Engaging with Pacific community members through work

When talking about their jobs, many people shared the joys of engaging with Pacific community members though paid work or in voluntary roles in their spare time. For some, these encounters happened as teacher-student, practitioner-client or health professional-patient relationships.

People found that Pacific community members appreciate engaging with Pacific workers, and that they as professionals enjoy serving their community. Others described engaging with Australian society more broadly to make Pacific cultures and people more visible, or running projects aimed at supporting Pacific communities.


They all get very excited when they see me. I remember the first year of being at the school that I was at, I had students who went home and told their parents that I was Samoan even though I told them I was Tongan. They went home and told their parents, “My teacher’s Samoan, we have a meet and greet, you have to come to school to meet her because she’s Samoan!” So I had all these parents come up to me and they started talking in Samoan to me and I had to apologise. I’m like, “I’m so sorry, I’m not Samoan, I’m Tongan,” and it didn’t matter to them at all that I wasn’t Samoan, they were just so excited to see a Pacific Island teacher in the school. And then I realised how valuable it is to have a Pacific Island representative in different fields because our students are known for being behavioural students at school. 

The schools, they know Pacific Islander kids to be naughty or they don’t follow rules, they’re defiant. But when I was at the school, well, when I moved to the school and the school realised, “Wow, this is the first time we’ve seen so many of our Pacific Islander parents at a school function. They never ever come. And this is the first time.” And all of them were there just to meet me because the kids had gone home and said, “We’ve got a Samoan teacher.” So they were all there to meet me and they were all just excited, you know our Islander thing, you know what to do if they’re not listening. And of course, no, I can’t do that. That’s the Islander way, but I love my job and I want to keep it. But I do just say to the kids, I’m like, “We’ve spoken to Mum and Dad. I’ve spoken to Mum and Dad, I know Mum and Dad, and you really need to start focusing.”

And the students, because they saw me in the classroom, they were like, “Oh, we can be teachers.” I’m like, “Yes, you can be teachers. You can be anything you want to be.”


My career has really taken off – in my eyes, my success is just me working and getting clients regularly that come back. I would say 60 to 70% of my business is all returning clients. I might get a lot of newbies, I get a lot of people that just come back.

So to me, that’s more rewarding than anything else because it means I’ve built really good relationships with people and relationships with lots of different cultures, which leads me to kind of recently, maybe in the last two years or so, I finally turned around and I was like, “You know what, I love all my clients.” They would always say, “Do you specifically do European clients?” And I was like, “I do any clients.”

But then judging from my Instagram which is basically my main page, that’s basically who I did.

If you looked at all the clientele that I do, I would scroll through and I’d only see European females. And then, it clicked with me because I obviously, I’d love to do more and more of my culture, but it clicked that I wasn’t posting them. Even though I had done them, I wasn’t posting them.

So I turned around, I was like, “No, I can’t do this. This is not what I want.” And so I started posting more and more Island girls. And they started flooding in, which is exactly what I wanted because like I was saying to a few of my other clients like, “I need to kind of come back to myself.” If that makes sense. I feel lost, I felt a bit lost. But being around my own culture, I’ve recently made a really big group of friends that are all Poly and we just have the best time. So it’s been really good to kind of come back to the people that know me most but don’t know me at the same time, which has been really rewarding.


We decided to open a salon in Port Melbourne, and that was a whole new ball game. I was so nervous before we moved there, because there was no-one out there that looked like us. When we opened our doors, people were looking inside our windows, staring at us as if we were some sort of…there was a show going on inside. 

I think there was one afternoon, we were pretty much finished for the day, and we were all in the back room, just chatting and a customer walked in and we heard the door and we’re like, “Oh.” We started walking down, and then she’s like…what did she say?  


She was like, “Oh, why is no-one in here?” Or something like, “Oh -“. Trying to say she’s going to call the owner and tell on us.


Yeah, it’s so different when you go into a space where they’ve never seen you, seen people like us. Even when we’re walking on the streets, we don’t see anyone like us. Then when we do, we just stare like, “Hey! Are we connected somehow?”  


“Are we cousins??” 


Here, living in Tarneit where we live, if we go around, it’s just normal. We see it, we smile, whatever. But in Port Melbourne, it was so different. It was just like, we stood out like a sore thumb. But that’s what made me want to push more. I loved that when our Island sisters came in, they felt it was their salon too. We would just like welcome them-


Hug them.  


Yeah, it was just, that’s the type of environment that we wanted to create because I think even before LashFix was even a thing, I wasn’t even making more than $150 a week. I said, “I will open a salon where Island woman will walk in and feel proud and be like” – because I’ve walked into salons and they’ve looked me up and down, like “Are you lost? Are you okay?” I knew how that made me feel. So I did not want that to be the feeling when they walked into our salon.


Especially when I see other Islanders coming into the emergency department, for example, and they see me, I see them and we just have this … I can see that they’re shocked because there’s a Tongan, not a Tongan, but there’s an Islander, someone like them that’s working as a doctor there. And for example, like last week, I was looking after a Samoan lady and she was just like, “It makes me feel so much better knowing that there’s an Islander looking after me.” And I was like, “Wow. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to help look after you while you’re here.”

So empathy is one big thing. Respect as well is another big thing. Growing up, I see us all as we’re all humans. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, if you’re a cleaner, it doesn’t matter. I’ve walked through the hospital with other doctors before, I know a lot of people from the cleaner to the person working at the coffee shop and I’ll say hello to everyone, and my boss I remember was like, “Wow, you know a lot of people.” And I’m like, “I just say hi to everyone and I’ll just get to know people.”


