Carpenter & Stonemason

Name: Christopher (Chris)
Age at interview: 36 years
Occupation: Carpenter & Stonemason

Ethnicity: Ni-Vanuatu/Fijian
Country of birth: Vanuatu

In this video
0:00:00Early Years and Family Background
0:01:18Leaving School and Finding a Direction
0:04:42Learning a Trade and Travelling 
0:07:18Starting a Business:
0:16:30Connection with Family, Language and Culture
0:18:47Further Education – Papua New Guinea
0:34:22Returning to Vanuatu and Finding Work
0:36:24Moving to Australia – Pacific Labour Scheme
0:42:16Travelling Australia
0:44:31Further Education: New Zealand
1:00:29Moving to Australia and Marriage
1:09:24Starting a Business in Australia
1:13:13Future Aspirations
1:15:29Adjusting to Australia
1:16:52Raising a Family
1:17:48Current Career
1:30:54Future Aspirations
1:35:25Advice for Youth

Early Years and Family Background


My name is Christopher Stewart and I come from Vanuatu. A bit of my background. I lost my parents when I was very young. I was in class four, I lost my dad and year 8, I lost my mum. So basically, my background is I am…my parents are from Fiji. My dad moved to Vanuatu, and I was born in Vanuatu, in my family, I’ve got three sisters, elder sisters, and I’m the last in the family and the only boy, so.

Yeah, sorry about…at the moment, I am 36 years old. I lived in Vanuatu, most of my life. After I lost my parents, my sisters looked after me.

Leaving School and Finding a Direction

My education, I went to one of the good schools in Vanuatu and I went to…I reached year 11 and then I was expelled from school for going into town without permission. And it was a boarding school, I was up in boarding in the bush. One weekend, I decided to follow some friends in the town without asking and ended up losing that opportunity to sit my PSSC exams is [what] they call back home. So that leads me back home to the capital of Vanuatu, which is Port Vila.

Now, when I came back to Vila, I was hanging around with my friends, just doing nothing really. And I go into birthday parties and hanging around town. There’s not much to do in Vanuatu, it’s a very small country and least developed back in that time. So yeah, there’s nothing much to do. But then I saw a lot of my friends that got money, you see, everywhere we go they have money to buy food and drinks and I’m always the one they’ve been paying. My friends have been paying for me most of the time. So it got to a stage when I told myself, I said, “This is not going to be me, the person I want to be, depending on my friends and depending on other people to provide.” I decided to do something, lucky enough that one of my uncles back home in Vanuatu, Fijian, is a joiner, boat builder carpenter, he owns a joinery workshop. So I decided to go and ask him for a job. I went and said, “Look, can I come and work for you for a bit, just to earn some money.”

So he said, “Yeah, sure. Why not.” I started off working with my uncle for seven years, if I’m correct, I’ve learned a lot of skills from him. Skills that being where I am today, you won’t be able to learn or pick up. I was very privileged to acquire the skills from my uncle. So my education just stopped at year 12. And I started working with my uncle after that.

Learning a Trade and Travelling

I was working for my uncle for seven years, doing joinery, carpentry, renovations. We do a bit of boat building but not too much. When I started working with my uncle, it was the boat building that was dying out. People tend to go for a fiberglass boat back home. My uncle have no work in building boats anymore, I did not learn from him most of his skills on that area.

But I picked up on carpentry, on using tools or using machinery on building houses, slabs, concrete slabs for houses, frame, hang a door, build kitchens, paint, tile. Yeah, all sorts of…in the building industry. I was with my uncle for seven years. And then what happened was I went away for holiday in New Zealand for a bit. I was there for three months. I didn’t do anything in New Zealand, I just went for holiday. And then I got back and my uncle sort of nudge me in a way to work for a company. So when I started for that company, I was with him for a year and it was a construction company and still the building industry.

I was the cabinet and the joinery maker for the company. I build the window frames, I did the kitchen, I did stairs. I did balustrades, I did decking. I did roofing. I did all sorts of things to do with building. Now, after that year I came to Australia for the first time. I found out that coming to Australia for the first time is very expensive. I went to Sydney; I blew all my money there. I ended up going back home with no money. So, when I got back home, I had to work again.

