In that lost year in not so tropic night
waiting to fly out early there wasn’t
much to do
but slump in a bar
with a not so good threesome, a ukelele trio.
Took the bus to Nadi
township, like we had when we were country
kids: slat/slab seats, roll curtains.
It should have been a Reo or Republic with
an ooraoora horn. Not better to travel than arrive
at the Bula Festival. That’s what the publicity
called it. That, man, was festival
especially the wall
eyed bloke cadging whatever to help hike himself
back home outside Suva because he hadn’t found
work in the canefields.
I could believe him, without
being naïve. When he scarpered back into the bar
he was welcome to it. We’d looked in there
after a short trot around fish stall, sweetmeat stalls,
a no way puppet booth, watched tennis under arclights
back to the airport with our colonial
guilt’s leftwing indignation. For more than one
but this trip, a dishonesty different
in kind, this was an all jazzed up inter
national airport. Between walkway and gallery,
dutyfree and coffeeshop,
more smooth a working.
Maybe the gone Bula Festival had more style to it:
bus pulling out, curtains flopping, victim of colonial
outrage making it at the last moment, hunkered
away from us beside the driver, rolling his walleye.
Guilt is common, or fear of being found out
as he went to work on the next lot.
a failing cry “Joseph!” from an Indian
accountant under the arcs, “It’s my serve.
At the hotel the trio
still played tiredly. Your last drink tastes
of anger. Was it all like this
in the Treaty Ports?
Kendrick Smithyman was born in Te Kopuru, a small town near Dargaville, in 1922, but he spent most of his life in Auckland. After serving in the New Zealand armed forces during World War II he worked as a primary and intermediate school teacher before being appointed Senior Tutor in the English Department of Auckland University, a post that he held from 1963 until his retirement in 1987.
Smithyman was a prolific poet as well as a critic and editor and was honoured for his contributions to literature by the award of an OBE in 1990.
When he died in 1995 he left five unpublished collections of poetry (three of which have now been published by AUP and the Holloway Press), as well as the vast archive of his ‘Collected Poems’. Peter Simpson is currently engaged in the task of placing those poems on a website sponsored by The Holloway Press and Auckland University.
The following note on the poem was provided by Margaret Edgcumbe:
‘ “Nadi” [pronounced: nandi] is the second poem in the unpublished book Festives/ People/ Book/ Places/ Pictures, where Smithyman describes his travels in October and November 1981 as a guest at Toronto’s Harbourfront International Authors’ Festival. He left Auckland on a night flight and the first stopover was made at midnight in the airconditioned lounge of the Nadi International Airport, Fiji. There he recalled his previous, longer, visit to Fiji in 1969.
‘As the son of an Englishman who had worked in the Fiji sugar plantations before World War 1 (see Imperial Vistas Family Fictions, Auckland University Press, 2002) he was accustomed to feeling “our colonial/ guilt’s leftwing indignation”, and sensitive to signs of inequality and the decay of the indigenous culture. In 1969 he noted an unemployed canecutter cadging money, while tennis playing accountants exchanged outdated schoolboy slang. And there was the ironically named Bula (Fijian for “welcome”) Festival, with its tired and uninviting stalls. However, on that first trip he did enjoy the windowless Fijian buses, which reminded him of his childhood in Northland and the vehicles produced by two famous American companies of the Depression years. (Their horns made a most satisfying “ooraoora” noise.)
‘In the “jazzed up” modern airport in 1981, unable to work up any enthusiasm for the shops and entertainments, those feelings of guilt and indignation remain, and he finishes by considering Fiji’s experience in the light of other examples of colonial enclaves in Asia and the Pacific. He asks, “Was it at all like this/ in the Treaty Ports?” ’