The Management Committee of the Metropolitan Museum of Mdina and the Executive of the Ramblers’ Association of Malta on 17th February 2017, held a Colloquium on the ethos of the
Mr. Lino Bugeja, as well as the significance and subject matter of his last book publication
A MALTESE ODYSSEY.
It is not necessary to state the obvious – that Lino was a complete man and a true gentleman. Everyone who knew Lino, either because one was a student of his or crossed his way in the various fields close to his heart, like Sport, Education, Maltese Heritage, the Cultural and Natural Environment and of course Birgu, will vouch for an upright and enthusiastic character that generated sympathy and esteem.
Sport education was his profession and career, and being a man with a big heart he continuously strove to promote the importance of sport and exercise for mental and physical health. He arduously believed that the competitiveness as well as the physical demands of sport helped in no small way in the preparation of a successful and healthy life. At the same time his conviction that the cultural and natural heritage of this country were second to none made him foster them untiringly. His purpose was that of amplifying a healthy life with refinements of the intellect.
Such honourable sentiments that he strongly believed in induced him to lead an exemplary life during which he incessantly promoted awareness of the benefits of exercise, especially in an evolving obese Malta, and awareness of the Maltese natural and cultural heritage. His recent book publications are, and will remain, a living testimony.
It was his big heart that drove Lino, at the venerable age of 72 and his walking days nearly over, to set up the Ramblers’ Association of Malta in 2005. He feared for future generations that the pleasure of walking in open spaces, which he relished unhindered throughout his days, was being taken away slowly but steadily. For Lino life was beautiful, and bountiful was nature’s provision. He felt the need to ensure that the beauty of nature in all its aspects was protected and will remain accessible to all for ever, as it was for him. His love required that what he most enjoyed over his lifetime of roaming along the coastal plains and rural areas, with their dearth of archaeological and cultural wealth, should be guaranteed for our children. His original intention for the Ramblers’ Association was to raise immediate awareness of, and put a stop to, the obstacles prohibiting ordinary folk from the enjoyment of open spaces and the cultural heritage that lies within, sometimes hidden and unknown, but always mysterious.
Lino believed that the most important and marvelous things in life are God’s free gifts to all mankind, and should remain free and accessible to all. I remember that he enthusiastically laboured for the appreciation and protection of the simple things that made life beautiful, the common wealth of nature and natural landscapes, as adapted by our forefathers only for the purpose of extracting the essentials for their simple livelihood. As he strove to protect this rich natural and cultural heritage from being devastated by wanton greed and lofty inessentials, he was slandered and addressed words one never hears in the bible. For his righteous stand for free access to a particular historical site in the countryside, he was libelled.
I was many times with him when we appealed to the authorities, under both administrations. Both applauded Lino’s principles during meetings held on accessibility and protection, but they only gave lip service. He never lost heart however, and his outlook on life remained positive and optimistic even during adverse situations. What the authorities would not formalise through a Definitive Map of the Maltese Islands, even after tabling a Parliamentary petition way back in 2008, with his consent and encouragement the Association started challenging right of access by the peaceful force of numbers, organising weekly walks for members on paths and lanes which were historically public as evidenced from old ordinance maps.
It grieved Lino that the Ramblers’ Association appeals for right of access fell on deaf official ears. In his periodical writings on the subject in the media he often rebuked both administrations for the half-baked actions to appease our environmental concerns whilst making no wholehearted and honest effort to take the bull by the horns. To stress the point home he liked the forceful quote from anthropologist Jeremy Boissevain “One problem in particular struck me most forcefully. This is the massive destruction of the environment since you achieved independence. Your countryside and architectural heritage, your coastal zones, the sea surrounding you….have been and are still being raped” Lino’s credit lies in his poetic way of writing prose, for in spite of adversities, he manages to retain his features as positive and optimistic as his outlook on life. He was basically proud of his belief and principles, fully convinced that they were upright and legitimate.
How correct he was can be proven by the recent enactment of the Public Domain Bill that amends the Civic Code giving more protection to the natural environment and historical heritage. It can safely be revealed that the Ramblers’ Association with Lino still at its head, had made strong representations with the then Parliamentary Secretary for Land Management, Dr Jason Azzoppardi who started the ball rolling and had the bill drafted. The Ramblers’ Association was again called to a preliminary brief on the draft of the bill in the office of the legislator who created it, some few months before the last election. With the change of administration the draft was all but forgotten and at our first meeting with the new minister we suggested that the public funds spent on the exercise should not go wasted. He admitted he knew nothing about the draft, and happily it was sought out and approved by both sides of the House.
Of recent years Lino became too fragile to enjoy walks with the Ramblers. At first he would start off for a few meters and then take the car to meet the ramblers at some other point on the way. During the annual activity of the Gozo Weekend, when ramblers take lodging at a Gozo hotel during the low season for two nights, he came along to be with the group at breakfast and dinner time, then meet with the group at certain points on the way. He relished taking the pizza orders from members on the Saturday walk, which lasted a whole day, and then delivering the hot pizzas from Marsaxlokk to the hungry walkers at a predetermined spot. After this he delighted in the pictures that members sent him every time a new walks program was issued, and from memory he was able to illustrate charming portrayals of the forthcoming walks on the Sunday Times, which he still did until last December.
Admiration of his picturesque narratives have augmented the number of participants in the walks, and indeed the number of members of the Association. However his spirit remained on a high and he thrilled to the periodical get-together over a drink or a meal in his hometown Marsascala, in the company of old friends and former members.
The Ramblers are indeed saddened by the passing away of its founder, but take much comfort from the inspirational and civilizing legacy that Lino has left behind.
In the name of the Ramblers’ Association I express my deep condolences to his family and hope that they too feel some relief in the memory of Lino’s positive attitude to life.
Mr. Alex Vella
President, Ramblers Malta Association