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Wishart's roots in Fiji's history

Daniel Naidu (The Fiji Times)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


                                                             Sabrina Wishart

SABRINA Wishart comes from a family deeply tied to Fiji's history, and she had many interesting stories to share — from World War II in Fiji to the role pigeons once played in The Fiji Times' news chain.

Mrs Wishart's grandfather, Sir Alport Barker, founded the Western Pacific Herald newspaper in 1901, before he bought The Fiji Times from George Griffiths, merging the two newspapers to form The Fiji Times and Herald.

He received his knighthood in 1951, after 50 years as a newspaper owner.

"That was quite a record in those days, for one owner of a newspaper anywhere in the world," Mrs Wishart told The Fiji Times.

Sir Barker, who at various points of his life was also the Fiji Rugby Union president, mayor of Suva, and a member of both the executive and legislative councils, retired to New Zealand during the 1950s, following the death of his wife.

Born in the 1930s, Mrs Wishart would spend much of her childhood in the offices of her grandfather's newspaper.

"My father, Frank Ryan (who married Sir Barker's daughter), was the one and only reporter for The Fiji Times and Herald for a long time," she said.

"He did the court cases, he did the rugby, he would cover musical shows in Suva, and if there was anyone famous passing through, he would go to interview them."

Mrs Wishart attended Suva Girls' Grammar School, and after school she would often visit the office of The Fiji Times and Herald.

"I spent a lot of time running between the offices on Gordon Street and going up the road to the works, and I would amuse myself watching what was going on," she says.

"I don't suppose there was anybody growing up in Suva that spent as much time of their youth sitting beside the linotype operator watching him operate it.

"I suppose I spent hours of my growing up watching that thing working, and I always wanted to be a linotype operator, and I think if I had a chance, I would have been, but of course it wasn't considered proper for a young lady to be a linotype operator."


While a linotype machine is a far cry from the technology that produces the newspaper today, many people would be surprised to find out that pigeons once played an important role in The Fiji Times' news delivery.

Recalling a story by her father, Mrs Wishart told us about the newspaper's operations before the technology of telegraphs arrived in Fiji.

"When the Fiji Times was run from Levuka, prior to 1900, it had a pigeon-gram service," she says.

"Mr C. Coldwell, a great pigeon fancier, had lofts at his home in Desvouex Road and regularly sent messages to Levuka and other places on a pigeon's leg, and it would fly to Levuka with the messages, and be retrieved by Mr Griffiths, the owner.

"He would then send the pigeon back, perhaps with another message."

This practice ended when cable was laid through the Suva harbour in 1902, enabling telegraphs to be sent.

World War II

Growing up during World War II, Mrs Wishart remembers many rather amusing stories from Fiji during the war. In anticipation of a Japanese invasion, a New Zealand army unit stationed a huge gun on their property, which had a good view of the harbour.

"My mother was not pleased at all, she did not want a gun there," she said.

"If a Japanese plane had flown over they would have seen it, and they could have dropped a bomb and our house would have gone up!"

Not that the Suva harbour was guarded at night.

"A relation of mine by marriage was on duty guarding the passage on Nukulau Island — they went out there in the morning, and would come home at half past four in the afternoon," she recounts.

On another occasion, she says, the home guard, or the local soldiers who guarded Fiji, were all found sleeping outside the post office, not realising that only half of them were to sleep at once.

Growing up in Fiji

Mrs Wishart says growing up in Fiji, and in the newsroom in particular, meant that issues of race were never a problem for her.

"I count myself as fortunate, because I learnt to mix with people of different races from a very early age," she said, speaking about the newsroom, school and her domestic staff.

During the war and its aftermath she says children had to entertain themselves.

Mrs Wishart says she remembers swimming, visiting friends, the odd ice cream from the shop and visit to either the Regal or Civic theatres. In the absence of computers, and mobile phones, people would listen to BBC on the radio, which required a motor to run.

She met her husband, Jack Wishart in Fiji, before they moved to England, and she has two sons.

She now spends her time between the Channel Islands, in the UK, and Suva, which she considers to be her true home.

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