#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: Rugby player reveals toll of being of a Speight

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rugby player reveals toll of being of a Speight

By John Paul Moloney of the Canberra Times

Henry Speight says he'd never consider changing his surname. But he's determined to change what that name is known for.

In a recent exercise in the team room players had to write a light-hearted epitaph for their teammates. The words for Speight's tombstone were simply, 'Went quietly'.

But while you have to lean in and listen closely to the Fijian 23-year-old pictured left with his sister Lusiana Speight-Work, he tells a story of loud family history.

It's a story of treason, violence, a couple of coups and the loss of loved ones. It's also a story of love, pride, loyalty and endurance.

Speight's family history is intertwined in some of the greatest upheaval in recent Fijian history.

And one relative stands apart for his fame and notoriety his uncle George Speight.

Many will remember the news in 2000 when the bald businessman Speight led a group of nationalist gunmen, including his younger brother Jim, into Fijian parliament and ousted elected Indian-Fijian prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry and took almost the entire parliament hostage for several weeks.

Even in a country where coups d'etat have been commonplace the country is currently under the rule of a military dictator Frank Bainimarama it was a shocking act, albeit one that had its admirers among the ethnic Fijian population.

Eventually justice was imposed on Speight and he was sentenced to death by hanging, although this was later commuted to life in prison.

Speight is now held in Naboro Prison, west of the capital Suva, and reportedly has few visitors. On Christmas Day last year one of those visitors was his nephew Henry, fresh from signing a contract with the ACT Brumbies.

Henry visits his uncle whenever he's in Fiji as a dutiful nephew would. He gave him a gift of a Waikato jersey last year when he was playing for the New Zealand province. Almost certainly on his next visit he'll take a Brumbies jersey to give to the prison's best-known inmate.

When he sat down this week to discuss his life and his family, Henry knew his uncle's name would be brought up. In truth, questions about "Uncle George" have been dogging him half his life.

"It's 11 years later and still often I mention my name to people, even when they're not from Fiji, they'll say, 'The name rings a bell'. People ask me all the time if I'm related to him and I've never denied it," Speight says.

"People make choices in his life that lead them on paths. He made choices and whether they were good or bad, I don't know. I don't see him as more than that he's my uncle, my Dad's brother and I've never avoided that question. If I did that it would be wrong of me."

Henry grew up in Suva, the second youngest of five children to dad Samisoni and mum Litia. For most of their upbringing Samisoni worked in Sydney as an aircraft engineer with Qantas, returning to Fiji to see his family about once a month.

Despite this disconnection, Speight says he and his siblings had a normal childhood, until 1996 when his mother fell ill with cancer and died. Henry was eight. With their mum gone and their dad working overseas, Henry and his siblings went into the home of their mum's father, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, a prominent tribal leader and, even in his 70s, an ambitious politician.

He raised them as if they were his own children, encouraging in them the qualities of humility and gratitude. He also tried to insulate them from the complicated world outside their home.

That world became one of chaos and conflict in May 2000, when George Speight marched into the parliament building and announced he was in charge. As a result of the coup, which was for a time effectively endorsed by the country's tribal leaders, Iloilo was promoted from vice-president to president by a council of chiefs.

Incredibly he was in a position two years later to commute the death sentence handed down to Speight his former son-in-law's brother after he was convicted of treason. Speight's younger brother Jim was also sentenced to jail for helping him during the coup.

Iloilo himself became a very controversial figure, chiefly for abolishing the constitution in 2009, a move that entrenched the rule of dictator Bainimarama. But to Speight he was just his grandfather, the person he loved and admired.

"We saw him as a father figure and that was it. We had a feeling but at home it was just normal, like any other kid would talk to his Dad. Nothing changed, even though as kids we knew he was much bigger than that outside the home," Speight said.

"With the situation with my uncle, my grandfather held us together and told us that despite what was happening and the criticism of my uncle, for us not to dwell on it too much."

Speight spent his high school years at Fiji's Queen Victoria School, moving to New Zealand for his final year on a part scholarship at Hamilton Boys High in Waikato.

