following his father’s wartime service as an agricultural advisor for the British government. In 1949 the family returned to Dunedin, when his father was appointed the founding Superintendent of the Invermay Agricultural Research Station. Mack completed his education at Otago Boys High School before entering Otago Medical School, graduating MB ChB in 1958. After two years in resident positions in Dunedin Hospital, he commenced his anaesthetic training in 1961 as an anaesthetic registrar in the department in Dunedin and was only the second such registrar from the Dunedin Department to be awarded a prestigious Nuffield Clinical Assistantship to continue postgraduate studies in the Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics in Oxford.
When Mack arrived in Oxford with his family to take up the scholarship in early 1962, the Nuffield Department had been undertaking ongoing studies on post-operative pain with which Mack became involved resulting in several publications. However before he left Dunedin, Mack had recently re-discovered the so-called Bier’s block, and while in Oxford, with the newer safer local analgesic agents then available he was able to investigate the technique and re-popularised it as a very simple method of providing anaesthesia for hand and arm procedures. The technique of intravenous regional analgesia immediately caught on and led to several publications and speaking engagements for Mack. His 1963 landmark paper in the Lancet gave worldwide publicity to the technique, which soon became generally used by non-anaesthetists as well and is still accepted as the modern-day revitalisation of the technique. Mack completed his English fellowship in in Oxford in 1963, before returning to Dunedin in 1965 to a position as specialist anaesthetist at Dunedin Hospital and Lecturer in Anaesthesia at the Otago Medical School.
Mack’s analytical mind and innovative approach resulted in a change from traditional techniques to the eventual avoidance of nitrous oxide and various vapour supplements to very low flow systems and wholly intravenous narcotic techniques, about which he published widely. Simultaneously he championed the undesirability of pollution in the operating theatre and contributed to establishing a passive scavenging system in the Dunedin operating theatres early 1973-74. In 1972 with the proposed introduction of a cardiac surgery unit for the South Island, he was responsible along with Dr Trevor Dobbinson and Professor Pat Molloy for setting up the cardiac theatre and post-operative cardiac care unit. In 1969 he was elected Fellow of the Faculty of Anaesthetics of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and in 1970 promoted to Senior Lecturer.
Mack’s regular attendance at New Zealand and overseas anaesthetic meetings and his popularity as a speaker soon lead to an appreciation of his innovative and discerning mind, and that his audience could always guarantee to be educated and entertained. His repertoire of humorous anecdotes was legend. He was the author or co-author of more than 30 papers, as well as an excellent monograph on the story of Sir Robert Macintosh, “A Famous New Zealander”, who occupied the foundation Chair of Anaesthesia in the Nuffield Department of Anaesthesia, University of Oxford, the first such chair in the UK.
Mack was elected to the New Zealand regional committee of the Faculty of Anaesthetists of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in the 1970s, becoming Faculty Chairman in 1978. In 1982 he was elected to the Board of Faculty and appointed honorary librarian there from 1982 to 90, chairman of the education committee 1985, and until 1987 both a Primary examiner for 12 years and occasional Final examiner, retiring from the Board of Faculty in 1990. The New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists honoured him with life membership in 2009. He also had a love for languages and was fluent in conversational French with a good working knowledge and understanding of Russian which he learned at a University of Otago summer school before visiting the Soviet Union in 1976, as well as Italian, German and Mandarin (also from a Summer School).
Outside of medicine his life was more than full, with a growing family of four sons and their demands. He was a competent sailor and a qualified private pilot. His love of aviation led him to become an aviation medical examiner and a life member of the Otago Aero Club. Mack’s first wife had died suddenly in 1978 and he married Lyn in 1981. He enjoyed the outdoor life and loved exploring Otago’s scenery from the Strath Taieri to the Southern Alps, and even at the age of 80 went tramping with the family. In retirement he qualified as a scuba-diver and reported with great glee an encounter with a friendly seal whilst diving off the Mole at the entrance to Otago Harbour.
