International & Community Development Specialist

Name: Annie
Age at interview: 26 years
Occupation: On-Award & Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Australia Awards Solomon Islands

Ethnicity: Solomon Islander/Australian
Country of birth: Solomon Islands

In this video
0:00:00Early Years & Moving to Australia
0:01:20Primary School & Experiences of Racism
0:12:09High School – Early Years
0:15:10First Job
0:16:35High School – Senior Years
0:22:19Pathway to University & Moving Away from Home
0:25:57Family Illness
0:28:46University Degree
0:32:16Moving Back to Solomon Islands and Internship Experience
0:35:40Finishing University Degree and Starting Career
0:41:52Pasifika Experiences of Education
0:47:56Language and Cultural Practices
0:55:45Family Relationships
1:02:47Advice for Pasifika Youth

Early Years and Moving to Australia


I grew up in the Solomon Islands for the first sort of six years of my life and in about 1998 there was a civil conflict that broke out. Because of that we [were] sort of in a bit of danger if we were to stay there as a family, so we moved to Australia in the year 2000 when things sort of got a little bit too violent. We just packed up pretty much everything and moved to Mildura in Victoria, so regional Victoria. It wasn’t our first option, but we ended up staying with our dad’s friends there for a bit until we sort of found our feet and found our own place. It was just very quickly life just changed from living on the tropical islands to sort of dry and flat Mildura.

It was my sisters, I have two older sisters and a brother, my mum and dad, it was all of us that moved to Mildura together.

Primary School and Experiences of Racism

I started school in prep actually. In year 2000 I started prep just at a primary school in Mildura. I sort of felt like I was on holiday. I thought I was on holiday until one day I just sort of walked in on this class and I was the only brown kid and it started to dawn on me that, oh, I think this is my new life now here in Australia. I think my first sort of impressions of school in Australia starting out in primary school is that it was a lot more structured than what I had experienced going to school in the Islands.

I noticed that teachers were a lot more one on one with children, which I kind of liked because it felt like they were much kinder than some of the stricter teaching that I’d experienced back home in the Solomon Islands. I did obviously find a few challenges in that. Probably the curriculum was a bit more advanced than I had expected and I felt the pressure from sort of my mum mostly to really do well at school because it was really emphasised to us as kids that we’d moved to Australia, not only because we were running away from the conflict, but because for you guys’ education. If you guys don’t go to school and do a good job at school then it’s sort of, she didn’t say it but it felt like it would’ve been a waste that we moved our whole life overseas.

I did feel a sense of pressure throughout my earlier years at school to do well. Obviously being pretty different from country, predominantly White kids at my school, I always felt like I had to try a lot harder to do really well at my schoolwork and sort of prove myself to the teachers as well. It was probably in grade, I’d say grade three, when I sort of experienced my hardest year at school. I was put into this class where I was again, the only person of colour. But I was with a teacher that didn’t look me in the eyes, and she never acknowledged me in the way that I noticed she was acknowledging other kids. I noticed her really favouring, sorry, the White girls that looked like her daughters. That’s when I started to realise that, oh, I think you’re being treated differently because of the way that you look. Which I couldn’t really believe that because teachers aren’t supposed to do that.

But that was sort of a real…probably the hardest year for me in primary school. I always tried my best with my schoolwork, and I was a really good student as well. But the pressure wasn’t just coming from me, I realised in grade three. I realised that in hindsight, anyway, that as sort of, not just a person of colour, a child of colour, but as a sort of a black presenting child of colour that teachers have a bias. That’s when I really realised that teachers have a bias and it doesn’t start when you’re older, it starts when you’re quite little actually. But of course, I’m able to articulate that now but when I was little, I didn’t really fully understand but I knew that I wasn’t being treated the way that I should have been.

I always felt like the teachers would deliberately not choose me to answer questions, that if there was sort of too much havoc in the classroom I would get the blame for it, or I would be made as an example way too often. At home, it was just my mum for a while because my dad left to go back to the Solomon Islands because we had a business there. If he wasn’t back there trying to pick up the pieces from what the militants had left after they’ve sort of ransacked our property, if he didn’t go back to try and make something of it then we would have really struggled financially. My dad left to go back, and it was just my mum at home raising four kids and she knew how to read and write, but I think the nerves that she felt, she really underestimated herself a lot. She’s a Melanesian woman. She’s a full Melanesian woman so she’s as black as they come for lack of better words, in a predominantly conservative sort of White town.

