A New Zealand treasure with a Fiji connection: Fiji language week 2013

A New Zealand treasure with a Fiji connection: Fiji language week 2013

This latest blogpost for Fiji language week is from Rachel Yates (Curator Pacific Cultures). The theme for this week’s inaugural Fijian language week is, Noqu Vosa, Noqu iYau Talei: My Language, My Treasure. Thinking of treasures, this blog looks at a New Zealand treasure and its special relationship with Fiji, one that you might not have known about before.

Before cool and quirky All Black, Hobbit and Middle Earth-inspired commercials and safety videos; before flashy designed uniforms from successful Kiwi fashion designer Trelise Cooper, Air New Zealand, the national airline of New Zealand (responsible for transporting over 11 million passengers a year) was originally known as TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Limited).

Poster, ‘Fiji Fly Teal’, Arthur Thompson; 1950s; New Zealand. Purchased 2001. Te Papa (GH009293)
Poster, ‘Fiji By Air By Teal’, Arthur Thompson; artist; 1950s; New Zealand. Purchased 2001. Te Papa (GH009290)

These rare posters are from the 1950s and part of the History Collection at Te Papa.  The posters advertise Fiji as a tourist destination for New Zealanders. Fiji was very popular for TEAL, so popular that the first ever formal representation of TEAL outside of New Zealand was in Nadi, Fiji in 1956.

Fiji was also the first stop of the famous “Coral Route” that TEAL started in 1951.  The route ran from Auckland, New Zealand to Papeete, Tahiti via Suva in Fiji, Samoa, Aitutaki in the Cook islands. At the time of its introduction it was described as one of the most glamorous and luxurious air routes in the world, where passengers would island hop from one exotic place to another. In 2001, Air New Zealand celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first flying boat service along the coral route.

Mark III Solent flying boat taking off from Fiji (source: http://www.teal.co.nz) Flying boat, Suva, Fiji (source: National Library of New Zealand)

These photos were taken at Suva’s Laucala Bay which is now the location for the University of the South Pacific.  As the pictures depict, travel to Fiji along with many other international flights during this period were facilitated by flying boats.  Flying boats, enabled take offs and landings to be done on water, making more locations accessible and less expensive than land-based runways.

The TEAL flying boats were in operation from 1951-1960 and were actually how Queen Elizabeth travelled to Fiji as part of her royal tour at the end of 1953.  Interestingly, this was also her first flight ever on a commercial airliner.

Fiji Royal Tour 1953 photographer Brian Brake, 1953. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001. Te Papa (CT.045267)

There is some fantastic footage from this visit from New Zealand Film Archives that documents the royal trip along with the celebrations and reception of the tour by the Fijian people, whom at the time were a colony of Britain.

Air New Zealand continues to fly regularly to Fiji and the wider Pacific. However, unlike the Coral Route of former days, air travel is no longer the preserve of wealthy New Zealanders. Competition with other airlines, the availability of air travel and the movement of people in a globalising world has meant that more people travel more often. Air New Zealand continues to play an important role in one’s connection to the Fijian Islands.

5 Fijian Terms for today:

New Zealand : Niu Siladi

Flying Ship/Aeroplane: Waqa-vuka

Harbour: Toba

Route: Sala

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