In 1980, five Australians were having a drink at the Bilo Bar, a practice not uncommon to them during their many visits to what is now known as Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort & Spa. The Bilo Bar, as most know, is located at the Northern Western corner of Yanuca Island.
Its peace and tranquility may have prompted poets of old to issue a stream of poetic utterances, regrettably none of our five founders ever got around to this. The original five members were Allan Lucas, Barrie Childs, Barry Hancock, Geoff Barlow and Fred Hausler.
The Bilo Bar Club was formalised by the issuing of Articles of Association in May 1981. Mr Wymann received the equally important sounding title of Grand Bilo because, indeed, the activities of this new club were to be conducted on property under his control and he needed an appropriate title. Bearing in mind his tenure in Fiji was limited, it was declared the Title would pass on to whoever was appointed manager of The Fijian Resort after he departed.
Mr Barry Hancock presides as our Imperial Bilo and is another of the five who is on in constant attendance, because he owns the tourist train which operates adjacent to the causeway entrance to Yanuca Island.
You can gather from this that initially, there was no great thought given to the Club being anything but a social club, but time was to change that.
One thing that did not change was Shangri-La’s commitment to The Bilo Bar Club. From the start and up until the present day, they acknowledge our presence with a cocktail party every Wednesday night, and special room rates. All are surely grateful for this consideration.
The change from the social club status to being more conscious of helping our Fijian friends was provided by nature. A cyclone devastated the local area and visiting members found themselves talking to employees – their friends – who had lost their worldly possessions. In what that can only be described as a typical Australian desire to help someone disadvantaged, the hat went around. A considerable sum was raised and the Bilo Bar Club was changed forever.
With money now playing its part in the functioning of the Club, in 1988 it was deemed necessary to form a Bilo Bar Club Trust Fund, in order to have better control of the money so generously donated. This was to be and still is administered by five Trustees, one of whom is the Resort’s General Manager.
The constitution covering this fund was altered somewhat in 1998 to increase, to a small degree, the range of options available for expenditure by the Trustees and to bring in elections for the Club’s offices. A copy of this latest document is located right here on this website.
In 1991, with a view to helping the children of a lot of the staff coming from adjacent villages, the Club agreed to pay the wages of two teachers in each of the four villages. The villages are Rukurukulevu and Cuvu, both located just across the causeway entrance to the Resort and Navuevu and Yadua, which are slightly further afield. This arrangement is still in place, however at a considerably greater cost than when it first started.
Anytime you visit, you are invited to journey to any of these kindergartens. You will be made welcome, you will enjoy the experience and you can see first hand where the Club’s money is spent.
Incidentally, we are endeavoring to monitor the progress of some of our youngsters, bearing in mind some of the early ones are starting to come out of secondary school. We do not have any rocket scientists yet, but you never know. In reality, I guess we would all settle for some good average citizens who will serve their country well.
In 1998, after one member personally paid for the construction of a new kindergarten at Naevuevu, the BBC committee thought it was time to do something for the other villages as well. The club embarked on a raffle – all the major prizes being visits to The Fijian at Shangri-La’s expense – and just short of $50,000 was raised. Building commenced immediately and today our kindergartens are considered to be amongst the best in the country.
Whilst the raffle was an outstanding success, it was at this point it became apparent the Club’s income base needed to be greatly expanded. The teachers’ wages had grown to $12,000 per year, which we were barely able to cover in the two previous years. 70% of the income required came from fewer than fifteen members. One man from Sydney, who always insisted on remaining anonymous, donated $2,000 in six consecutive years! For the few of us who knew his identity, he will never be forgotten. To overcome this situation and at the suggestion of the then manager, Desmond Hatton, it was decided to have a voluntary annual fee or subscription of $20.
The fee was and still is payable each year and now is $50, however there are some who still do not pay it! The vast majority agree however, it is a small price to pay for the hospitality extended to us, especially on Thursday nights and particularly when the funds raised are used to help our Fijian friends.
Our expenditures have not been totally directed to education. We have spent nearly $40,000 at the Sigatoka Hospital since 1996. If you have a spare day during your next vacation, you can do worse than pay a visit to our local hospital. It is to be hoped it is only a social visit because as hard as they try, this hospital falls well short of the standards we are accustomed to. Whilst the reference to a social visit is partially said in jest, various accidents have made quite a few of our members recipients of this worthy organisation’s hospitality. It is good the facility is there to help us as well, but more importantly, the money we have spent is helping our Fijian friends when they are sick.
If this is our history, where do we go from here?
The enthusiasm of so many is overwhelming! Many have particular issues they consider “their baby” and want to see them pursued. The Trustees are mindful of this; however we cannot be involved in everything.
Under review at the moment is a reference library at the proposed Cuvu super high school, which we are told is on the drawing boards, perhaps scholarships for needy kids and of course mother nature may throw in another cyclone at anytime. There is another village quite close to Sigatoka seeking our assistance with their kindergarten needs and so it goes on. Within the guidelines of our Club’s Constitution, there is still considerable scope for us to help and the Trustees ask your patience if your particular and favorite charitable intent us not satisfied.
It is hoped you draw pleasure from being involved in the Bilo Bar Club. It started out as a social club, but nearly F$500,000 further down the track, it is fair to say our change of identity has been worthwhile. Now we not only enjoy ourselves, we do, in a small way, lighten the load of some less fortunate than ourselves.