About the Pacific Role Models Project

Welcome to the Pacific Role Models online resource!

This online resource is designed for Pacific young people in Australia (or other diaspora countries) seeking career advice and role modelling from other Pacific people, as well as for community leaders, teachers and youth workers who support young Pacific people.

It contains:

  • stories on film and audio from 25 Pacific people who grew up in Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and the islands
  • links to useful resources about education, training and job-seeking
  • original readings about Pacific peoples’ migration and identity, written by Pasifika researcher, Dr Ruth (Lute) Faleolo, and writer, Marita Davies

The Pacific Role Models online resource has the following aims:

To challenge stereotypes

The founder of the Pacific Islander Network, Dean Wickham, who is from the Solomon Islands, told us that through this website, he wants to challenge widely held stereotypes of Pacific people. ‘We have talent in music and sports: yes, but we’re more than that. We have diverse skill sets and have contributed to Australian society’, Dean says.

To demystify career development

The stories on this website aim to demystify some of the questions and assumptions that young people may have, which were revealed in our previous research project. These include:

  • How do I find a job?
  • What do I have to do to get into university?
  • What is TAFE? Will it help my career?
  • I want to become a [insert dream job], but I don’t know anyone in my family or community with that job. What do I do?
  • Is it true that people with good jobs have never experienced any failures in life? That they are just really smart and have lots of support?

To provide role models, inspiration and practical advice

Almost all the people we spoke to said that it is important to have role models or mentors from the same or similar ethnic or cultural groups whom you can follow and get advice from.

We hope the stories and information featured on this website will change your thinking about the variety of jobs Pacific people in Australia work in, help you better understand how to map out your own career, and inspire you!

What’s on the online resource and how do I find my way around?

For this project, 25 Pacific people growing up in Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and the islands shared their stories with us about their experiences of school and their studies or training after school, how they developed their careers, and their experiences at work. They also provided advice for young people setting out on their education and career journeys.

The people we talked to work in various industries, including Agriculture & Horticulture, Beauty, Business, Education, Engineering, Health Services, IT, Law, Tourism, Trades and so on. Some are entrepreneurs who set up and run their own businesses while others are employed in organisations in the public, private and non-profit sectors.

The stories are organised in two main ways – as short films organised around key themes and featuring clips from different people, and as individual stories. You can also find a Further Resources page with links to organisations and online resources that may help you in navigating your way through the senior years of high school, TAFE, university, and the job-seeking process.

Message to young people

A key message for Pacific youth from the stories our 25 interviewees shared is that for most people, career trajectories do not follow a straight line, for example, finishing Year 12, going to TAFE or university, getting a job, being promoted, and retiring at 65. While we might imagine this is the most common kind of pathway, in fact navigating your career tends to be more complex.

If you look at career navigation blogs, career paths are described as ‘winding roads’ rather than straight freeways, or ‘jungle gyms’ rather than ladders. Some researchers have called this ‘The Chaos Theory of Career’ and have written a book about it (Pryor and Bright 2011). The bottom line is everyone’s life and career path is unique and influenced by many different factors, making the future hard to predict.

We hope that watching and listening to the stories of the people on this website will inform you about possible pathways for you to explore!

If you have any suggestions or questions, please contact us.

Message to community leaders, teachers and youth workers

This online resource is also designed to be used by adults who help guide Pacific young people’s career aspirations and development.

The films and audio clips can be used as references to inform yourself, your colleagues and community members about the experiences of Pacific people growing up in Australia. Also, if you find this helpful, we encourage you to share this online resource with the young people you are working with.

If you have any suggestions or questions, please contact us.

The people featured in this website

Everyone we contacted and talked to about the project was very enthusiastic, which was really encouraging. As you can see from the films and audio recordings, interviewees generously shared their experiences in detail in the hope that the information will inspire young people or demystify the process of what is involved in ‘finding a job’. We hope our work does justice to their stories.

We would like to thank all interview study participants for their contribution to this website. Listed in alphabetical order, they are:

  • ‘Akesa – Community Facilitator
  • Ama – Lashing Business Administrator & Marketing Coach
  • Annie – International & Community Development Specialist
  • Ashirah – University student
  • Cass – English Teacher, Writer, Project Manager, & President of the Victorian Kiribati Association
  • Chris – Field Officer (HR)
  • Christopher – Carpenter & Stonemason
  • Crofton – Visual Effects & Animation Specialist
  • David – App company CEO
  • Elisabeth – Teacher
  • Elvina – Building Services Mechanical Engineer
  • Fipe – Cacao Products Manufacturing Business Owner
  • Grace – Airline Customer Service Agent
  • Leki – Physiotherapist
  • Luisa – Registered Nurse
  • Malelega – Legal Assistant
  • Marita – Writer
  • Rose – Workplace Consultant
  • Sefita – Community Engagement Officer
  • Semisi – Lawyer
  • Talei – Lawyer & Community Engagement + Government Relations Consultant
  • Teisa – Medical Doctor
  • Tevita – IT Professional
  • Thom – Make-up Artist
  • Venna – Lashing Business Owner & Trainer

* Please note, some people have chosen to appear on this website using their real names and others have chosen different names.


Dr Makiko Nishitani, Lead Investigator, La Trobe University
Dr Kate Johnston-Ataata, Co-Investigator, RMIT University
Ms Ane Fifita, Research Assistant, La Trobe University
Ms Susannah Ostojic, Research Assistant, La Trobe University

Interested in learning more about the research process?

