From Fijitimes Online (18 September 2010)

A change worth reliving

by Harold Koi

Dr. John Fatiaki

IT'S amazing when you hear of eight students who attended the same class in the same school and then becoming doctors later on. It was like any other class, but this one in particular had 33 students who attended Natabua High School. It was the class of the '70s. Medical practitioner, John Fatiaki, a former student and Natabua School quiz team captain, bears testimony to this incredible achievement.

He believes a major factor towards this was the steadfast academic program the school pushed and its pursuit of discipline. "If there's one thing I remember, they had an excellent academic program and wonderful relationships within a multi-racial school," he said. At first he was reluctant to attend Natabua, preferring instead to stay at Marist Brothers' High School in Suva where he had just started Form Three. Unfortunately, his father was transferred to the West as divisional education officer and the young Fatiaki had no choice in the matter.

However, he said Natabua was nothing like what he thought it would be. "I thought it was a school for cane farmers, but now I absolutely wouldn't change anything from my past at all," Dr Fatiaki said. Immediately settling in with new friends in 1973, Dr Fatiaki tuned into the school's academic program. He later became captain of the quiz team and represent the school in oratory contests in 1974 and 1975.

From then on, he spent time with the quiz team and quiz teacher Feizal Khan. Other students engaged in other activities in their spare time, Dr Fatiaki and his colleagues studied. He lived close to the school and had a lot of time to interact with the boarders.

Dr Fatiaki said he was also fond of extra curriculum activities at Natabua such as the cadet unit for boys. "It was a unit of about 250 of us," he said. "The girl's unit was formed later. "I remember the late Mere Lomaloma, Noelene Powell and Jessie Ah Tong. "We had drills every Friday afternoon, parades in the grounds and were lucky to join an attachment at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks with the Queen Victoria School platoon."We also attended a firing exercise at the firing range—these things are not done now." Dr Fatikai has five brothers and one sister. His sister and younger brother Eric also attend Natabua in 1974–75.

"At Natabua I had a great respect for students of other races because the school at that time was predominantly Indo-Fijian. Some of them became my best friends. "For me, it was particularly unique because Indo-Fijians in the West spoke Fijian better than I did, particularly the boarders. Compared to Marist, it was very common—indigenous Fijians spoke fluent Hindi."Dr Fatiaki said there was no racial barrier back then but culturally it wasn't normal to hang out with students of other races."We had fantastic teachers like Mrs Wilkinson who taught chemistry and Dip Narayan Singh. There was also B Karan who taught biology. He was educated in England and BK Reddy, a former tennis champion," he recalled.

"I remember physical education teacher Viliame Saulekaleka who passed away recently, Mr Kumaran who became director of Energy in Fiji some 10 years later and Hari Raj Naicker, the soccer man who used to teach geography." When asked about peer pressure challenging students at the time, Dr Fatikaki said drugs were unheard of. They enjoyed events like the Fiji Secondary Schools athletics competition and hockey tournaments but didn't face problems like truancy, drugs and other problems students experience these days.

"Truancy was a not issue in our time," he said.

"I was surprised about how students preferred to stay in school. I guess a lot of students came from poor families and were keen to fulfil their education." Dr Fatiaki said students of Natabua should be proud and uphold the traditions of the school."My congratulations to the staff and the school for achieving 80 years of history," he said.