He progressed into the Waikato senior ranks, where last year he met Brumby Christian Lealiifano, who played a season in the New Zealand domestic league.

It was Lealiifano who brought Speight at that time unwanted by any of the Kiwi Super Rugby teams to the attention of then Brumbies coach Andy Friend.

"Christian was always saying after training, 'Hey bro, we're short on wings at the Brumbies, want me to put a word in for you' ... It was like a joke and I said, 'Yeah, yeah, say a lot of good things about me' but he actually went and told Andy Friend and eventually they called me and asked if I was interested."

After moving to Canberra, Speight thought everything was going perfectly in the week of round one. He was named in the starting side to make his debut against his former teammates of the Waikato Chiefs.

But early in the week his grandfather died at the venerable age of 90. Speight rushed home to Fiji to be part of a funeral that drew an estimated crowd of 5000.

He only returned to Australia on the evening before the match and he admits he struggled to ready himself.

"On his 90th birthday he had planned to come over for the Hurricanes and the Western Force games. We had a really good talk about it. On the Chiefs game, throughout the day I was OK, but then to run up and see the atmosphere, finally say to myself that, 'Finally I'm here, I've reached one of my goals' and for him to have passed away a couple of days, it was really an emotional moment, but when we started the game I was able to clear my head and push those emotions aside and focus on the game."

That victory against the Chiefs had a special importance for Speight's grieving family back in Fiji. About 20 people had gathered in the home of his uncle Emosi and aunty Lusi to watch the game. For 80 minutes they stopped dwelling on the loss of their patriarch.

Their celebrations at the end of the game were so wild their neighbours complained.

Since then the core of that group has established a routine of sending text messages to Speight before games and calling him directly after. Virtually as soon as he walks into the change room, he takes their call and is put on speaker phone in that lounge room in Fiji's second largest city Lautoka.

"In the past few weeks it's something that usually picks me up after the losses we've been having. Every time they call they say, 'Hard luck, but no matter what happens, we're always here for you, we'll always be behind you and the Brumbies'. It's good to have a dozen loyal Brumbies fans back in Fiji."

It's undoubtedly harder for Speight to go about his rugby, separated from his family and with their safety on his mind.

His older brother Sam is a member of the British army, currently based in Portugal. Henry worries he might be sent to Afghanistan.

Then there's the plight of his father Samisoni, who several years ago returned to Fiji and became a cabinet minister in the deposed government of Laisenia Qarase.

The week before the Brumbies played the Queensland Reds, Samisoni was allegedly arrested and beaten by soldiers for circulating anti-government DVDs, an incident that drew condemnation from Amnesty International.

He fled Fiji and is reportedly seeking asylum in Australia. His dad's situation is the one topic about his family Henry says he won't comment on.

Since he began earning money through his rugby, he has sent what he can afford back to Fiji, particularly to help youngest brother Jerry "the smartest of the family" complete his university degree.

That one act shows how family is everything to Henry Speight. But what he hopes to do for them is more than just provide financial help.

He wants to redeem a family name that his uncle, supported by the family as he might be, has made notorious. He wants to make the Speight name known for something different.

"What I want to do is change people's perception of the Speight name from a coup leader to a rugby player," Speight says.

"Since I went to New Zealand and here for the Brumbies, I think the reference to the Speight name is changing to a rugby perspective, which I think is a good thing.

"Personally I'm enjoying being here at the Brumbies and it's got a positive flow on effect on my family, both sides of my family."


Daurai said...

Great article...just a glimpse into the mind of a promising youngster who belongs to a family that has achieved and continue to achieve great heights,despite the lows.

Hey Henry,relax,enjoy your game and be proud of who you are.Remember the words of Christ,"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone".

Anonymous said...

Lift up your head son, you can be proud of who you are and what you have and what you can still attain. You are a great role model to relatives, friends and fans in honesty,humility and setting and achieving goals, despite the setbacks in life. Such are the marks of a great leader. Keep your eyes focused on the One above the clouds, and on the goals ahead!

Anonymous said...