He retired from his Dunedin Hospital position in 1992 to take up full-time private practice at the Mercy Hospital where he had been in part-time private practice since the mid-1970s. Following retirement from anaesthetic practice in 2007, he continued for a time working as a medical officer doing locums in some of the provincial hospitals. In his complete retirement there was plenty to keep him occupied; he became a volunteer and active member of the Dunedin gasworks museum and a volunteer on the Taieri Gorge Railway.
Mack Holmes will be remembered as a talented dedicated anaesthetist who took a strong interest in teaching registrars and mentoring them for their future roles. He will be sadly missed by friends, colleagues, and family alike. He is survived by his wife Lyn, four sons, a stepdaughter and six grandchildren, one of whom he had only a few months earlier seen become a member of the fourth generation of Holmes to attend the University of Otago.
The late Professor Robbie Robertson: a son of Fiji and the Pacific
Last week, many in the international USP community mourned the passing away in Melbourne of a former USP academic in History and Politics, Professor Robbie Robertson, whose life's work focused on many painful themes that are still relevant for Fiji and USP.
While he was a citizen of NZ and Australia, Robbie could legitimately also be called a "son of Fiji and the Pacific", judging by the quantity and quality of academic work he did on Fiji and the Pacific, all imbued with his deep passionate commitment to ordinary working people, regardless of race, class, gender or creed.
With USP recently going through the throes of Fiji's expulsion of an "expatriate" vice chancellor who was exposing skeletons left behind by the previous administration, it is no coincidence that forty years ago, Professor Robbie Robertson was also denied a work visa by the Fiji Government because he and his partner Akosita Tamanisau (then a journalist at a very different Fiji Sun) were researching the hidden sides of the Rabuka coup.
USP and the Fiji public need to ponder on the great contributions made by this "expatriate" academic, Professor Robbie Robertson, to the intellectual life of Pacific students, staff and the wider regional community.
Robbie also brought international academic experience to USP, having worked for Australasian universities like La Trobe, ANU, James Cook University, and Swinburne University of Technology.
As many of his former USP friends recollect with great nostalgia, Robbie also loved living life to the fullest, socializing merrily with family and friends at USP and in the drinking holes of Suva.
Robbie also planted deep roots in the DNA of Fiji and the Pacific with his decades of joyful partnership with Akosita (Jita) Tamanisau. Jita was not only deeply committed to community in Fiji and Bendigo (Australia), but helped steer Robbie's ship of life and provided the greatest of care during his last months.
A quality academic
Robbie was a graduate of Otago University just a couple of years after I had passed through that august institution.
From his earliest days Robbie opposed senseless wars, rejecting the NZ military draft for service in Vietnam, much to his parents' chagrin.
As Professor Vijay Naidu remembers, Robbie was recruited at USP in 1980 as Lecturer in History. Vijay introduced him to the sights of Suva low-cost housing and squatter settlements that were the emerging evidence in Fiji, as elsewhere, of uneven developments of capitalism and globalization that Robbie later wrote extensively about.
Robbie became a close friend of Dr William Sutherland, also a USP lecturer in history and politics but who happened to be a close adviser to the Bavadra Government which was brutally removed by the Rabuka coup in 1987.
Deemed an enemy by the Rabuka Government then, William Sutherland had to flee Fiji.
Robbie and his partner Akosita Tamanisau (a dynamic journalist at the Fiji Sun) then began gathering the underbelly stories of the 1987 coup but soon came under malign surveillance of the Rabuka authorities. Robbie's work permit was rescinded.
Getting married to Akosita in a rush, Robbie was forced to leave Fiji. He and Akosita were welcomed by Helen and William Sutherland in Canberra, before settling in Bendigo where he began teaching at a campus of La Trobe University.
Expelling USP academics: some progress?
It is interesting how powerful Fiji government use the same language when illegally expelling dissident academics they disapprove of.
Few at USP today will remember that in the early seventies, there was a Professor of Mathematics, Theo MacDonald (then also supervising my own aborted Masters in Mathematics), who was a radical teacher inspiring students into social activism.
When a powerful politician's car in a rush to get to Nausori Airport, mowed down a pedestrian without anyone being prosecuted, anonymous pamphlets were strewn around Suva documenting that terrible breach of human rights of an ordinary citizen.
