Point of Origin | Jannif in the ’60s (Part 3): St Paul’s, UE year, Maori culture and the twins
29 May, 2023, 10:01 pm
The 1960s are not referred to as the swinging ’60s for no reason.
The cultural revolution against the old-world ways by the new world youth truly heralded the age of Aquarius.
From the technological advancements in computers, flight, and space exploration, to the fashion, political upheaval, rebellion and nonconformity, the Vietnam war protests, the environmental and ecological movements, the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement, the feminism, the cold war, nuclear testing and disarmament protests, the drugs, and who could forget the music.
It was a time of vigorous forward thrusting and yet a tinge of uncertainty hung in the air as nearly every convention of life had changed, or had at least been challenged, by the counterculture.
Right here at home there was a proverbial scrum by political leaders at the time over independence and remaining a colony.
You name it, if something changed in the world it probably started to swing in the ’60s.
In New Zealand, the ’60s was the kindling of the Maori renaissance, as the Maori population dwindled in comparison to the pakeha and their culture and language began to slip beneath the waves of time.
So started the conflict, the radical battle for New Zealand’s arts and culture — it’s very soul — by Maori activists for their preservation, with a series of bombings shaking Auckland at the end of the decade.
In 1963, Ikbal Jannif enrolled as a border at Auckland’s St Paul’s College.
St Paul’s All Boys Catholic Secondary School opened in 1903 by the Marist Brothers originally as Sacred Heart College.
In the book ‘Memories of Fiji and Beyond’, co-authored by the late Mr Jannif and 12 of his classmates, he wrote of the first time he was living with guys all around the same age.
“Unlike others who have experienced boarding life, I thoroughly enjoyed it,” he said.
He had gone to St Paul’s to prepare for the University Entrance Exam and was placed in the lower sixth form with others who were also preparing for this dreaded exam.
There was some trouble coming to an understanding of his Senior Cambridge results.
“The results were confusing in that you earned grades A1, A2, B3, B4, C5 and so on with 1 being the best.
“The lower your total, the better the pass.”
Having done Form Six at Marist Brothers’ High School, he was well ahead of his New Zealand counterparts in English, maths, chemistry, and very much ahead in physics which, for many, was a totally new subject.
In a way similar way to the division of athletes, and students in general along lines of assumed hierarchy, here in Fiji, the borders in St Paul’s were divided by the school’s administration.
“As boarders, we were divided into three groups — senior, intermediate and junior.
“We attended mass four times during the week, and on Sundays. Weekends off was once a term.”
While singing was never something Mr Jannif would have included as a skill on his curriculum vitae, somehow, he found himself doing just that while at St Paul’s.
“Although I considered myself tone deaf, I was selected to be part of the choir. It seemed that Brother Koska either recognised my hidden talent or was desperate for numbers.”
There always seems to be a struggle with hunger in boarding school, and this was no different to what he saw and experienced first-hand at St Paul’s.
“Anyone who has been to boarding school will know that boarders are always starving.
“The highlight of our day was the biscuit line that formed when Brother Rupert, the school bursar, would hand out biscuits as an afternoon snack. With nearly 200 boarders, he often found it difficult to keep track of those who re-joined the queue for a second serve.”
However, it was not all famine, in fact he would breathe a sigh of relief because of the system of accreditation used in New Zealand at the time.
“New Zealand had a system of accreditation which exempted students who performed consistently well in term exams from sitting the University Entrance Exam. I thought that this provision was only for New Zealand students.”
He jumped for joy when his name was also called on the list of exempted students.
“Yippee! No exam for me, and to tell you the truth, I did not shed a tear for my classmates who were still to face ordeal in Fiji.”
He may have been 2000 kilometres away from home, but the family’s traditional annual audit of academic results continued upon his
return to Fiji at the end of the school year.
“Every year we would gather for a family meeting where each of us would have our year’s performance analysed, and the following year’s courses planned.”
When the family council sat in December, 1963, a change of academic direction was deemed in order.
“I was encouraged to consider changing from science and medicine to accounting and business studies.”
He went back in 1964 to begin the tedious task of enrolling.
“Enrolling was complicated and time-consuming. We had to visit each head of school and have our course plan approved and signed.”
His first attempt at accounting was not the triumph shared by the “counterculturalists’”around the world during the decade, but his efforts in
economics and commercial law proved to be sensational.
If high school maths was not enough, he had to sit university maths, which was differed vastly to the former, but he conquered it on the third attempt.
He was not alone in New Zealand, his older sister had gone before him, and in 1965 his younger sister joined them in Auckland.
In 1966, his older sister returned to Fiji and the two youngest sisters joined him there.
“We formed the Fiji Club, and I became its second president.”
He joined the Maori Club with Anu Patel and they experienced Maori culture during the time of its revival, attending many Maori functions and marae.
“The University Maori Rugby team took part in some local competition.
“The team lost more often than it won, but no one was counting.”
The real success was the after party which was judged on the number of beer bottles emptied.
“Because I did not drink, I was quickly made honorary treasurer, in charge of collecting the empties and selling them to raise funds for the following week’s game.”
He volunteered to become treasurer of the Geographical Club, which took him on field trips all over the North Island.
One of these, a trip to Mayor Island, turned out to be a real adventure.
“The side trip to White Island was aborted because the local volcano was ‘playing up’.
“The seas on the boat ride back to Napier were rather nasty on account of the weather and nearly everyone on the boat was seasick.”
The folks back at home were not impressed, at all, when news of this adventure broke in Fiji.
He took a break in 1967 from university because he had some problems with his left eye.
When he returned in 1968, he found work at the Kodak retail store on Queen St.
“I was on duty one Friday evening when a young lady from a professional colour photo printing lab came in to deliver some prints.
“I received the package and when I looked up, another young lady with similar looks was standing at the door.”
And with their double act, Kelsey and Stephanie came into his life.
“During the Christmas break, I went to work for Viko Lab in Auckland to learn more about colour film processing and printing.”
The Nicholson twins just happened to work there too.
“In those days all the processing was done in the dark and I was assigned to the twins as a trainee.”
Apart from film developing, he also developed a very strong relationship with Kelsey before coming home for Christmas.
The relationship continued in 1969.
He was still studying in New Zealand and started doing some sideline photography.
“This gave me many reasons to keep going back to the Viko Lab.”
Mr Jannif finally came home for good on December 31, 1969.
• Next week we look at Ikbal Jannif’s return to base.