DOWN MEMORY LANE. The news that the Old Mill Cottage Cafe has called the 'last orders' brings back old nostalgic memories of the beloved Cottage and its charming owner Mary Nelson, stretching back to thirty years ago. As a young court reporter on the old Fiji Sun (not the present pro-Government rag sheet of the same name) in the 1980s, not a morning, lunch or afternoon passed without me stopping at the Cottage in a corner of Carnarvon Street, Suva, to shuffle through my reporter's notebook before heading to court or heading back to Fiji Sun head office in Lami. The early morning stops (before 8am) were the most charming and rewarding - a free cuppa tea from Mary and her pleasant company before me heading to the courts. In the courts were born some of the most important stories of the day and Mary would be the first to know from me on my way back from the courts.
On the other hand, she would leave me alone whenever she saw me walk in with DPP lawyers (Anthony Gates, Mehboob Raza, Daniel Fatiaki, Kelemedi Bulewa et al, all then legal officers) or private lawyers (Noor Dean, Ikbal Khan etc, etc, etc) after a court case. A wink and a nod meant I was up to something 'big'. The next day she would retort: "I knew you were up to something, little devil."
There were two occasions she did not know what I was up too. During the trial of one of the directors of Lords Jewellers (Lodhias) in Suva who was charged with receiving stolen property, a relative of the jewellers followed me into the Cottage. He sat opposite me, and to my horror, pulled out a brown bag stuffed with notes - bribe! He wanted me not to report in detail the court case, for it was damaging to their business. Shocked, I disappeared from the Cottage, without taking the envelope with me or finishing my afternoon tea. I reported the matter to DPP lawyers prosecuting the case.
The second occasion was when she saw me walking towards the court after four in the afternoon. Mary thought it was odd that I was going in the wrong direction. I didn't tell her that the then Chief Magistrate Gordon Ward, later the President of the Fiji Court of Appeal, had tipped me off that Fiji Sun editor Adishwar (Spike) Padarath (my newspaper boss) was to appear before him in a special sitting at 5pm. Padarath had been charged with damaging the property of US Ambassador following some personal dispute. I had to keep the story close to my chest until I had discussed it with Nemani Delaibatiki (then Associate Editor) and Jim Carney, Fiji Sun publisher who happened to be in Suva from New Zealand. Sorry, Mary! The rest is history. I wrote the story on my own boss Padarath's court appearance. He was forced to tender his resignation and I was transferred to the sub-editor's desk. But I promised to drop in at the Cottage and to see Mary if and when I found time in my new role on the Fiji Sun. This week one regular patron told me she 'talks about Victor Lal'. Good to know, Mary! She was also an avid reader of my Opinion Columns which I wrote for over 25 years from Oxford.
I am sure other patrons have their own memories and stories to tell. All the best Mary and a BIG VINAKA VAKALEVU from Oxford, England. God Bless You!
One of the oldest and most popular restaurants in Suva is closing down today. The Old Mill Cottage, tucked away in a corner of Carnarvon Street can’t afford the latest hike in rent. Owner Mary Nelson says it’s sad to say goodbye to what’s been the biggest part of her life for the last 30 years. “I’ve seen many different business deals being done here, people coming together, people getting business. Many will attest to that. No one ever feels lonely when they come to the Cottage, they will always meet somebody they know. I’m happy that I created a place that everybody enjoyed.” Nelson says she’s exploring other options to keep her business going but nothing is finalised yet. The site of the Old Mill Cottage, is actually more than one hundred years old, built when the Colonial Sugar Refinery still operated in the Capital. Nelson hopes the new tenants will maintain the historic building and not tear it down. Source: FBC News, 25 February 2015