Starting a Business

But when I returned back home, I had that idea in my head that I can work for myself. Now I’ve just thought of an idea that, how do I work for myself? I ask myself that question. And I said…well, first of all, I don’t have capital and back home, in Vanuatu, it’s hard for someone like me with no money, no job to go to the bank and ask for a loan, they would say, no. I decided to…because then again, what I’m lucky about is because…Vanuatu it’s word of mouth, it’s just one person, you say something to one person, they pass it onto the other. And then it just goes on like wildfire. I’m lucky in that part because when I was working for my uncle, a lot of people come to the workshop and they know me, and they know my uncle. So whenever they show up at the workshop and my uncle is not there, they just come straight to me and say, “Look, Chris, we got this job. We want you to come and have a look at it, measure it and give us a quote and if it’s good you’ll take the job.” So I thought to myself, oh, so if I make a quote, and if I ask for a certain percentage upfront, I will be able to get the money, pay for the materials, get the job done, and then they can pay the rest when the job’s done. That’s how I started.

I had to go to the government, customs and immigration and that office and apply for a business license. I started off first, I did not have a business license. I just operate under my uncle’s license until I have enough money. At that stage, it was 20,000 or 10,000 vatu. So it will be equivalent to probably 130 or 140 bucks Australian. When I had the money after doing a few jobs, one of the…I went and bought myself…paid for my license to operate by myself, just put the business under my name. And then I operate like that, so whenever I get a call for a job inspection or quote, they ask for my license, I said, “Yep. I got my license and my background.” Yeah. Well, I have no education background on carpentry per se, but I’ve got experience.

So that’s what I went with and it’s good starting from the islands is because people know each other, a lot of people know each other and that’s easy for myself to operate that way because they ask, “Oh yeah. I know your uncle, that’s fine, come and do the job”. So I started working for myself for about…I would say about 10 to 13 years now.

And while I was working for myself. I come across a lot of…I learned a lot during my sole trading business. I’ve learned good things. I’ve learned bad things. And I’ve learned from my mistake and other people’s mistakes. And I’ve learned one thing is to always…how should I say it, always allow yourself to learn from others, to get…how should I say clearly, allow yourself to get constructive criticism. One of my first jobs that I did was for an English, married to an Australian partner and they’ve bought a property in Vanuatu, and they are the first couple that I did my first job working for myself. Now I’ve did…in theory I said, “Yeah, make a quote and ask for 50% and get some money” and I just explain to them my idea. And they said, “Yeah, sure, that’s fine. That’s what we do back in Australia anyway.” So I’m like, “Oh, that’s good.” So I got the first check and I went in and bought all the materials and I completed the job and I got paid at the end of the job and it felt good. Yeah, that started me on my career in the building industry, because what I found out was when I started working with my uncle, I caught up pretty quick in…it was sort of in the blood.

That’s how my journey started. When I was working…during my encounters with my clients, I noticed that I’ve only done work for expats, sort of Australians, New Zealand, Kiwis. As I go on working, I’ve learned a lot from them. They teached me…I’ve learned to…they said, from the English guy from England, he told me, “A job is never done [until] after you cleaned up.” To me that’s stuck, from the first day that stuck to me until today. So, why am I shaky!

Today when I do my work, I always clean up after myself and whoever comes and see the job and see how the place is clean. They are surprised because normally you don’t find that. And surprisingly, I come here to Australia and it’s surprising for people here as well. For me that is a big, something that I took on and I learned which is a good part of the trade. If you think that having a skill is the only way you can earn money, no, cleaning is a job as well. Yeah. So now…I’m sorry if my journey is all over the place, but I hope at the end it makes sense. While I’m working for myself in, during the 13 years I come across a program, I heard from my friends actually.

One of my friends told me…I asked him, I saw him at the job site and I was like, “Oh, what are you doing now?” He said, “Oh, I’m a manager for a foreman for this construction company.” And I’m like, “Oh, well, that’s good. Good on you. Congratulations.” He told me, “Look, I did my Cert III in Fiji, why don’t you go and have a look if you can get in.” All those times when I’m working for myself, I’m thinking…I’ve got to a level where I did everything, I’m good at what I do and I’m just…that’s it, I’m just there. I stopped it. I can’t go any further and I can’t go backwards.

In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I hope there’s an opportunity that I can further my skills or at least get it certified or get a certificate under my belt to show my clients. And my friends and my family said…Yes, I know I have good skills and I can certify that on paper. Because as we grow up and as technology increases, a lot of people depend…mainly they don’t look at your skills anymore they look at your paper or yeah, this guy is good at what he does on paper. But when you get to the job, sometimes you learn, you start working when you get to the job. If you have papers, you don’t just know what you’re doing.