She felt obviously quite anxious just trying to do her best and because of that, I sort of kept a lot of my struggles academically and socially to myself. I didn’t tell her that I was sort of struggling a lot with how teachers were treating me in school. But I should have thinking about it now. But I just wanted to sort of save her from that stress. I just wanted to prove to her I’ve got it, I guess, got it together at school. Because she was sort of not…I think the shock of having to move overseas so quickly and our life just…like upheaving. How do I say this? She didn’t really know how to organise us kids in a way where we could thrive in school, so we were often late to school. I’m not talking a few minutes late a couple of times a month. We were late 10, 15 minutes every single day to school to the point where we were known as the late kids. People that weren’t even my class would be like, “You need to get to school on time Annie.”

They would really sort of have another reason to pick on us on top of our skin colour. We were already on Island time, but not in the good way when you’re going back for holidays to Fiji or something. But we were on Island time in the way that it corrupted our education. We became known as the late kids and lazy Island kids and stuff. Where it sort of didn’t matter how well we performed, we were still sort of just treated like less than. The teachers created an environment where their little comments made other kids feel okay to treat us that way as well. Yes, which sort of brings around to the very obvious challenge that I had from a very young age in going to school in Mildura.

That was my experience of racism. Not just me and my siblings as well, but I can only speak for myself. Grade three was definitely the year when I understood what racism was. So I realised that I wasn’t just being bullied because I was sort of a brown or a black girl, but I started to realise that it was because people thought that I was Indigenous as well. People thought that I was an Aboriginal person. Whether they were kids or parents of the kids or teachers, the way that I started to understand how Aboriginal people were treated was really different to how other people of colour were being treated. It’s like a different kind of racism that I sort of was subjected to. But in saying that I can still never fully understand what it feels like because I’m not Aboriginal, but people thought I was just because of the way that I looked. I think that’s when I realised that how kids here are really mean compared to back home. Kids here can be really mean.

That’s when I started to seek out friendships with other Aboriginal kids or other Islander kids at school. We all started to talk and share our experiences and I started to realise, oh wow, they’re experiencing things the way that I’m experiencing things, so it’s not all in my head. The teachers aren’t right. They’re not right, they’re just mean. But despite all that, I still did very well at school in primary school.

High School – Early Years

I had to go to a different high school to do year seven to 10. We sort of had a choice of a few public schools and one private school.

Obviously, we not really making a lot of money. We didn’t have a lot of money, so we went to probably the most, or what was known as the high school with the worst reputation in Mildura. It was sort of this high school in the middle of town that was sort of surrounded by government housing and all of the Aboriginal kids and the Islander kids and the White kids that were poor. We all went there. And that was really good. That was a really good experience for me to be in a multicultural environment and to have friendships with people that were from refugee families, refugee backgrounds. I really got to experience the multicultural side of Mildura where I was living.

But in saying that, although the social life was still pretty good the curriculum was probably stuck in the ’70s or ’80s at that high school. I always knew that I wanted to go to uni and do something, but I didn’t really think too…I was sort of too glad to be in high school compared to primary school that I was even thinking about the steps that I needed to take and what I needed to study. Teachers weren’t really…didn’t really believe in their students actually. There was a lot of comments from teachers where they sort of expected that the students just needed to finish year 10 and get a retail job or a fast-food job, or just if you’re really good go to TAFE or get a trade. But there was no real strong belief that most of us were going to go to uni. Which is really sad to say but I sort of was glad that I wasn’t really listening to them. I just sort of knew that I was going to go to uni. I’m just going to go to uni. That’s the only way out for me really, because I really wanted to leave that town.

I made a lot of good friends, but I really wanted to leave that town.

First Job

So I went through high school and I eventually got a job as a waitress in year nine. As soon as I was sort of able to work, I got some work, which is really good to feel sort of a little bit like I could make some money for myself. That was really empowering actually to be a waitress because I was quite a shy person, very introverted. But the work helped me to get out of my shell and forced me to speak to people in my community, like the rich White people or the more educated side of town would come to this cafe.

I sort of learned that you actually can’t run away, you have to talk to these people. The more I talked to them and sort of broke down those walls of being the shy black girl in town to the girl that can talk to different people in the community, I think I got a lot of confidence from that job. It gave me a sort of a comfortable feeling in where I lived that I hadn’t had before. I was also able to get my sisters jobs there too when they were ready, so that was really good as well for them.