Good ridance!!!!!! The military SPONSRED media CENSORS have been dozing on the job. They ignored the fact that in the article they OKed, their boss Bainimarama is actually reffered several times as a dictator. And Sam Speight's toture acknowledged.

No, I think you wanted to call a spade a spade, and a dictator a DICTATOR.

Good on you, stick to the truth and from now on keep calling Voreqe the DICTATOR

Anonymous said...

good luck with your game/goals bro.
keep it up and be proud to be a fijian.
we are all sinners but god is great and he forgives us all.
god bless you.

Anonymous said...

Henry, I am a citizen of Fiji who do not approve what your uncle George Speight did - the act of carrying out a coup, IT IS WRONG AND UNJUSTIFIED! But for you young man, don't let that affect your future, you have the whole world out there in front of you, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO PROVE, JUST BE YOURSELF AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE. In this life we cannot afford to please everybody, do what is RIGHT and do what you need to do. Live your life to the full - just as you said, we all have to make choices in life. Your uncle George is paying the price of a choice he made and that is the way life is. You make a choice and get on with it!!! Good luck young man, God bless you & your family.

SEMI MEO said...

Fiji Tourism sleeping on this magnificient oppotunity??.These Fijians boys in elite sports overseas could have been contracted to promote Fiji.

We say, pay them a stipend of some form so they could, off the field and after Club engagement promote motherland.That's maximum exposure compared to commissions paid to some who can not even put together a Fijian sentence.

Go you good thing!!

Anonymous said...

all the best henry.you are such an inspiration to all the fijian ppl and a great youth ambassordor for the fijian youths of today. You move on with life and proud of where you are from and stood by your family. Good luck and may the lord showers some blessings on you and your family to reach the highest in your rugby carrear and life in future.god bless.

Anonymous said...

Good on you, henry!! nothing to be ashamed of... your name does FIJI Proud!!!

Filipe Logavatu said...

Ni bula vinaka Naita,dua saka noqui tavi.

Isa!! e mosi dina na yaloqu niu wilika nomu talanoa.

Ia,au kerea ga mo kua ni o guilecava na sagasaga nei Ilikini Naitini ena 2000 kei ira kece na turaga/marama bale kei na lewe ni vanua ka ra tokona nona duri baleti keda na kawa i taukei.Bau wili tu kina o yau.

Dina ni cala vakalawa na vei ka e yaco,ia e dodonu ka savasava na sasaga nei Ilikini baleta ni taukei ni qele o koya.

Sa mai laurai tiko nikua na veika e a raivotu ka lomaleqataka o Naitini ena gauna ya.E sa mai yavalati ni noda vakarau ni bula kei na vei ka e so da dou mareqeta.Yavalati o ira noda turaga/marama bale, yavalati na lotu, yavalati noda yavu va matatama me da wili vaka "indigeneous" ka butakoci na "Fijian" se "Kai Viti",yavalati noda mataivalu,yavalati noda dodonu vaka leweni vanua.

Naita, e dokai vakalevu na vanua o sa yacova ena na buturara ni Super 15 ka lako vata na vakanuinui vinaka!!!

Anonymous said...

Meo...lei moce..tamata no sukulu!!

Speight Brumby supota!! said...


Cala tiko qori na jesi...e tiko beka dua na taba mai na Brumbies me bou mana toka na blog!!

Wananavu na qito..vinaka mata..!!

Anonymous said...

Tailevu Henry is now a key member of the revamped Brumby backline and he is starting to make his mark in super rugby. Having met him a few times this year I can observe a young well mannered, humble and quiet spoken Fijian who is a good ambassador for Tailevu, Vulinitu, the Brumbies, Fiji and most importantly the Speight Family. With Gods blessing and guidance young Henry has a bright future ahead. His uncle George as we all know is now serving time for the last 10 years what he had done. He is a man who was not scared to take his punishment for something that he believed in....o ya na tagane. Vakacava na sotia e wai rawa ni tu vakatagane me taura na kena i totogi? The look North policy will not wash away the blood from your hands Voreqe. eda na dui seva ga na bua ka da a tea.