Connection with Family, Language, and Culture

Anyway, I decided…a big part of it is, I’m Christian myself background. And I’ve been praying a lot about it. And it turns out that there was a opportunity I went in, got an application and I applied. I applied and I forgot about it. It took a year after then I got a response to my surprise. I’ve got a letter and an email and a phone call. And I’m like, “Right. That’s a year ago.”

And they told me…I was thinking when I applied, because my friend mentioned that they offer it in Fiji. And I’m thinking…because my family’s back in Fiji or most of my dad and my mum’s family’s back in Fiji. So I’m thinking, it’d be good to go to school there and get to go back to my family and spend time with them, get to know them better. Because I was born in Vanuatu, raised up in Vanuatu for most of my life. My dad took us back to Fiji when he was alive every second year. And I was a kid, I don’t speak Fijian. I understand Fijian. I can reply for some certain conversation, but to speak fluently, no. At the moment, I’m learning, I bought myself a dictionary. A Fijian dictionary, and I’m learning.

And that’s where I’m at with my language side of things. But with cultural side as in how we do things at home, how we address each other, how we address our elders. I am very on top of that. So with that…and I’m still learning. I’ve got Islander family; we’ve got big families. Yeah, I’m still learning on that part.

Further Education – Papua New Guinea

But anyway, when I got the call, they said, you got approved…I’ll backtrack a bit, before I got the confirmation that I’m going, there’s sort of…we have to go in after we submit our application, we have to go in for a test. Now, to be honest with you, I went to the test. I know most of the things there, but names, now in construction…in the building industry, roofing, dealing with roofs, one of the cuts for the roof is a plumb cut.

And one of it is called a birdsmouth or a seat cut. When I went and sat the test, I did not even know what that meant. I did not even know what it is, plumb cut, I was like, okay, I don’t know what it is, with terms of those…that I did not know because I did not…I learned from my uncle hands-on, he didn’t tell me, this is called plumb cut. He didn’t tell me this is a birdsmouth or a seat cut. He just tells me, “Yep. That’s a plumb cut.” I mean, that’s how you cut your end of the rafter and you put the level when you cut it and how you measure out from the wall and then how much you want 600, 450, and then you put your level and cut it.

That’s how I learn. But for the name of it, I have no idea. So I left it blank and I’m thinking to myself, “Well, I might not get this because I don’t even answer the question.” But I did…what I found out later was the purpose of the test is to see where your education level in the industry is at. If you know everything, there is no need for you to go and have…that’s just my own opinion. I found out that if I knew all the terms and if I knew everything, they probably wouldn’t pick me. They wouldn’t pick me but rather pick someone that they want to teach in order for you to help the community.

And that is one of the main drive behind [college name], is to equipped locals, give them an opportunity because the certificate will be recognised in Australia, in New Zealand and as well for our community back in Vanuatu. It will sort of inject someone with the knowledge, expand his knowledge outside and bring more back into Vanuatu. Teach what…in this case, I’ve learned and teach to others and then push them in order to give them motivation to go.

So, with that I have…in my time of work back home at the workshop, I have involved all the young kids every time. “Come, hold these up,” and then they started asking questions, you see, and then I started to explain. A few months later they, “Chris, I want to build a wedding box.” Back home when someone’s getting married, one of these gifts is a wedding box. You make a wedding box painted and then you give it as a gift for the girl to put her things in. They said, “Chris, I wanted to build a wedding box, can you just watch. I’ll buy all the stuff and help me do it.”

They started off like that at the end of the day, they come out pretty good. And I’m very happy to see that happening. I got an email of confirmation. On the call, the caller told me that, “Congratulations you got accepted to be sponsored, to do a Cert III in carpentry. Sadly, it won’t be in Fiji. You will be going to PNG.” To me that came as a shock because I was looking forward to Fiji because I’m familiar with Fiji, when they mentioned PNG, I was speechless. I was like, “Okay, thank you.” And they said, “Okay, well, you need to come at this date and get a briefing, we’ll brief you.

“You have to do this, you have to do that, sort your visa out, then bring your passport in” and all that. And after the phone call, I hang up. And I’ve got one of my cousins with me and I told him, I said, “Bro, I just got accepted to go to the to the [college name]. And they’re sending me to PNG. I mean, what do you think?” This is like halfway on the other side of the world. Although, I’ve got Papua New Guinean friends back home, but all the stories that I’ve heard from PNG are not good.