High School – Senior Years

Fast forward to year 11 and 12, and I started to think a bit more seriously about what I wanted to do at uni. I think I chose to do more of the STEM subjects, like maths and science because I thought I was going to be a doctor for some reason. I only say that now because I didn’t really know what was out there for me. I really actually had no idea. I was in year 11, but I still had no idea what happens after year 12. I didn’t know that people went to uni after year 12. Then when I started to realise, oh, all these kids actually know what they’re talking about and they know about all these different forms you have to fill out and who to go talk to and who to ask questions, what questions to ask the teachers, and I felt like, “Whoa, how do you guys know all that stuff? Did I miss a class or something? What’s going on?”

Then I was like, “Oh, I think they have aunties or parents that they get this advice from.” But we still didn’t know anyone in town really. I had no family in Mildura. My family were just my friends really and the different Island communities there, the Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, the seasonal workers that would come picking, they’re the people that we felt closest to. But none of them had gone to the university or had work that I wanted. We had already been picking fruit on the farms since we were in grade six, so I knew that I didn’t want that job.

I think when I was in year 11, I was like, “Just go and ask the teachers, just ask them. That’s what they’re there for. Just ask them what do I need to do if I want this job? Or how do I know how to find different types of jobs? And what subjects do I have to pick to get there?” I just asked a lot of questions to a lot of the school counsellors and just teachers that showed me kindness and that didn’t judge me and say racist comments to me in class. I just ignore them and did my best to ask teachers like, “How do I go to uni? What do I do?” But it was really good though because this, year 11 and 12 school that I did my VCE at, they were very good at preparing students for university. I had to ask questions, but at the same time they really made an effort to ensure that we all were supported in year 12, especially.

It was really nice to see other Islander kids also applying for uni. That was really nice to see because before year 11, you try and talk to your friends about what they wanted to do, and it seemed like it was more of an uncomfortable conversation. Because we just joke around with each other, we don’t really talk about university and getting a job and things like that. You just sort of hanging out with each other, you’re just friends. It seems like it’s almost another type of language that you’re speaking when you talk about that stuff, so it was good to see some Pacific Islanders that I knew went to other schools, or that went to my school in high school, start talking to each other about what they wanted to do and what subjects they were taking and just to compare notes and help each other out. That was really good.

I thought I wanted to be a doctor and I took all of these maths and science subjects and realised that I was really out of my depth. I really shouldn’t have been taking them. I didn’t get the support that I needed, and my family life was way too unstable to foster a peaceful study environment at home. There was a point when it was just my older brother and my little sister living at home with me and it was just us paying for the bills and doing our own shopping and cooking our own food. We didn’t have parents to really help us focus on that. They were too busy trying to balance our life in Mildura and our life that we had left in shambles back in the Solomons.

We had to sort of be pretty independent pretty quickly, which is good now. But at the time, I definitely would have performed a lot better if I had that support at home. Regardless I finished my exams and I got a decent…I forgot the score. ATAR. Decent ATAR, not the one that I wanted, but I found a pathway to a bachelor degree that I wanted to do.

Pathway to University and Moving Away from Home

I really wanted to do Pacific studies at the [university name] in Canberra, but the ATAR was way too high. So again, I just made an effort to reach out to people’s emails that I found on the website and just talk to them like they’re regular people and just get over my nerves and just ask them like, “I really want to study this, but I don’t know how to get there if I don’t have a good ATAR.”

That’s when I found out about the associate degree that they offered at the college there. In 2013 I got into the associate’s degree and they said I could do two years of that and some of the credits would go towards my bachelor degree and I could just go straight into a Bachelor of Pacific Studies. Which is crazy because it had nothing to do with what I was studying in VCE. But at that point I had found out about Pacific studies in my last couple months of year 12, so I just kept going with the flow really. I didn’t put too much pressure on myself in what it exactly was that I studied. I sort of just wanted to see what was out there and then see where that just took me. But I still didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do for a job.

It was 2013 and I moved to Canberra and I moved to the student housing there and it was hard. It was really hard experience. I’m not going to lie. It was like stepping into another world where, I grew up in Mildura, public school education, faced a lot of obviously social challenges with racism. Racism really affected me and my confidence. Then I was sort of thrusted into this university life where it was students that came from really wealthy, really successful families at the [university name]. I didn’t realise that it was the top university in Australia and wow, I was out of my league. But at the same time, I still had a drive to keep going. I just got to do this. I really want to be here. I was so inspired by seeing the Pacific academics and all their research and all these projects they’re involved in and networking and meeting all these international students from the Pacific that were professionals in their own right just coming back to do a bachelor’s or I mean, a master’s, but they had professional work going on.

