BRISBANE 22nd May: GOPIO Qld in conjunction with Queensland Fijian Community, hosted a civic reception for His Excellency Yogesh Punja at Queensland Multicultural Centre, 102 Main Street Kangaroo Point. This was the first official visit to Queensland of His Excellency Yogesh Punja, Fijis High Commissioner to Australia.

His appointment was in March 2015, and in a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola said His Excellency had gone through the usual application process and interviews, and that his vast commercial background and skills would add much value to the ministry’s work.

“His appointment demonstrates Government’s commitment towards renewing and strengthening the bilateral relations between Fiji and Australia,” he said.

“The ministry is confident that he will enhance Fiji’s foreign policy interests in its relations with Australia given his extensive work background in both the public and private sectors.”

A son of business tycoon Kanti Punja, His Excellency Yogesh Punja led the New Zealand-based operations of Punjas Group of Companies.

His Excellency had attended a function in the Gold Coast earlier in the day, the function at Queensland Multicultural centre began at 6:30pm; His Excellency met the organisers in the foyer and humbly mingled with the guests before the formalities.

The formal program began with the entrance of the official party who were welcomed by MC Semi Meo. This was followed by a moving traditional welcome to country by Indigenous elder Aunty Delmae Barton. His Excellency was accorded a full traditional Fijian welcome, “Sevusevu” conducted by members of Fijian Uniting Church of Annerley. This ceremony is very auspicious and highly respected Yagona (Kava) ceremony.

Yaqona is a central and ancient part of Fijian ceremony. Whereas Yaqona was once only for use by priests (Bete), chiefs and elders, it is now consumed by all. The following outlines a Yaqona ceremony in the Bauan manner (Bau: a prominent Island and Village of the Kubuna Confederacy in the province of Tailevu).

Yaqona is consumed seated on a rectangular Pandanus mat. At one end is a Tanoa (wooden or clay mixing bowl). The front area has Magimagi (coconut fiber rope) and cowry shells attached to the Magimagi. This rope is laid out toward the chief; while next to the chief will be his spokesman and other senior men. Behind the Tanoa will generally be three people: one mixing and two to serve and gather water as needed.

Once the person mixing has all he needs in front of him, he will sit cross-legged and upright, touch the Tanoa and say, “Qai vakarau lose Saka Na Yaqona vaka Turaga” (I will respectfully mix the Yaqona for the Chieftain). After mixing, he takes the coconut shell bowl and fills it with Yaqona. He lifts it high and then lets the Yaqona pour back into the Tanoa so the Chief’s herald can see the Yaqona. The herald, on seeing it is too sosoko (strong) will exclaim “Wai”. On hearing this mixer will add more water and repeat the same action until he hears the herald say “Wai donu”.

He then knows the Yaqona is a good mix and is ready to be served. He puts his hands together and circles the Tanoa with his hands, saying, “Qai darama saka tu na Yaqona Vakaturaga” (With respect the chiefs Yaqona is ready to drink). Then he cups his hands, claps three times and begins to serve the Yaqona in a Bilo (coconut shell cup).

This will then be carefully taken to the chief in his personal bilo (all others will drink of the same cup). The chief will receive the bilo of Yaqona by cupping his hands and clapping with a deep, dignified sound. Then he will take his bilo and drink. As he is drinking everyone will clap in slow time, and when he is finished the herald will exclaim “Maca” and all will clap three times. The same will be repeated for the herald, but all will clap only twice when he is finished.

After the Traditional Fijian welcome, his Excellency was accorded the traditional Indian welcome with a Tikka and a Mala conducted by Mrs Usha Chandra, President of GOPIO Qld and Ananya Kaushik, GOPIO Qld youth council chair.

Spokesperson from Qld Fijian community Samu Turagacati addressed the gathering and welcomed his Excellency, he stressed that there were many issues that the community would like to raise with Fijian Government representatives like His Excellency.

Umesh Chandra, the coordinator of the reception welcomed and thanked everyone for attending the function at very short notice. He expressed his gratitude to His Excellency for so graciously accepting the invitation for the reception. After the formal introduction Umesh Chandra asked His Excellency to address the gathering.

His Excellency Yogesh Punja acknowledged the traditional owners of the land and thanked Malakai Tilagucaguca of Fijian Uniting Church for the traditional Fijian welcome. He began his speech by stating that he was not from the political background but from a business background, and hence his approach and vision is different to that of a conventional politician.

He spoke on many projects that Fiji is looking at taking on. A sector of particular interest was that of call centres, Fijians being accent neutral would be more desirable candidates for these positions. He spoke on the requirements of the Dual citizenships and the benefits of the dual citizenship, especially for people wishing to set up businesses in Fiji, the cost of accruing the citizenship would be offset by not having to pay the new business set up fee. He spoke on many projects such the diverting of Nadi River, which poses a major flood disaster as it runs through the town.

His presentation was well received and many attendees commented that the session was very informative and that His Excellency was well researched. During the question and answer session people thanked His Excellency for the opportunity to meet and have direct dialogue with him, this kind of interactive session was previously out of bounds for many. Amongst the many questions, a question on importation of Kava was raised; currently Australian Government only allows two kilograms per person to be brought into the country. Education, health and tourism were all covered in the session

Salome Swam Cams Multicultural worker from Anglicare moved a vote of thanks, the following were thanked   Aunty Delmae Barto for Welcome to County, Umesh Chandra          – Event coordinator, GOPIO Qld-Host Organisation, Semi Meo-Mc and assisting with Event, Irene Tavutavu-assisting with program and invites, Pastor Mala and team-SevuSevu – traditional Fijian ceremony, Dr Vilaseri Tuicolo-Protocol advice, Fiji High Commission staff-Assistance with facilitation, GOPIO Queensland executives-Refreshments etc.

The reception was sponsored by Brisbane Indian Times, Australian Indian Radio and Air Pak Freight Services.  Following the formal speeches everyone gathered in the foyer for the cocktail reception.

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