The building now looks forlorn and outdated this used to be the rendezvous of young people in the ’60s and ’70s. It was the place to be during weekends and nearly every drunken Fijian young man would aim to be there after his drinks. By 8pm the band would start up the noise and try to attract passersby.
For Isoa Waqabaca, 61, originally of Motokana, Ono-i-Lau, he still reminisces all those good times in the town of Suva. He recalls that he set foot on Suva’s main wharf in 1951 when he was only 19 and he had accompanied others from his island because he wanted to find out whatSuvawas like.
At 19 years of age he finally arrived and stayed in a place called Veiquwawa at Vatuwaqa. “The old Town Hall was opposite the Cable and Wireless building and the only biggest hall at the time. There were many functions held there and even the first Miss Hibiscus was crowned there,” he recalled.
“But we would not go there to dance if we were not drunk so we had to drink first from a club. Unless we were drunk then we could not dance because it was embarrassing for us.”
“We also went there to look for girls but at that time the girls would run away from us because they were scared of us. The tide has turned today and that attitude no longer exists today because nowadays it is the men who are scared and run off because the girls are chasing after them.”
He also said because it was during the colonised era they did not have any security guards at the dance halls in those days. “The police were always on guard and when a fight broke out they would be there to stop it. But no one would dare punch a policeman because they would be severely punished,” he said.
However, for another gentleman who only wanted to be called Tomu, he said that was some of the years in his past that he wanted to erase because it was embarrassing.
“For me, it was a place that I would go in 1965 to ’68 and before going we would have home brew if we cannot afford the beer and then when quite drunk we would make our way to the old Town Hall,” he said. For us what we looked forward to was the brawl after the dance and that was why we always ended up there. We could wear anything to that place so dressing up was not a priority.
Mere who is in her 50s also remembers going to that place with her friends. We would come from Nasinu 9 miles in a truck used to cart cows and would get off atSt John(now Bayly Clinic) so that no one would see us, she said smiling. We would then hurry from there to the old Town Hall and dance the night away but we would keep to our corner. In those days the gang from Raiwaqa would keep to their corner and even those from Delainavesi and others.
“But we would not dare try and make friends with those boys because our boys were always protective of us. Even the street boys were always nice to the girls in those days unlike the ones that we have now who are always trying to steal from us and rape the girls. Those days were always fun and we had good times. She said famous bands in those days at the old Town Hall were the Quin Tikis which is Saimoni Vuatalevu’s band, Trio and Cava Brothers.”
The famous dance was called Bus Stop and girls would wear bell bottom pants with short tops. After the dance they would catch a cab which only cost $2.50 and would run away without paying.
However, according to the book Fiji’s Past on Picture Post Cards by Elsie Stephenson the old Town Hall was formerly named the Queen Victoria Memorial Hall. She died in 1901 and a memorial fund was opened the same year. In 1902 they decided to build a concrete hall with a 70-foot frontage on the sea-ward side of Victoria Parade. It housed the town board rooms and offices on the ground floor while the Mechanics Institute which was also used as the town hall would be on the upper floor.
The foundation stone was laid by Governor Sir Henry Jackson on February 24, 1904. The building cost 2,920 pounds. The building was surrounded by verandahs and iron lacework.
Even the newly-established Museum was given temporary accommodation in the building. At the end of 1904 the light opera ‘Dorothy’ was staged in the hall by a large cast and was the first of many entertainments provided there throughout the years.
Concerts, plays and childrens fancy dress balls, prize givings, public meetings and dances took place in the Town Hall.
In 1919 it was slightly damaged by fire but was repaired. Although a grant of 1000 pounds grant was passed by the Legislative council for improvements of the hall, it was not allowed by the secretary of state. They had wanted verandahs on both sides of the of the hall, a large porch and a clock tower, the board did not have enough revenue.
In 1921 the big German gun was pulled up into the front of the hall but has disappeared after sometimes and there was no track of when and why it disappeared.
In 1960 the new town hall or Civic Centre was erected on reclaimed land and eventually took over the functions of the old Town Hall.
In 1980 the old Town Hall housed the New Suva Aquarium but closed again in 1984.
Now it houses the Vineyard Restaurant, a hair salon and another small eatery while upstairs it houses Greenpeace which is a non governmental organization.