Professor MacDonald who had to fly to Australia with his sick daughter was held responsible for inciting the pamphlets and banned by the Alliance Government from returning to Fiji. The massive protests by USP students and staff were ignored by the USP management and of course the Fiji Government.
Professor Vijay Naidu recalls that similarly when Robbie's work permit was revoked by the Rabuka Government in 1988 claiming that the "NZ Man was a security risk" Robbie and his wife also fled to Australia. Attempts to relocate Robbie to Vanuatu proved futile as the Vanuatu Government did not facilitate the move.
But it is worth noting that when Professor Ahluwalia was recently expelled by the Fiji government alleging that he was a security risk to Fiji (but really for exposing the skeletons left behind by the previous VC), the reactions of the other Pacific Member countries of USP have been different.
USP relocated Professor Pal Ahluwalia to Nauru and now to Samoa. This is some progress of sorts but the expulsion need not have happened in the first place.
While the latest Vice Chancellor has been offered a new contract, this is still opposed by the Fiji Government which is refusing to pay its debts to USP for Fiji students being taught.
Perhaps USP can take heart that Professor Robbie Robertson was eventually allowed to return to Fiji and USP where he worked for several more years as Professor of Development Studies contributing to teaching, researching, writing and publishing.
Robbie's great books on the Fiji coups
One of Robbie's lasting legacies to Fiji was his thorough examination of the military coups of 1987, 2000 and 2006 generating much academic debate among supporters and opponents of each of the coups.
Robbie and Akosita Tamanisau wrote the book Shattered Coups about the 1987 Rabuka-led coups and its hidden underbelly, with much evidence contrary to the alleged objectives of the ethno-nationalists espoused by a few senior USP academics then.
Robbie and Dr William Sutherland then co-authored the readable, Government by the Gun: the unfinished business of Fiji's 2000 Coup, again shedding more light on the behind the scenes events which gave the lie to the ethnonationalist propaganda.
More recently in 2017 through ANU Press, Robbie published The General's Goose: Fiji's contemporary tale of misadventure, trying to make sense of the 2006 coup in the context of the previous coups.
While most of us USP academics were united in our opposition to the 1987 and 2000 coups (and many of us suffered in various ways from the 1987 coup), the 2006 coup was also divisive in that quite a few senior USP academics and former academics (mostly Indo-Fijian) gave tacit and active support to it, believing in Bainimarama's rhetoric of racial equality for all in Fiji.
Over the last three years, I discussed with Robbie at length my personal belief that his 2017 book The General's Goose, while a great source for students and academics, offered too generous a perspective on the fundamental causes of the so-called "Bainimarama revolution" and "Clean-up Campaign".
I felt that it in discussing the origins of the 2006 coup, it did not give sufficient weight to its genesis in the 2000 coup, and specifically Bainimarama's "inexplicable" nonchalant disregard of military intelligence (by Colonel Vilame Seruvakoula) giving details of the impending coup, his "inexplicable" ambivalent policies regarding salaries and rations continuing to go to the CRW soldiers holding hostages in Parliament (the Evans Inquiry Report), nor of any shared responsibility for the subsequent deaths in military custody of five CRW soldiers allegedly involved in the 2000 mutiny but probably innocent.
While well documented in Robbie's book but I believe also not given sufficient weight are the convincing views of Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes (an Australian), US Ambassador Larry Dinger and NZ High Commissioner (the late Michael Green), nor is there sufficient weight given to the long brutal censorship years after the 2006 coup culminating in the rigidly managed elections of 2014 according to an imposed and rigged electoral system which had the appearance of racial equality. These are all matters still outstanding in the political dialogue in Fiji and requiring deeper academic scrutiny.
But Robbie was not a slave to his ego or his views and we agreed to disagree, while respecting each others views, as all true academics ought to do, and unfortunately all too often don't.
I personally feel (and Akosita agrees) that if Robbie had the time to do another book on where Fiji is today, his perspectives on the "Clean-up Campaign" might also change, given what the Fiji public knows today about the corporate financing of a certain political party during the elections of 2014 and 2018, and the economic disaster that has been visited on Fiji by those wielding power, not to mention the gross mishandling of the COVID crisis.
