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Airline Staff Island - Fiji

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Airline Staff Island - Fiji

Old 8th Mar 2010, 08:50
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Airline Staff Island - Fiji

Some old timers from CP Air, QANTAS, Air NZ, even BOAC may recall Beachcomber Island in Fiji as 'airline staff island'. The following may interest you - bit of history and certainly nostalgia. Dan Costello, the founder/owner of Beachcomber Island died on the 6th Feb 2010

Life and times of an icon

Felix Chaudhary
Sunday, February 14, 2010
YOU have to love the name Daniel Costello. The name that makes you feel the sun on your face and sand between your feet. The name that makes you hear live music and lapping waves. The name that makes you think island fun and an ocean of ideas,
Larger than life, Big Dan, was the godfather of Fiji tourism.

Fact is, his name meant many things to many people - depending on the circumstances under which you came into contact with him. Devoted husband, father, friend, businessman, philanthropist, government backbencher, tourism pioneer and resort owner.

He had a long and illustrious life and one of the most lasting and prominent will be his role as a pioneer of the tourism industry.

Costello will always be remembered as one of the initiators of the tourism industry in Fiji by his peers. But more importantly he will remain immortal as a man of his word, for his quick wit and wicked sense of humour according to family members and friends in Lautoka.

The birth of tourism in Fiji began when Costello leased Tai Island, which he renamed Beachcomber, from the then Tui Vuda, Adi Mere, in 1962. As the ink from her signature dried on the lease, it effectively marked the dawn of what was to become one of the country's most important industries.

Costello had foresight and knew that in due course tourism would rival sugar production in dollar terms for Fiji.
"Big Dan was one of two people that started it all. The significant other is, of course, Dick Smith. Dan built up Beachcomber from an unknown little island and made it what it is today and in the process paved the way for all of us," said Coral Sun managing director Bruce Moonie.
Moonie also said that he will never forget the advice he got from Costello when he (Moonie) was appointed as a committee member of the Society Of Fiji Travel Associates.
"It's no use being part of a committee of 10 when only 2 or 3 will end up doing any real work. Put your shoulder to the wheel son and make sure you're one of the 2 or 3. I've never forgotten that," the Coral Sun boss said.

"Dan Costello was a pioneer of tourism in Fiji in much the same way as my father Captain Trevor Howarth was a pioneer of tourism in Australia," said Captain Cook Cruises executive director - Jackie Howarth during the inaugural cruise of Suva built cruise ship M.V. Reef Endeavour. It was while aboard this ship, an anchors throw away from Beachcomber that she learnt of Costello's passing.

"If it wasn't for Big Dan Costello, tourism in Fiji wouldn't be what it is today. Fiji has lost a great man and I a great friend," lamented Max Storck, managing director of tour operator ATS Pacific and owner of Savala Island in the mamanuca group.

From what began as a family playground in the early 60's - a place for the Costello family to go for picnics, swimming in pristine water and fishing off the white sandy beach; Beachcomber grew in leaps and bounds to stamp its mark as 'the party island' in the South Pacific within a decade under the direction and guidance of Big Dan.

After taking ownership of the island, Costello placed a caretaker there and communicated with him via shortwave radio.

The caretaker would prepare Beachcomber for guests by collecting firewood for the barbeque and sweeping the beach clear of flotsam and jetsam.
"Dad would take us there as kids and we would go crazy on the island just swimming and playing. Then he began inviting a few of his mates from The Northern Club in Lautoka and somehow or the other some Qantas flight crew members heard about Beachcomber. They approached dad and asked him how much it would cost for them to visit the island and that's how it all began," shared Vincent, Dan's second eldest son and the director of Dan Costello's first business venture - Fiji Meats Limited.

The butcher shop began in Tavua as Tavua Meats limited and was passed onto Costello from his father when he was a mere 17 years old. His business acumen had emerged even at that tender age and would not be denied.

Costello moved Tavua Meats to its current premises opposite the Lautoka Fisheries Wharf and
changed the name to Fiji Meats Limited.

It still remains the flagship of the Costello empire and is now managed by Vincent.
"The boat that used to go out to the island used to berth across the road from dad's office window," said Vincent as he directed my attention to the now empty spot.

Devoid of any activity at the moment, back in the 60's Qantas flight crew and air hostesses would be waiting impatiently for Costello to ferry them across to Beachcomber.

Inadvertently, the Beachcomber day cruise began with Qantas staff who then shared their secret holiday haven with passengers and the legend became embedded as folklore.
"Because of the amount of people booking day cruises and asking about overnight stays - dad decided to build one bure with all the amenities. Within months, due to demand, the number of bures grew and developed over the years to the twenty two that are present now," said Vincent.

Beachcomber Island Resort became the hallmark of tourism in Fiji for many reasons. Firstly, there was the emphasis on guests having a real island experience- no shoes, shorts or trousers. Bare feet and brightly coloured sulus were the order of the day.
And then there was the food. 'Big Dan', as he was christianed by his staff, demanded quality from his kitchen staff. Every meal had to be made to perfection. Woe befall anyone who dared serve up anything bordering on mediocre!

"Dad had a fondness for curry and at one awards ceremony he was asked to present the best chef's prize. When he stepped up to the podium, he announced - 'I don't know why they asked me to present this because I can tell you, the fellah that should be getting this prize is the owner of Narsey's Curry Lodge in Lautoka. Three dollars fifty-full chow!' Everybody just roared with laughter," recalled Vincent.

One of the resort's biggest draw-cards was live music, featuring some of the hottest musicians in the country, which in time would also include his eldest son Danny Rae. The band pumped seven days a week and guests often partied into the wee hours of the morning for days on end. Big Dan insisted on live music from the day he began the resort right up to when he sold it.
"It was magical. Almost surreal. Moonlight shimmering over the sea and encircling the island with a mystical glow. The band playing late into the night. People dancing from the stage all the way to the beach. It's a time in my life that I will never forget," reminisced Danny Rae Costello.
In fact, it was not out of the ordinary to see guests straggling back to their beds even as the sun rose over the horizon at daybreak. Beachcomber catered for both extremes of the tourist market- those that preferred to spend their nights on the beach stargazing and also the adrenalin junkies that raged from sunset to sunrise.

This made the resort appealing to a broader demographic and over the course of decades Beachcomber became a 'must stop' on the itinerary of most visitors to Fiji.

Apart from holding a proud place in Fiji's history as one of the first resorts built in the country and being labeled 'the party island of Fiji'; Beachcomber also had its share of light moments.
"We had a turkey running around loose on the island. I don't even remember where dad got it from. It was a female but dad christened her 'Big Tom'. She used to roam around the island chasing people and pecking at anybody that came within her reach. One day, dad had just about had enough - he told some of the workers to catch Big Tom, which took a bit of doing and Big Tom ended up in the lovo," laughed Danny Rae.

Despite the fact that Beachcomber is now in new hands, the Costello family will always have a special affinity with the island. Memories of a time gone by and as countless as the grains of sand that encircle the island will forever be etched in their minds and hearts.

It would be true to say that the legacy of Daniel Costello lives on in the spirit of Beachcomber and tourism Fiji, in the heart of his wife Annette and in the strength, endeavours and pursuits of his children Daniel Rae, Vincent, Johnny, Katie, Tara, Justin, Marika and many grandchildren both in Fiji and abroad.

Moce Mada Big Dan.
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