I’m thinking, oh man, I don’t know if I should go or shouldn’t go. But anyway, at the end of the day, I prayed about it, and I was…I was pushed, I believe by God to go that way. I did everything that they have asked. I fill the forms, my visa forms to take it in with my passport. And then I took off to Fiji, spent the night there. And then to Solomon’s, transit day we didn’t come out of the plane. That’s the first time I’ve been to Solomon anyway. And will be the first time to PNG. I just looked at the Solomon airport and then we picked up some passengers and then off to Port Moresby. When we landed, it was hot and dry. I was like, “Okay, I can get used to this weather. That’s normal.” Normal, like back home. I’m like, “Yeah, that’s all right.”

Anyway, we got out. Surprisingly, I went with…when we got out of the plane and we got together. Surprisingly, I’ve got some friends that I knew that were going on the…we’re doing this the same and I didn’t see them on the plane. Maybe they check in before me or after me. I don’t know. I’ve got a shock when we got into the bus, I’m like, “Hey.”

I’ve made me feel much better having countrymen by your side. And as well as Solomon Islanders, there’s Tongan’s there, there’s Fijians there and there’s a big group of Solomon Islanders that came through on that to do with community services or something hospitality, I think. I forgot now the name but yeah, so there was variety of Pacific Islanders there, so I felt comfortable straight away. And we were told, we were briefed straight into the bus. We saw fences and I’m like, “Whoa, this is like being in a jail”. High fences, barbed wire, like what you see in a jail. And we come to the gate and there’s a security guard there, opens the gate.

Talked to the driver, speak their pidgin and then open the gate. And then we went in and then he closed the gate. Then I’m looking I’m like, “Oh”. So okay, so we went in, and they welcomed us. They put us in our units. We were put into a dorm. We shared quarters. So that was good after the setup. And I started the course. Surprisingly during the…when we started the first day, we got given our gear, we got introduced to our lecturers and my lecturer was Australian. So what we did was, it was good having an Australian lecturer because during the six months they crammed a three year program into six months. So we did calculations, we did concreting, reinforcing from…we did carpentry. So three, starting from the foundation of a house where you start a house to when you finish a house. You build the roof goes on, you build, you put everything in, you hang the doors, you put whatever, stairs in, everything that needs to be done.

One main thing that I took from that course was the calculation. I was good at Math in school in some areas, but not with Pythagoras theorem. Right. So, the triangle that, I’m sort of finding hard to understand when I was in school, but when they hit us with that in school and within, during the program, after the first day, I had a big headache. But after, after that, it all makes sense because after that, I took it out to outside to our shed. And we started measuring all the rafters to cut using the Pythagoras theory. It works out, and then for me doing that, it’s a major upskill because I know it’s, it makes sense to me, it could be just from what I was learning back in school, although I didn’t finish.

It just made, put them all in sense to me, so all the calculations make sense. I was like, oh, well, that’s why you learn it early in school, and then now you put it in practical and now I’m using it, and I use it every day. Now I use it every day. So it makes it, I’m privileged and thankful to go that it, I was in that program and I get to acquire and acquire those, expanded my skills to that level, that when I returned back home, I was very confident. I was very, I was more confident than before, and I was driven, and I get to see, I get to see a variety and different things from different countries and learning the standard, the building standard from Australia and incorporating that with my work.

It’s, it’s just put me at that next level when, the next step forward. So I was, I was honoured to go through that course. And what I learned from that course as well is that I helped a lot of my classmates because a lot of them are fresh, are fresh from out of school. They have no experience, they have minimal experience, and I was able to help to teach them what I know, and what I don’t know, I said, “Look, I don’t know, we need to ask the lecturer.”

So, I found myself helping, helping, and teaching a lot during my, during the program and way before the program. And then after I left the program, I find myself still doing that, and it is a good thing. I like helping, so if someone asks me, if someone asks me a question about doing something, I would just tell them straight away, instead of trying to hide it, because I know that, that skill makes money, and now here, coming to Australia, it’s, that’s what it is. You know, your knowledge is money. If you, if you use your knowledge, you get paid for it. So, but you know, for me coming here, I have taken, I didn’t change anything. I’m still the same person, which, which is a good thing. I reckon…

So from PNG, I’ve learned a lot in PNG, not just in carpentry, acquiring the carpentry skill. I’ve made friends. I have made growing a close relationship with lecturer. I have met some classmates that are from there. I’ve learned the culture and seeing the culture because when we were there, there was a cultural day and they all dressed up in all their colourful costumes with their different, from different provinces. And I’ve seen, I’ve seen all that, which is, which is a good, culture, speaking about culture. It is very good for me to learn another country’s culture and to, to bring that back with me and share with my culture back home. Now I’ve seen the good side of PNG, and I’ve also seen the bad side of PNG. I’ve seen fighting. I’ve seen people cutting themselves with knives. And that was, that was a very bad experience. But luckily, no one died.