The more I talk to all of these very successful Pacific Islanders, I was so inspired. I just completely forgot about everything in Mildura. I was like, “Whatever, put that behind me. This is my life now.” I just tried my best and I took help wherever I could find it and I really listened to my tutors just to really brush up on my writing skills because it was terrible. I was a terrible writer. I did not know how to research or articulate myself at all, but I just really stuck my head down and decided that I would just try my best. That was good.

Family Illness

But then my halfway through my first year of my associates degree, my dad passed away from cancer. That was really hard. It definitely was a terrible time because my life got really messy after that. It was the best year ever, but it was also obviously the worst year ever after that.

Because he was managing our family business in the Solomons and up until he was sick, he was in the hospital on his laptop working and the company really needed him to stay afloat. We all sort of had to balance our lives as me and my siblings. We all had to really figure out how to keep our family life in the Solomon’s and our business and our house and our bills and debt in check. But also we were all at uni or doing trade apprenticeship or whatever. We all had stuff going on and my little sister was in year 12 as well. So it was really hard. I went back to Mildura where he was getting treatment and had his funeral there. But I straightaway my exams and worked for the family business while I was studying and just trying to figure out what life was going to look like while I was also trying to get used to university life and everything.

I’m trying to articulate myself but it’s hard because it was a really, really messy time. Anyway, so then I ended up jumping between Canberra, Mildura and Solomon Islands, which is crazy, but my little sister was pretty much living alone for her entire year 12 in Mildura because my…this is a bit personal, I don’t know if it’s relevant, but anyway, my life was just sort of in between these different places. But I still managed to finish my associates degree.

University Degree

I actually did really well and I got fast tracked into my bachelors, so I didn’t do two years of my associates, I did a year and then I got fast tracked into my bachelor’s. I did part time while I worked as a…what did I do first? As a, oh, I forgot.

Oh, I think I worked at a supermarket just because I found it really hard without financial support. I wasn’t receiving any financial help from my family. It was too hard. We didn’t have enough to support all of us kids. We all had to figure things out very quickly. We had no family in Australia really to rely on. It was always just us. Sorry. I took on this supermarket cashier job to help me just pay for my rent, pay for my food and just things you need to get through uni. I worked part time and I studied part time just so that I could achieve my goal of getting my degree but look after myself and not rely on my mum who was obviously grieving.

I was also grieving as well, which is hard and in hindsight I should’ve taken a break, but it was not in my mind like, “Oh, I don’t need to take a break. Pacific Islanders don’t take gap years. That’s not a thing that we do.” We just study, we just finish it and then that’s it, we get a job and then we can help our family out. It was really a huge goal for me to just get my degree, but because I was grieving and because of this new environment I was in where I was really different and I really didn’t have the support that these other kids had in order for them to perform at this peak university, I had to work really hard. But in the end, it was all too much and I didn’t perform as well as I’d like at uni.

I ended up dropping down to two courses at a time to one course at a time. I ended up failing a few courses, having to retake them again. Then it just got too much because although I had the support of the Solomon Islander community in Canberra, you need your family when you’re grieving, and I didn’t have that. My family business was sort of failing in the Solomons and my mum was making things really difficult. She was making things really difficult just because she was really struggling, that she wasn’t really able to listen to us anymore. I think the pressure really got to her. So in 2017 I just was like, “No, I can’t focus at uni, everything’s too stressful. I need to go back home in Solomons and help my mum out with the business.”

Moving Back to Solomon Islands and Internship Experience

That’s what I did. I just left everything and went back to Solomons. I went back there and I thought, “Well while I’m here, I’ll work for the business, but I’ll also try and do something for me as well.” Because although as an Islander you just want to give back to your family and help them out, but I was also feeling really different too because I wanted to take on an internship with an NGO over there to help build my resume a little bit. But I felt really guilty because I was just constantly thinking in my mind like, “Oh, but aren’t you going to uni so you can help your family? Isn’t that the end goal? If you’re here helping your family, why are you doing this internship that’s taking away your time from your family.”

It was a huge process of just reflecting on what it means to be like an Islander. What does it mean to be successful? What is your purpose and is it okay to stray off and do your own thing? It was a lot. But anyway, I took this internship with [NGO name] which was an NGO over there and I was lucky enough to get a interim position with them for six months and they paid for my visa to work there. I did that and that was actually really good because I got some pretty practical experience in what it was like to work in sort of an area that I was really interested in, which was sort of aid and development in the Pacific.