Robbie also wrote chapters in books and academic articles about a whole range of Fijian and Pacific issues: NZ ("Government Unemployment Policy in NZ"), Vanuatu ("The People Stand UP: Vanuatu's Foreign Policies in the 1980s") the Pacific ("The Pacific Plan" and "The Pacific Plan and Labour Mobility") and China ("The Cultural Revolution"),
Robbie's International works
It is important for USP students and staff who have just gone through the trauma of seeing their expatriate Vice Chancellor expelled from Fiji, to appreciate what good expatriate academics bring to the USP community, such as academic issues of interest to the global academic community.
This is easily seen from the international books Robbie published over the years: The contemporary era (1984, USP); The Making of the Modern World (1986 Zed Press, London); and The Three Waves of Globalization (Zed Books, 2003).
Robbie was working on another book of global interest (Civilization of Globalization: how we became modern) at the time of his passing and was close to completion.
USP students and staff today must ponder on their good fortune in being taught by excellent international academics like Professor Robbie Robertson who could have worked for much higher salaries and perks at developed country universities where he was accepted over the years not just as Professor but also Head of Departments and Faculties.
Robbie served at La Trobe University as Associate Professor of History and Development Studies, at ANU, and University of Otago. Apart from his stints at USP, his last two substantive posts were at James Cook University (Queensland) and Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne).
At James Cook University he was Professor and Head of School of Arts and Social Sciences and I had the good fortune that with his assistance and that of Professor Hurriyet Babajan (then Head of the Cairns Institute) I was granted a Visiting Professorship after I had been pushed out from USP in 2011. Both Professor Biman Prasad and I are still Adjunct Professors at The Cairns Institute to this day, giving us a scholarly link to higher education in Australia.
When informed of Robbie's passing, the Office of the Vice Chancellor at JCU (Professor Sandra Harding) promptly replied:
"Robbie Robertson provided significant leadership at James Cook University during his time as Professor and Head of the School of Arts and Social Sciences. .. [he wanted] education to be inclusive, conscientiously promoting the democratisation of higher education.... a potentially liberating force that should be available to all who could benefit. Those who knew and worked with him at JCU have stories of his tenacity, strength of character, support for others and dignified approach in all matters.,, a man of great integrity ..a very genuine and kind human being. His professional and academic colleagues are saddened by the news of his passing.”
On learning of his passing away, the Vice Chancellor of Swinburne University of Technology (Professor Pascale Quester) told his University community that "Robbie was inaugural Dean of the School of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities from July 2014 until his retirement in July 2019. His leadership during this time was highly valued by both staff and students.. Robbie was known for his reflective and measured demeanour. He was admired at Swinburne for his scholarship and sustained advocacy for academics across teaching, research and leadership in the School of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. He offered myriad large and small career opportunities for school staff, both academic and professional, during his time as dean. [we] acknowledge Robbie’s significant contribution to the university and thank him for his dedication."
These are indeed words of high praise by two Australian vice chancellors of very large universities of international standing.
Robbie's contemporaries at USP
Robbie's USP and regional contemporaries also had similar views to those of the two Australian VCs.
Professor Biman Prasad (former Dean of the Faculty of Business and Economics and currently Leader of the National Federation Party in the Fiji Parliament) wrote "Robbie will be missed by all his academic colleagues, friends and students. His writings on Fiji will remain his legacy and will remind all of us of his concerns about Fiji and it’s future."
Dr Jacqueline Leckie, a former lecturer at USP, remembers Robbie as her tutor when she was a student at Otago University. She recollects that he was instrumental in her first lecturing job at USP. She recollects, "I learned so much from him as a colleague and he was so supportive professionally... [he shared a sense of political outrage - and also hope - and how to pass on that passion in an academic way to our students".
Dr Ganesh Chand an Economics Lecturer and contemporary of Robbie (and later Vice Chancellor of University of Fiji as well as Fiji National University) recollects that Robbie was a good friend and advisor on many things, academic and non-academic. He appreciated that Robbie contributed with articles to the nascent Journal of Fijian Studies edited by Dr Ganesh Chand and also published a book with the Fiji Institute of Applied Studies.