So that part of the journey after I left PNG, I came back home.

Returning to Vanuatu and Finding Work

I left home for six months. So when I returned back home work for me was very slow. Now with the skills I’ve got and the skills I’ve acquired, one thing that I find in back home is someone skilful as me, if I go to a company and ask them for a job, they wouldn’t want to hire me. Because I have papers now of the graduation, I have my certificate. And if I did my payments, they would have to pay me higher than the normal labourer. So they prefer, the companies prefer, to hire a normal labourer and spend $2 an hour, then hiring someone qualified and pay $5 to 10 bucks. So that’s the situation back home. When I got back, I managed to secure two jobs and I was working with that and I got, I managed to grab some boys with me and we were tackling the job at the time, but I was finding it very, not very financial wise. It’s not, it’s not beneficial for me. All for paying my boys because I can’t charge expensive. I can’t charge high, and I can’t charge low. I have to go in medium. I have to give them a medium with pricing because otherwise they won’t pick me if I’m in too expensive and they won’t pick me if I’m too, I’m too cheap. Because when you sell yourself as cheap, they’ll see your quality of work. They’ll question your quality of work. So I have to go somewhere in between where the client is happy.

And then, they have a sense that, well, he’s reasonable and the quality of work will be reasonable as well.

Moving to Australia – Pacific Labour Scheme

So with that situation happening, the Pacific Labour Scheme was happening as well at that time. Right? So I told myself, well, I’m not making any money. I’m not moving. I moved the level with education and skills, but I’m not moving financially. So, at that time, I’m living by myself. I had to pay rent. I have bills, and then I have to eat, and I don’t earn as much as I, as much to cover for both or for…so good thing back home, we have family, so when I don’t have food, I was like, “Knock-knock sister, can I come inside and have some food?” Or it’s a friend’s house, and they’re cooking.

That’s how it works. So, so it is hard. Yes. It is hard coming from an Islander background as you would know. So I signed up, I applied, I went to one of the contractors, good thing is he was one of my friends just near the workshop. So I said, “Hey, look bro, can you put me in if you’ve got any spot because you know, I need, I need some money. I need to make some money. I come back and this, I’ve got all this, but I’m doing nothing. You know, I’m not getting anything.” He said, “Oh yeah, sure. Bring all your papers.” So I brought all my papers and then I came back July. I was working for two months back home, and then that was 2015. And then November he said, “You’re ready to go, pack your things, your bags, and I’m sending it.”

So I was sent to Brisbane, to Sunshine Coast, up in a small town called Yandina. So I was there for six months working as a…they took us in for maintenance. That’s what they took us in for, but we ended up doing maintenance, but not on the building, on the crops. So we were looking at the tomatoes. We were, we took down the old ones. We washed the greenhouse, we cleaned it. We take the new ones, we plant them, and we wind them up on bobbins and look after it because, and look after the plant and we don’t, we don’t even pick, we just look after the plants. And that was a good experience for me because although I…back coming from an Island, we all have backgrounds on farming, but with that upskill of farm work is, it’s pretty interesting for me, different things.

You need to do certain ways. And I learned that otherwise the plant won’t grow. Otherwise, if you’re too slow in winding the plant up, it can break the top. And then there you go. One of the plants go on and then you need to break a few leaves, under the stem, in order to give, the plant, the fruits, if you see a fruit on one end, then you need to break all the fruits underneath it to give that one more energy or more source. So, I learned that that way. And for me, that was a good, there was a, in a way I did not make that much money because someone else paid for us to go to come on the program. We only paid our passport to get done.