To have that firsthand experience and to be able to travel to the villages and do monitoring and evaluation stuff which is what I was in, that was really, really good. It gave me a huge insight into what was possible for me to do for work. Because I always knew that I wanted to go back to the Solomons. I always knew I wanted to work in the Pacific. I grew up in Mildura but it’s home, but I didn’t feel super connected to Pacific Islanders in Mildura because there were a lot of Polynesians and sometimes a lot of Polynesians don’t realise that there are other Islanders in the Pacific that aren’t just Polynesians. Kids didn’t really know what Melanesia was and what Micronesia was.

I sort of didn’t feel as connected to wanting to contribute to my community in Mildura like I wanted to contribute to my home in the Pacific or the Pacific as a whole, as a region. I felt like that’s where I needed to be headed in my career, still not knowing what it is exactly that I wanted to do.

Finishing University Degree and Starting Career

After the year I was finished with working in the Solomons for the family business and doing my internship, I came back to Australia, but I didn’t go back to Canberra. I just transferred to Melbourne to [university name]and that’s where I finished my bachelor’s degree and I did that in Bachelor of International Relations. It was really a good experience I’d say because the types of students that were there were from more multicultural, multiethnic backgrounds and they sort of came from migrant backgrounds like me and they had a lot more support that seemed a lot more culturally specific as well.

I felt more like I could do things at my pace. It wasn’t so competitive, and I didn’t feel so different as well. I finished my degree and in my final year, I wanted to take on more meaningful work. I didn’t want to get a retail job and I didn’t want to work in hospitality like I had been working in previously. I wanted to actually try and find some work that I actually really enjoyed and that could help build on my experience. Still not knowing what it is that I wanted to do, knowing that I want to work in aid and development or something in the Pacific, but what it is exactly I still didn’t know.

I looked on this job search website and I found a job that was working as an assistant to an Indigenous Australian health consultant. Luckily I got the job obviously because I had experience in business administration. But also because there was a connection between my experience as a Melanesian person living in Australia and the experience of my sort of employer who was obviously an Indigenous person. I think there were some overlaps in experiences of being displaced from your own land and experiences of racism and wanting to reconnect with culture and being on this journey to reconnect with your culture and community, that I think that overlap of the Pacific Islander experience in Australia and the Aboriginal experience, there was a few similarities there.

I think because there was that personal experience that I had, I think that actually helped me more in getting that position at this consultancy. I ended up working as an executive assistant to the CEO there for the last year of my bachelor’s degree. I was then meant to finish up with him and work as a…oh, sorry, rewind a little bit. While I was working for the consultancy, I really enjoyed it because this particular consultant specialised in combating racism in the Australian healthcare sector. But this person obviously had an expertise in racism itself. Again, being able to share my own experiences of racism in Australia really helped me perform in that job. Although I was meant to finish that job at the start of this year, because of COVID I couldn’t start my other job.

So I’ve been able to keep working with the consultancy and I’m now project officer with the firm. I only finished my undergrad degree last year, but because of the experience that I had gained as an executive assistant and through my internship with the NGO, I got a volunteer position with [government agency name] to work in the Solomon Islands this year. The job was to, it’s a communications job to help the ministry of justice and legal affairs in the Solomon Islands. I was supposed to start that assignment in March of this year, but of course with COVID happening I wasn’t able to go over. But thankfully, because of the rapport that I’d built with my current employer, I’ve been able to sort of be promoted during COVID and at the same time I’m waiting for the borders to reopen to go back to the Solomons and work. But I’ve also just started remote volunteering with [government agency name] for this assignment.

Pasifika Experiences of Education


Thanks Annie. You’ve covered so much ground and it’s such a fascinating story, there’s so many sort of touch points where I can totally relate and I can touch base with you on that offline. Thanks so much for really kind of taking the time to step us through, even though there were some parts which I know it would have been really hard for you to talk about, so I appreciate your sharing that. When you mentioned your point about being in year 11 and 12 and you said that it was a little bit strange having conversations about uni with these other Pasifika youth, but do you know why or do you understand why those sorts of conversations are a bit hard to have?


I think with a lot of the Pacific Islander students that I was going through high school with and through the senior college doing the VCE, we all sort of, or most of us anyway, if you weren’t sort of…had a family that was sort of in the church or really in the community like the Samoan or the Tongan or the Fijian community, whatever it was, you sort of…how do I say…a lot of these kids came from broken families, I’d say, families that were either, I guess what you’d call fresh off the boat, just first couple of years living in Australia and you don’t really have family that have migrated there 10 or 20 years ago or even 30. A lot of students had just recently migrated to Australia and their families or their parents probably didn’t, not probably, they didn’t speak English. They didn’t have formal education.