And so, the thing that I’m looking at now is I’m moving to where I introduced this idea of a health spectrum, where you’re starting at sickness at one end of the spectrum and then wellness is the other extreme. Now, we all sit somewhere on this health spectrum.

Now, where I find myself coming back to now is this idea of everyone trying to improve their health, and a lot of people in our Pacific cultures are struggling with chronic health disease problems, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure problems, obesity, and my father being a doctor, my younger brother being an accountant, my youngest brother being a doctor, he’s an emergency doctor. We have this insight into this world of health, and the perceptions of the public on how Pacific Islanders may be. They’re really friendly people, like big, loud, boisterous, fat blokes, and that’s great, but at the same time it saddens me a little bit because there’s so much more there is to us, and so one way that I’m looking to change that is setting up this health company to eventually move our people from sickness to wellness.

When you’re sick you go to see the doctor, but then when you’re looking to get over that original sickness and improve your health, your diet, your exercise, that’s a bit of a grey area because if you’re pre-diabetic, you may not have as many opportunities to help you in the health field as if you have full-blown Type 2 diabetes, or you need to go dialysis or something. The medical field can be mobilised.

I’m learning to be a people person, managing people, being a manager of people, being a manager of expectations, providing employment, providing opportunities for other people, but more so to spread this idea of moving people across this health spectrum because there’s more to health than just going and punching out a heavy exercise program. It’s about managing your stress, how good your sleep is, what’s on your plate, the decisions we make, and the relationships you keep with people around you.

And if I was to project where I’d like to go, this health spectrum and delivering this business, this health company that can help you in your health journey I think, that’s what gets me up out of bed.


In Melbourne, for a number of years, I was a solo Pacific Island dancer.

I did many festivals, I ran workshops, and I wanted to see Pacific Island culture everywhere. I truly believe we belonged everywhere, and we deserve to be everywhere. And so I would apply for the most random festivals and bring a touch of Polynesia there whether it was a dance workshop, a talk about our ethos, our values. And just anything that could bring us into that space and help us to be seen. When did I do that?  

Yeah, yeah, that was a few years now. From there, I was blessed to meet Noelani Le Nevez who is the founder and co-director of Nuholani Polynesian dance group. And together with a number of amazing wahine, we created and grew Nuholani Polynesian dance.  And again, we were getting into White Night Festival main stage. We were going to Mind, Body, Spirit Festival. And then there were all these other self-care festivals, camping festivals, electronic music festival. All these different spaces, we were just putting ourselves in, readjusting our music to sound maybe a little electronic but just trying to be there and seen. Growing an appreciation for Pasifika culture and dance. 


And I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to run a project directly with my people, people of my ethnicity and background, people with understanding of issues that directly affect our people, Pasifika people.

And anyway, that Pasifika project was something that I was able to lead and involved a Pasifika clinic, whereby there’ll be a Pasifika legal clinic in our office, and people were able to come in with their legal issues. It turned out to be probably more than what we expected. The breadth of legal issues was surprising. A lot of it revolved around misunderstanding of things like tax or financial hardship.

And just understanding the culture and having colleagues who didn’t really understand the culture, that was an interesting thing. I did have people who were from minority backgrounds and it was easier for them to grasp with it, but senior management and most of my colleagues were white and they couldn’t truly understand it unless I…I’ll try to explain it as something that has been systematic and enshrined within our upbringing. But yeah, I think it truly wasn’t understood. Nevertheless, that experience was written up into a report and the report was made available to stakeholders and service providers. It really enlightened service providers, including the police, and helped them understand that there are cultural things behind their offending, behind their engagement with services.

We had talanoa sessions around Melbourne. as well. Those three things just revolved around support from the community and couldn’t have happened without community leaders. The consolidation of Pasifika people, I’ve noticed, is especially strong in Victoria, with the establishment of peak bodies currently underway, if it’s not completed. I’m not too sure where things are, being in Darwin. But when I was down there, I noticed that there were key community leaders that stood out. And those ones were well renowned for having those strong links and networks and they were able to open the doors and have their tenterhooks into different parts of Melbourne. And they’re generous enough to offer those, and offer their time, their generosity. But again, these people weren’t paid. It’s just the generosity of community people helping community people.


I’m actually part of a community group here in Melbourne, it’s actually my first time doing community work, like actually being involved in the…Pasifika community. And the reason why is because in Auckland, New Zealand, I grew up with a lot of programs and events for Māori and Pasifika people. And there’s even scholarships just specifically for Pacific Islanders, and schools and uni. So, when I moved to Melbourne I was actually shocked to see that there wasn’t much happening for Pasifika people. And I remember asking my friend, I was like, “Man, there’s not much stuff out there for Islanders, and where’s the Island community?” Because I grew up with it everywhere. And I actually took advantage of it because it was just so normal. And there was always something happening, and even on TV, I’d see just brown faces and even on the radio, I’d just hear like Pasifika music artists, so I saw it everywhere.

And when I moved to Melbourne there wasn’t much of it. And when I asked one of my friends, she introduced me to this community group, so now I’m involved with that and it’s just rewarding, and at times it can be tiring, but I just have to remind myself of why I’m doing it and why I started doing it, helping the community. And yeah, I’m enjoying the community work. I can’t wait for Melbourne to be the same as what it is in Auckland in terms of the…for the Pasifika people and also the Indigenous of Australia.

  • ‘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
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