SEMI MEO said...

@ "a-nuni-mosi" Anonymous April 11.2011 8:42PM...another faceless and nameless coward...ka mada ga keimami bau vola ka nanuma rawa na yacai keimami na "no sukulu".

Ia, i keri..sukulu ga, tawa vuli..sa rauta me sega na ka yaga e nomuni cau ena veitalanoa qo.

Bau lai vuli tacina..kua ni "su-ku-lu loose" wavoki voli!

Ni qai moce saka mada.

Anonymous said...

rajesh said.
Henry bro you are a great light and shinning hope for fiji youth.
Keep playing good rugby and open up doors for our beloved fijian rugby players to play in auss.
i even hope to see you playing for fiji in rwc 2011 in nz.
I meet you in nz with pate rinakama.
Dont worry about what has happen before .
bro in 2000.coup.
keep praying and god will bless you/family.
we all sinner not saints.
god bless your rugby /team.

Anonymous said...

Sa sota ga na gaga keina gaga. Sa dredre tu ga veisiga na tevoro

Anonymous said...

Vinaka son, hope your story will inspire all the young people out there that are trying and still are with the different circumstances facing them...."when the going gets tough, only the tough gets going". To our youth and children, look to the Lord to lead you now, and He will surely make a way. God bless our youth and children, the real people of our nation for tomorrow. Dads and Mums, lets please be inspired and play our part, no matter how little that may be in the lives of our youth and children. God bless us all.

Anonymous said...

Speight = coup - No good

Anonymous said...

Who cares about the bloody coup in 2000? Speight should pick up his game because he is a junior in the competition and his team coming near last.He should become famous by his performance and not by taking advantage of famous surname.

Anonymous said...

@ Daurai, April 11,12:09pm
Totoka vakaoti.

Semi Meow said...

Whats going on??? I read the Canberra Times article dated 9th April and it is nothing like the above cut and paste,long winded remake of regurgitated 2000 coup crap.

Besides,the pictures are also different because the Canberra Times has GS in the red prison bus but here there are two totally different pictures. One picture is an outdated photo from the chiefs and the other...?? Who on earth is that woman and does she have a story???

One thing,this is the first time another member of GSs family has openly criticized GS's coup actions in 2000...I love all this airing out of family dirty linen...So according to Henry,GS was wrong and his indigenous coup was bloody bullshit!!Well, lets just say...Hallelujah to those remarks and thank Henry..because Voreqe is now vindicated in his opposition to these 2000 coup Speight thugs. GS should never be released and please Voreqe, throw away the keys.

Henry is right..Speight name = coup crap..he cannot change that no matter how much rugby he gonna play on earth.

And as for his conman father..Sam Speight?? No comment by Henry because he is ashamed of what he is doing in going against the authority in Fiji.He deserves that beating and sona prodding by the heroes in uniform who are doing a good job of weeding out SDL terrorists from our midst.

Voreqe should give Henry a ministerial position just like he gave Iloilo the President job.Look what happened!!Iloilo help Voreqe save the country from the corrupt SDL thugs.

Henry,post more Speight family dirty shit from the inside...

Coup 4.5 said...

The Fiji Times story had more info about the coup; and there may have been different versions of the Canberra Times story, depending print runs. Pic is of his sister as the story says. C4.5 Editor

SEMI MEO said...

@another goose prostituting my sanctified name above April 25,2011 10.00am.

Like the young Speight, I am proud of my name irrespective ...but...but..some people are sooo ashamed of their own names hiding under the "sari and suluvakataga"..it is like unmarked tomb stones overgrown with weeds….

The young Speight’s dad was a Cabinet Minister in the last democratic Fiji Government, a gentleman as far as many of us are concerned.

It is his uncle George who committed the act of high treason. Good heavens!!..change the blooming brush you paint with..better still turn the brush on yourself, AND your teeth while you’re at it..sure needs a lot of cleaning gauging from the spew emanating from your “gusu bone”…

Anonymous said...

Nite...really liked the article and i'm so proud to call myself a fijian.

By the way kalougata jiko na qaravi tavi..


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