I think for a lot of us, we were sort of finish going to school every day, speaking English and thinking in a really Western way and things had structure, but when you go home, we don’t speak English at home, there’s not a lot of structure. You don’t really have the freedom to really think about making plans or thinking about reflecting on what you’ve learnt that day. It’s more of like you’re thrown just into reality again and it’s worrying about what you’re going to have for dinner or what are you going to have for lunch the next day? Or how are you going to pay for your bills, helping your parents out with application forms and making calls for them and just helping them navigate life in Australia.

That takes a huge emotional and an energetic toll on you as well. Although it’s all you know, you don’t know any different, but it’s like a barrier in you being able to think like other kids that don’t have these challenges, these other kids that can just think about what they want to do for their future or writing up their resume to get a job at their local pub or cinema or whatever. It was like living in different realities. That’s sort of the best I can explain it.  Having a lot of Island communities…how do I say it? Individuals and families and communities of Pacific Islander descent that were living really hard lives in regional Victoria. There’s a lot of gambling issues as well, a lot of drug and mental health problems as well. It’s like it’s our norm. We’re very used to that, and we can navigate it pretty well, but it’s hard.

Those are the types of things that we usually talk about with each other as Islanders at school. That’s the type of conversations we’re having. Aside from that, that’s when you just joke around and you feel most comfortable with your peers. In another way, being with each other you can just joke around in a safe way, in a way that you guys just get each other, and you let off steam and you sort of lighten things up a bit, because if you do start to talk seriously it could probably go downhill really fast and conversations are going to get very real.

I think a lot of Islanders, we’re quite light-hearted and stuff and whether it’s like…because talking about career building and CV building or whatever it is, that’s not really like…how do I say, it’s not really a language that we’re familiar with. It’s like for us Melanesians, we call it the White man’s world. But we all knew that we had to figure out at some point, but I think a lot of us keep that stuff to ourselves and we’ll figure it out on our own. Because sometimes you get made fun of too if you start talking about all these things.

Language and Cultural Practices


I think you spoke a little bit about whether you speak the language or you practice the language, how prominent is that in your family? Then in terms of your values that you carry within your Solomon Islands culture, how much of that do you use in your everyday life and how much does that influence you today?


I speak fluent Solomon Islands pidgin. It’s not my mum’s native language, so my mum has her own native language that belongs to her village, which is Nemba Village in Temotu Province in the Solomons. But in Honiara we speak a pidgin which is a creole mix of English and indigenous languages and that’s the language that I grew up speaking at home growing up, even in Australia. We had to quickly let go of speaking pidgin because my dad would always be like, “You kids are in Australia now, you need to stop speaking pidgin. Everyone here speaks English. People aren’t going to understand you if you speak pidgin. So you have to learn how to speak English formally now.” Just really forcing us to choose English, which is really uncomfortable for us at home when we were younger, when we just moved here because as siblings if we spoke English to each other it was the funniest thing ever.

It was just funny, like as if we were trying to be proper or someone else. But now that’s all we speak to each other. We just speak English to each other and it’s sort of not uncomfortable if we speak pidgin at home, but it’s very obvious that it’s not something that we’re used to. Now it’s sort of a little more awkward for us in that way. But we’re still comfortable speaking it if we see other Solomon Islanders or even Papua New Guinea people, we speak similar pidgin so we’re comfortable to speak pidgin to them as well. To an extent it’s still the language that we think in. It’s still how we perceive the world, which brings us onto how much our culture has been able to stay with us during our time in Australia, I guess.

Sometimes it’s hard because even though I speak English and I do think in English quite a bit, sometimes the way that I’m speaking and thinking, that’s just the presentation of my culture, which inherently is Solomon Islands culture. Even just coming to articulate that just then, that took a really long time for me to understand. I’m still a Solomon Islander and I’m very comfortable in the fact that my experience, even though it’s so different to a typical Solomon Islander, it’s still an experience of a Solomon Islander. This is just the new migration stories that we have but it doesn’t make me any less Solomon Islander because the values are still there, which is for me, listening to my elders or my Solomon community, which I can still contact and stay in touch with online or through the phone, my family back home.

I grew up in a Melanesian household, so I still carry myself in that way. I know that I still have those values today. I’m courteous to others even if people treat me a bit rudely, I’m not going tit for tat and get them back. I think it’s a Pacific thing, you’re just courteous to people. You really care about your relationships with other people and maintaining them. You work and you study, but you always keep in mind why you’re doing it and that’s pretty much to give back to your community. I think for me, another challenge I’ve had in wanting to really honour my culture is to really articulate, well, what is my community now because I’ve had such a strange turn of events in my life where I’ve lived in a lot of different places.

