by Seona Smiles
Barbara Hau’ofa was a quiet, modest person who nonetheless justifiably stood out in a crowd.
For a start she was extremely tall and slim. As her short chubby friend who was seen constantly in her company on the University of the South Pacific campus, I believe we were nicknamed ‘Bat and Ball’. But what made her so outstanding were her knowledge of the South Pacific region, her remarkable editing ability and her exceptional teaching skill with students of all ages, from pre-schoolers to postgraduates. Most of all, she excelled in language.
Barbara said of herself: ‘Throughout my life and education, a constant theme has been the strong interest in language and its use in speech and writing as a means of communication and expression. Along the way, learning, reading and experiential opportunities have backed this with a wide range of interests and general knowledge, which proves surprisingly useful in editing. Another way of expressing this is to say that the baggage in my head is put to good use when I work on the language use in others’ documents.’
An Australian bush girl, she came from the University of New England town of Armidale in New South Wales, born into the large Brown family that has links with Fiji. She became a graduate of UNE in 1961 with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and Psychology, minors in History and Latin – a language that stood her in good stead for her later editing work and her enthusiasm for crosswords. She gained a diploma to take up teaching, later studying Social Anthropology, Pre History with an Oceanic bias and Papua New Guinea History at the University of Papua New Guinea. At the University of the South Pacific she gained a postgraduate diploma in Literature and Language in 1987, studying comparative and Oceanic linguistics.
In Armidale she met the great love of her life, Epeli Hau’ofa, the late highly respected Professor and founder of the USP’s Oceania Centre, whose reconceptualisation of the Pacific in his influential essay Our Sea of Islands argued that Pacific Islanders were connected rather than separated by the sea. As a writer Professor Hau’ofa was most beloved for his Tales of the Tikongs, a wickedly funny book about development drawn from experiences in his home country of Tonga, a country with which Barbara became intimately familiar.
She married Epeli in Montreal, where he had gone from Australia to study at McGill University, 1966-1968. It was the beginning of lengthy journeying that lasted much of her lifetime. It took her to Trinidad and Tobago in 1967, to Papua New Guinea and into Mekeo village life 1968-1975, a spell in Canberra, Australia while Epeli was at the Australian National University, to Tonga 1975-1982 and finally to USP and Fiji in 1983, where they eventually settled at Wainadoi.
Barbara described her professional life as ‘a somewhat erratic career path as I followed my husband along his chosen path’ highlighting formative influences that speak to ‘a dead-eye Dick eye for correct spelling and language use’ and a wide general knowledge, including familiarity with matters Pacific.
Some of the work she undertook was as research assistant to Prof Ken Inglis on his Australian history; research assistant in the ANU Department of Pacific and Southeast Asian History working on manuscripts of scholars including Deryck Scarr and on the Journal of Pacific History, teaching in Tonga and publishing Faikava: a Tongan literary magazine. She was a much sought after editor in Fiji.
Barbara was known for her acerbic wit and wicked puns, her loyalty to friends and deep love of family. She leaves a treasured big sister Ann in Armadale, other fondly remembered family members in Australia and abroad, and a much beloved son Epeli Hau’ofa si’i of Wainadoi.