Skip to main content

New flags flying

News: 8 August 2011


On Tuesday 9 August Radio New Zealand International (RNZI) will launch a new online feature called “New Flags Flying” (

The online service will feature extensive archival audio and transcripts of 16 former Pacific leaders as they remember the move to independence and self government in the Pacific.

From 1960 onwards, first in Polynesia, then in Melanesia and Micronesia, colonies became nations and millions of “subjects” became citizens. The interviews on the website provide a unique record of Pacific history and reflect the views and memories of the most influential decision makers of their time.

The project is the work of veteran New Zealand broadcaster/writer Ian Johnstone and former New Zealand diplomat Michael Powles who have both spent considerable time in the Pacific and have personal memories of many of the leaders. Michael Powles spent part of his childhood in Samoa and well remembers “the giants of Samoan politics who led that country into independence, particularly the late Tupua Tamasese Mea'ole who always treated a small boy with kindness”.

Ian Johnstone recorded the majority of the interviews and has drawn upon his own memories of the time. “In the 1970s, I was based in Suva and travelling round the region just as independence was coming to many Pacific countries. I remember it as a time of hope and celebration; everybody excited by the possibilities facing their new nations, led by famous men like Samoa's Tamasese, Fiji's Ratu Mara, Walter Lini in Vanuatu, Michael Somare and all those other founding fathers. As young Pacific people listen to those leaders' voices and stories today , I
hope they're reminded of their proud heritage – and get just as excited about building their future as we did forty years ago when New Flags were Flying all across our ocean.”

Project support has come from Radio New Zealand and UNESCO’s Office for the Pacific States in Samoa.

Interviews include those with Sir Robert Rex and Young Vivian (Niue); Sir Tom Davis and JH Webb (Cook Islands); Tofilau Eti Alesana and Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Efi (Samoa); Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (Fiji);H.M.King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV (Tonga); Sir Michael Somare (Papua New Guinea); Sir Peter Kenilorea and Hon. Solomon Mamaloni (Solomon Islands); Father Walter Lini (Vanuatu); Sir Ieremia Tabai (Kiribati); Hon. Bikenibeu Paeniu (Tuvalu); Hon. Kessai Note (Marshall Islands) and Dr. Ludwig Keke (Nauru).

The interviews reflect not only the political stories of independence, but the personal stories of the men involved. Ian Johnstone says “Tonga's late king made me laugh describing a most unusual piece of Pacific co-operation…and so did Samoa's late PM, Tofilau Eti Alesana, with his story about the rumoured Independence Day attack. Ratu Mara was very moving, telling me he'd wished, every day, that he'd been allowed to do what he wanted and be a doctor”.

The long form archival interviews (both audio and text transcripts) are accompanied by written commentary, background information and photos. The overall project also has a CD of highlights, an accompanying brochure and will next year include a book. It is expected that the project will be a useful resource for all those with an interest in the region.

“I hope that it can help the preservation of vital history relevant to all the present countries of our Pacific region’ says Michael Powles.
Other project supporters are the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Pacific Cooperation Foundation, the Pacific Islands Forum and the NZ Institute of International Affairs (NZIIA).

Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles will launch the website, CD and brochure at an NZIIA function in the presence of His Excellency the NZGovernor General the Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand on Tuesday 9 August.

Updated on 7th October 2019