The Pacific Role Models project was conducted in two phases:

  • Phase 1: online interviews (on film and audio) with 25 Pacific people working and studying in different industries and fields.
  • Phase 2: (ongoing) an online survey of Pacific people living in Victoria asking about people’s educational backgrounds and careers. The survey is still open, and for more details and to access the survey, please go to Pacific role models project: Skills and occupations survey. The result of the survey will be uploaded to this website in early 2022 and will provide a general overview of Pacific people’s contribution to wider Victorian society and the diversity of their occupations.

Interview study

In Phase 1, our objective was to collect stories, recorded on film or audio, about the educational and career journeys of 25 Pacific people working or studying in a diverse range of jobs and fields. We then planned to present these stories on the website in two main ways – as short films organised around key themes and featuring clips from different people, and as individual stories.

There were seven main steps in this process – you can click on each one to read more about it.

The first step was to work out what topics to ask questions about. The ‘interview guide’ was designed by Makiko and Kate, both of whom have worked with Pacific people previously and share an interest in family relationships and the experiences of children of Pacific migrants growing up in Australia. The PIN reviewed the guide and provided feedback to ensure the questions covered all topics they were interested in.

To highlight the diversity of the Pacific Islands, we tried our best to include people from as diverse ethnic backgrounds as possible. The participants have Fijian, i-Kiribati, Māori, Niuean, ni-Vanuatu, Tongan, Samoan and Solomon Islander heritage. If we have the opportunity to conduct more interviews in future, we would love to include Pacific people from other backgrounds. In the meantime, as Marita Davis writes on this website, many Pacific people experience similar issues in Australia (and in other parts of the diaspora) and we hope all Pacific youth can still find inspiration in the stories on this website.

We also tried to find people from a wide range of occupations to show the variety of different industries that Pacific people work in and the diverse pathways they took to develop their careers and aspirations.

Ane, a second-generation Tongan Australian who is a community worker and student, contributed to this project as an interviewer. In this role she served as a bridge between the participants and the researchers, Makiko and Kate. Ane incorporated her own lived experience as a second-generation Pasifika Australian in the interviews, facilitating rich and well-informed conversations with participants.

The interview format we used is called ‘in-depth’ narrative interviewing, which aims to encourage participants to share their stories and decide for themselves what they want to talk about. The later part of the interview included some more structured questions. As the main interviewer, Ane also contributed to the design of the interview questions and further refined them once interviewing commenced.

Most interviews were conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic and successive lockdowns in Victoria. Although we had originally planned to visit participants’ homes with a video camera to take high-quality recordings, we had to change to online interviews using Zoom. This means that participants had to use a webcam or a smartphone for their interviews – we are very grateful for the extra effort they put in to participate in this project. On a positive note, it also meant we could include some people outside Victoria. Participants had the choice of appearing on the website in video or audio, and to use their real name or a different name.

All interview recordings were transcribed (written out) and sent to participants for their approval. People could edit their interviews by letting us know if they wanted to delete certain sections. This means that the uploaded audio and video content on this website have been created from information that participants are happy to share in public. Everyone we talked to was passionate about participating in this project and generously shared their life stories in the hope that they will help other Pacific young people map out their futures.

After the interviewees sent back their approved transcripts, Susannah edited them to remove any content people had asked to be deleted. Kate then spent some time reading through all the interviews and breaking the stories down into different categories and themes with the help of a software program called NVivo. She then discussed these themes with Makiko and Ane to get their feedback, and together they came up with a final list.

Next, Makiko, Kate and Ane talked about what themes to choose for the short films, consulting with the PIN as well. This was one of the most challenging parts of the process because the interviews were incredibly rich, making it hard to decide what topics to focus on. We would love for you to also watch and listen to the individual interviews that are also available on this website as you can hear more detail about people’s stories there.

Finally, Makiko and Kate wrote 36 scripts for the short films, and Susannah carefully created script versions of all the individual stories. Pasifika researcher Dr Ruth (Lute) Faleolo and writer (and interviewee) Marita Davies contributed reading materials for this website. Once we had checked everything, it was time to write the content for all the other pages on the website, finalise the site map, then hand everything over to the online resource developer!

Crosswalk Media, a website development company that is experienced in working with researchers and community groups, created the films and online resource. Once completed, Makiko and Kate checked all the content, the PIN gave the seal of approval, and the online resource went live.

Thank you

The rich stories and information on this website have been possible only because of the generosity of the project participants, particularly the 25 people who shared their stories in the interview study, but also the many people who participated in the survey. We are very grateful to them all. Finally, we are thankful to the Pacific Islander Network for providing us with a platform to share these stories – it means the rich experiences and knowledge of our Pacific community members are freely available to anyone with an internet connection.

Makiko Nishitani and Kate Johnston-Ataata

Makiko Nishitani, the leader of the Pacific Role Models project, collaborated with Professor Helen Lee and the founder of the PIN, Dean Wickham on a previous project exploring experiences of Pacific people in the Sunraysia region of north-western Victoria, Australia. They held several workshops with Pacific high school students and young adults and found that they needed more accessible information about career trajectories of people who are from the same or similar cultural backgrounds. The project was funded by La Trobe University (2014-2018) and an ARC Linkage Project grant (LP150100385) (2015-2019). As Research Assistants, Ms Jasmine Kirirua, Mrs Sereima Waqarevu, and Mrs ‘Atelaite Foliaki contributed to this project.

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