Levuka Community Centre: A tale of old times

Morris Hedstrom building in Levuka, Ovalau, Fiji

By Leila Parina

It’s Wednesday afternoon in the old capital of Fiji, and I am waiting for the clock to strike 2 before I can prepare to depart for the next boat to Suva.

I have been in Levuka for less than 24 hours and I am already in awe of its rich history, old architecture, fascinating stories, and its charming scenery. 

My companions and I decide to stroll into the community center housed in the Morris Hedstrom building, the company’s first and the original premises. It’s a huge change from the Morris Hedstrom I know, the modern three-story mall in Suva.

The MH building in Levuka is now managed by the National Trust of Fiji and houses the Levuka Public Library, Levuka Museum and a tourist information booth – all in a one-level space. A plaque in the entrance states that the community center was opened on September 12, 1981.

I adore the smell of old books so the dusty scent as I enter, does not throw me off, rather it excites me. We’re welcomed by the only other person in the library, Lydia Bower. She is a long-time resident of Levuka and manages the Levuka Community Centre, where she worked for 18 years. 

Lydia Bower

Bower says the Levuka library is the only public library in the Lomaiviti Division and that while some books are purchased from book centers, most are donated. 

The museum artefacts include objects from pre-colonial days. 

In the 1820s, Levuka town was founded on Ovalau‘s shoreline by early European traders. It became a small and vibrant place, full of life and activity as one of the South Pacific’s main ports which attracted trading ships and whalers. It also gained a reputation for being a “rough and disorderly” town during its early years. Levuka was the capital of Fiji for about eight years before the colonial government moved the capital to Suva in 1881.

As I walk through the small section of the center that has been partitioned off as a museum, I am in wonderment of the stories that each piece tells.

Artefacts are encased behind glass cabinets around the room and include an old newspaper printing press and a small war cannon. Photographs and portraits, buttons, an old boxing belt, memorabilia from war times, plates, baskets, an old-style guitar, and ship models can also be found displayed.

Through each item, you can almost feel the hustle and bustle of the old capital. The Levuka Museum is a treasure of time and should be experienced by locals and long-time residents of Fiji to truly appreciate the Old Capital. 

MV Joyita voyage remains

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