It was small. Apart from crudely hand-made posters and some radio advertising, there was not too much publicity about it. Many people in Suva were not aware of it because the whole Festival was contained within the Town Hall- now Vineyard. Suva Rotary Club had offered to operate a few stalls inside the hall, there were some musical entertainment and that was that!
These stalls operated on Friday night but the serious business commenced after midday on the Saturday.
More than 20 young ladies vying for Miss Hibiscus title. As happened every year, since there was a ‘public judging’ curtains were closed and a panel of judges mixed with the contestants discussing the same topics that be raised in 1995- current affairs, knowledge of Fiji and particularly of Suva, general knowledge and all the topics that Suva’s ambassadress should be able to discuss.
By this time, the hall was packed, more than to capacity with an excited and impatient crowd- swelled by the presence of the crew of an Italian Navy vessel who must surely have wondered just what they had struck! The police had tried to lock the doors of the Hall but no avail- the entrances were jammed with the people.
We have mentioned that government workers were not permitted to wear coloured shirts on the Saturday morning. Well some of them decided to defy this prohibition and on the Friday they were delighted when the Governor of Fiji himself Sir Ronald Garvey arrived at Town Hall in a brilliant red BulaÂ Â shirt and with his colonial white pith helmet spray-painted silver and with the wordÂ “Bula”Â emblazoned on it.
It is understood that he unofficially gave permission for colored shirts to be worn next morning. If the Governor’s shirt was red, the faces of his senior civil servants were even redder as the Directors of Health, Public Works, Education and so on went scurrying among the small shops in search of “Bula” shirts! The Suva Hibiscus Festival had certainly arrived.
So successful was the first Festival that by 1957 it had become a 3 day event and there were 38 contestants vying for the crown and a trip to Honolulu. The years rolled by and the Hibiscus Festival became a long affair- a very important week in Suva’s calendar.
The week long event became overtly successful and it became too big for the Junior Chamber and was handed over to a Hibiscus Festival Association. Songs were written to serenade “Ms Hibiscus”, the Festival and the flower itself; 1 year the post office issued special stamps to mark the occasion; cruise ships re-arranged their schedules to accommodate the Festival.
But after 30 years, the Festival had acquired a certain sameness – a sense of boredom threatened to kill the fun and in the mid 1980s, the Association had to announce that there would be no Festival that year.
The Lord Mayor of Suva could not accept this and called a public meeting to try to inject a new life into the Festival. The Association, although tried, still had enough energy to oppose this move to insist that they still owned the registered name of Â Hibiscus Festival and the Suva Hibiscus Carnival was born and like some phoenix continues on the same path of success.