It’s really made me have to reflect on what does community mean to me. It’s really a no-brainer for me, my community is first my mum’s island, my mum’s village, my family there. And her home, where she grew up, that’s my home first because they’re my first family in a way. Then I think my second community is the Solomon Islands itself. I think that as Islanders who have migrated out of the islands, there’s still a big feeling of you’ve gone to study overseas and everything, but can you really call yourself a Solomon Islander if you haven’t given back, if you’re not contributing in some way, shape or form back to the country or at least back to your people back there.

Then I think my other community is just the Pacific Islander community in general, whether they’re here in Australia or in the region. Just wherever I am if I come across an Islander, that’s still my community. I always try and do my best to give back or connect with Pacific Islander communities. Which is why I’m part of the Pacific Climate Warriors here in Melbourne as well. Which being able to find that community no matter where I am in Australia or the world, that’s where I find a lot of Islanders feel most safe and most comfortable. Even if you’ve never met each other, you just feel like, they’re my people.

I think part of a huge reason, a huge part of what I want to do in my career is just to make sure that I’m practicing and living in a way that honours my Pacific culture, my Melanesian culture first, which is based on those values of giving back and honouring the original…how do I say it? The original community, which is my people back home. But I guess if you’re an Islander in Australia, that’s your family, whatever that means to you. No, I think that’s a really important thing for me.

Family Relationships


Can you touch on just your relationship with your dad’s family or even your extended family on your dad’s side and whether those relationships have played a part in your life?


My dad’s family originally from, well they’re not originally from Melbourne. They’re White settlers from Europe, but they grew up in Melbourne and my dad’s siblings are our closest connection to our dad’s family in Australia. My dad’s marriage to my mum was his third. Because we lived in the Solomon’s, we didn’t grow up with them. When we lived in Mildura we were far away from Melbourne, so we didn’t grow up with them. But we still keep in touch with them today because when, we now live in Melbourne. Although they’re really important to me and I love them, they haven’t obviously been a huge part of my life until recent years. I guess that’s why I connect greater to my Pacific side.


Thanks Annie just for telling me all of that. One of the things that I think I’ve picked up throughout your journey is that there’s this is incredible type of resilience in terms of how you’ve moved from one stage of your life to the other, even with all of the trials and tribulations that you’ve gone through. I think there’s many…I certainly resonate with similar parts of your journey too in terms of your mum being a migrant here and sort of some of her struggles. How has watching your mum navigate her life here in Australia shaped your decision making?


My mum was the main caretaker for me growing up in Australia. Not so much in the Solomons where she was quite busy and my aunties and the rest of my family sort of raised me there. But when we moved to Australia, she was the main caretaker for me and my siblings. I found myself from a really young age listening to everything she had to say. I just always knew that her advice was the only advice really. Whatever she said went and I really respected her, and I helped her sort of look after our household in a way as well. I think as basically living sort of with a single parent household although not technically, but basically for over 10 years in Australia, there was sort of a huge onus on us kids to grow up pretty quickly and not only really listen to what she said, but also take on pretty adult roles as well.

Where not only do we have to sort of not experience youth and childhood in the way that others typically did. We sort of had to be on top of bills and…this is really personal…think in an adult way from a quite young age, even picking on the farm, we had to count and make sure we knew exactly how much money we needed to make to pay for this bill and that bill. Because of just seeing her struggle in that way, if she wasn’t okay, it wasn’t just oh, my dad would take care of her, or an auntie can come over. It was like if she wasn’t okay, none of us were going to be okay.

So you have to take really care into listening to your mum in our house anyway. Just when I saw her struggle and I was sort of her listening ear to hear how her day went. That really did motivate me. Her experiences surely was a huge motivator for me to want to get my education and get a job to help pay for the bills and look after the chores and just pretty much be an adult. I’m only saying that because sometimes it is unfair because you do have to grow up really quickly. But otherwise, I think that probably is what’s created my resilience. I had that role model to look up to who would just keep getting up despite being beat with wave after wave of struggle. And just because she was also a black woman in Mildura or country town, I saw firsthand the way that she would be treated in community, and I wanted to make sure that I would sort of stand up for her if I ever saw it happening or I always wanted to make sure that I’d protect her. I think us siblings always felt that way, that we had to really step it up and do well in life to take care of her because I mean, your mum is your mum.