Professor Stuart Firth of ANU remembers Robbie's "endless curiosity and background knowledge" for all his tasks.
Yvonne Underhill-Sem (Associate Professor at Auckland University) remembers a "beloved Pacific scholar" whose writings remain to "enrich new generations of Pacific scholars".
Also full of life
All his colleagues and friends remember with great joy Robbie and Akosita's frequent parties and socializing.
Friends for fifty years, Helen Sutherland and Dr Jackie Leckie remember not just the great intellectual discussions at Robbie's parties but also his great love of music and amazing collection of cassette tapes which came in handy at his Ska-Meke parties, endless Chinese dinners with family and friends, and escapades like camping on the beach at Natadola.
My own son Amit (a musician) fondly remembers his music jam session with Robbie's son Nemani at the USP campus home of Robbie and Jita in the eighties.
Helen observed that Robbie had the good sense to marry Akosita (Jita) Tamanisau. Helen thought they made an awesome partnership and Jita was patient and unwavering in her love and care for Robbie right to the end.
For Robbie to be Robbie, it helped enormously that he had a soulmate in Akosita (Jita) Tamanisau, daughter of the great Fijian musician, Eremasi Tamanisau (Senior), who equally felt strongly about defending democracy and freedoms as about music and the arts.
After her USP days as a student, Jita became a journalist for the Fiji Sun as a stringer for South Magazine and Gemini News Wire Service, when she and Robbie co-authored their book of the 1987 coup.
She recollects attending the "dinner parties at the Sutherland’s, the Naidu’s or at Jacqui’s, attending political meetings and public lectures and very often unwinding at the Golden Dragon Night Club or at Traps."
She loved and admired Robbie's profound thirst for knowledge and his quintessential ability to share his insights- always thoughtful and always with respect. Then there was Robbie's wit.
After being forced out of Fiji, Akosita related to journalist Malcolm Pullman that although the deportation from Fiji meant that she was unlikely to see her three brothers, two sisters and parents for many years, she deeply believed that "telling the truth about the coups and the politics behind them will be more important in the long run".
Akosita recalled that not just academics but journalists were also the targets of the military government (so what is new might Fiji Times journalists ask today?).
Akosita began a long period of community involvement in Bendigo: on state-wide family violence, Drug & Alcohol, and Homelessness. She even began a women's musical group, the Wahine. supporting each other through their trials and tribulations.
They both took inspiration from Robbie’s sabbaticals, secondments and leadership appointments in other universities. She related "At times we lived separately for years in different countries, in different states and in different cities as the nature of our work invariably demanded. But we continued to maintain and nourish our commitment to each other always finding joy in the company and the great times spent with family friends".
Not too long ago, Akosita and Robbie spent a long evening at my Melbourne home with abundant food and drink, and of course Jita's music with a visiting Fijian friend (Meli), with some videos lost on my computer somewhere.
Robbie's own last words
Perhaps I should leave the last words to Professor Robbie Robertson himself who uniquely and with considerable self-deprecating humor put together words and images for his own end Vale Robbie that ought to be played at the wake that Akosita is planning (currently planned for November in Melbourne - COVID-lockdowns permitting).
Vale Robbie is a lovely visual record of images of his beloved relatives and friends, over the years, all over the world, some mentioned here, but many not. He very appropriately concluded:
"Fiji has changed me in ways that I think would never have been possible had I only lived in NZ or Australia... aside from a host of dismal unempathetic politicians who cannot accept change and have no vision for a better future, my only other disappointment is in the apparent conservatism of my own supposedly once radical generation. A big thank you to all who gave me such a wonderful life...and [quoting Gorbachev] nothing trumps the meaning of life than to love a woman and to be loved by her...I am so glad I experienced this love and the love of my sons Julian and Nemani".
Vale Robbie Robertson.
Professor Wadan Narsey
Former Professor of Economics, USP
Adjunct Professor, James Cook University
[with contributions from: Professor Vijay Naidu, Dr Claire Slatter, Helen Sutherland, Dr Ganesh Chand and Dr Jackie Leckie]
[An earlier version of this appeared in The Fiji Times, 19 June 2021]