It’s hard to explain because it seems so basic, but no, your mum is your mum and you have to look after her and protect her. That’s probably a big contributor to the way that I am able to navigate the problems that I’ve faced in life. Just seeing how she’s able to.

Advice for Pasifika Youth


Thanks Annie. Thank you. I think it’s wonderful that you’re at this point in your life where you’re doing really well for yourself, but recognising too that you come from a background where it was really hard in the initial sort of stages of your finishing high school and not really having that support from your parents. What would be some advice that you could recommend for our upcoming youth? We still have plenty of our youth coming through who have no idea, who don’t have the support, who don’t know who to look to. What could be a couple of things that you would recommend based on what you know that you could recommend to some of our youth coming through that might want to do something similar to you? Maybe rather than take the long route, they could go through and have a relatively easier journey as opposed to kind of trying to stumble across.

I think as young people today, they’ll have a different experience of just going through high school in that they have more access to different kinds of media, and they have the internet literally in their hands. Well, I say that, I think that’s important because when I grew up, I didn’t have people that look like me obviously or Pacific professionals in my community that I could sort of look to for advice and feel comfortable going up to, to ask them questions about how they got to where they were. So instead of looking for the exact person that I wanted to look up to, I started just seeing different kinds of adults and the way that they carried themselves.

I started to take note of the type of work they did. I would sort of just focus on aspects of this person, whether it was a personal aspect or a professional aspect. Even just the way they dress, if I like the way they dress, they don’t have to be Pacific Islander but if I can just focus on those things and keep that in mind, just to let myself think really as to like, “That’s really nice. That would be really awesome to experience. I want a job like that.” Just keep in mind the things that you like and don’t be afraid to create your own imaginary life that you would just love, the person you want to be, the places you want to go, whatever work you want to have.

You don’t have to have an exact copy of that person walking around in your life that you can look up to, but you can just let yourself think freely about the type of life you want to live and start to look for clues around you or in your phone. Start to look up places you want to go, jobs that you might like to have and keep that in mind. I think just being able to keep these different things in mind and doing your best to really prioritise that regardless of what’s happening at home or what you’re going through each day. Just really value yourself enough to dream, I think that’s the most basic start to getting to where you want to go in life. Really valuing your own desires too, which I know can be hard in Pacific households. But you are your own person and if you are not okay, your family isn’t going to be okay. So don’t try too hard unless you’re okay. Let yourself think freely and imagine the life that you want to live.

You have your phone, so don’t waste too much time just on social media. But thinking of your phone like pretty much a portal into the life you want. Sometimes Google was the best thing that I could have. Just googling some key words about the type of things that I want to do in a career, that was really good because I didn’t know what exactly it was I wanted to do. But if I typed in a few words and just kept researching on Google, that could lead me to some sort of website or some sort of blog or something that could just give me an indication of what it is I could do.

The second thing I would say is don’t be too embarrassed to talk to teachers or just people in your community. People are just people. They’re just human beings. They’re not going to bite you. They’re not going to eat you. Just see them as regular people that, even if they have these fancy titles or these jobs or these things that seem a little bit off putting, or a little bit too out of your reach or out of your league, don’t think about it too much. If you have a question to ask has go and ask them. They’re just human beings and most likely they’ll be happy to talk to you.

In terms of getting to where I am, I would probably learn about how to write a CV. I think on a very basic level, learn how to write a CV. People at your school probably help you out. I would probably tell them that people that are hiring really look not only at your qualifications but the type of experience that you have, and you don’t have to have finished VCE or VCAL. You don’t have to have finished these things to then start looking for experience, but if there’s an opportunity for you to do something extracurricular at school, whether it be sports or you can think of a possible part time job or just some sort of program that the school is running, don’t be too shy to see how you can get involved because you can build up experiences in your resume while you’re still in high school or while you’re still doing your year 11 and 12. If you can balance it out try to with your studies and your personal life. But gaining experiences and being able to put that in your CV from an early age is a really good thing to set yourself up with.



How would you define success? It could be anything like education, money, health, happiness. What to you is your definition of success?


My definition of success is being able to have a job or business or a way of making money that you feel comfortable in and that you can grow in and being able to make enough money to sustain your own livelihood, but also be able to help out your family and community if you need to. I also think success is being able to be mentally healthy enough, whatever that means to you, so that you can help out people who may have been in situation that you were once before, or just be able to help people that need the help and do that without expecting anything in return. I think that’s what success means to me.

  • ‘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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