Our medical, someone else paid for the fares and someone else gave us some money when we landed at the airport and someone else pay for the first rent. So all that deductions were coming out from the first few months we were working there and that was seeing a week, like a hundred bucks. So, I was like, oh, okay. A hundred bucks, but still a week compared to back home, that’s not bad in a sense, because I don’t have to pay rent here, it comes out or they, the deductions already taken that out, which is good. And then that’s a hundred bucks. I buy my food and then, and that works out. Okay. Because when I was here, I found out that things are very cheap. Fruits are cheap, there’s cheap food. And the shops are always cheap. So I was eating healthy and cheap. So I did not try to stick to, unhealthy food, like Maccas and all that. Although, you get to enjoy it once in a while, but still with it, it’s not healthy for the job that I’m doing. So I’ve learned a lot coming to Australia, just to clear up something that I have grown…oh, maybe I’ll get to that part when I come to it. Sorry. So that was, that was six months. So after two months, three months in the three months, then I started seeing 500 bucks and I’m like, whoa, that’s not bad for me. I’m like, oh, 500 bucks. I just quickly exchanged, the rate and oh yeah, okay, that’s not bad.  Weekly, 500 bucks for someone with no skills working back home, you worked for a month to see at least 500 bucks less than that.

Travelling Australia

So I was happy. I was happy. I was taking the car everywhere. I was there on the weekends. I go to church. Lucky enough, one of my sisters, one of my cousins was living in Coolum Beach. So it was 13 minutes away. So on the weekends, I don’t spend money on food. I drive across to spend the weekend with her and she cooked. She did, she told me, “Come, I’ll cook, don’t worry. Save your money.” So I went there every weekend and I was well fed. So I was happy with that. And that’s what family is, wherever we go with this family, you know that you’re safe.

So every weekend I go, I take the car and I drive. I said, look, I can’t afford to come to Australia just for holiday because my first experience was, I don’t even have enough money. I was in Sydney. I was in Broadway, and I spend all my money in less than a week, and I didn’t get to see anything. So I’m like, I’m going to go every weekend. I’m going to go somewhere. So I went one weekend, I went to Brisbane in the city stayed in the city. I went to Gold Coast. I went to wherever I can go.

Yeah. I went up there, came back and I just, I’ve made use of my time there, which, which, at the end of the day, I was happy because I get to see places and I spent less money. I just put fuel. And then I got so, so that, that was good. That part, that’s how I learned. I learned, I get to be more familiar with Australian way of living and how things were, what the cost of living here. The cost of staying at the caravan park. That’s where we were staying at the accommodation, when I was here for six months and you know, how much you would be needing for food, for fuel…and driving is like, hours. Whereas back home is, five minutes. If your drive is five or 10 minutes, you get there.

But here it’s like, well, long drives. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed driving long trips. I had taken long trips because, you get to just relax and listen to the music and think and see places. So, so that was good.

Further Education – New Zealand

So when I, after the six months was up, I actually have missed a bit of information. Before I get to come on the SWP program, one of my friends was working for the New Zealand High Comm [High Commission]. Now he told me when I, when I, when I was, we were hanging out and I just mentioned to him, I said, “Bro, I don’t know what to do. I’m signing up on, the SWP program, the seasonal workers program, because I’m not making any money.” And he told me, “Oh, what did you go into in PNG?”

And I said, “Oh, Cert III in carpentry.” And then he said, “Hey, I saw, a Cert IV in, that the high comm is giving out, and it’s under skills. And so why don’t you come and apply?” So I applied for it. I actually applied for it before I left, before I left to Australia. So when my time, when my six months was up in Australia, I’m always, I was already thinking like, oh, what am I going to do now, when I get back home? Saved up enough money, Yeah, okay. So I’m planning on, I get the money, I’ll just have to use that as the capital and go and start, just continue on my business and probably buy some tools to make it, make me more professional and make me work more easy with, with new tools.

So I was already thinking along that lines, and then two weeks before I leave, I got an email and the email was from the New Zealand high comm. And it said, you accepted, then again, I would have to give all things to God because I’ve been praying about all this. And it’s, it’s a blessing because we don’t, how should I say it? We don’t do these things just by ourselves. We don’t have the power to, so when I saw the email I said, this must be a spam because it’s like, I didn’t think I was going to get a chance, because it’s one person, I mean, there’s a lot of skilled people back home as well, but whether or not our skills are at the same level, I don’t know.

But surprisingly, I got the email, and I was unsure. So I mentioned to my friend on Facebook and I said, “Bro, I got an email, but I’m not sure, is this is a spam or?” And he just laughed. He called me back and then he laughed and said, “Oh bro, I knew, no it’s not a spam it’s you got accepted, you got chosen to go to represent Vanuatu in New Zealand.” And I’m like, “Oh really? I’m so thankful for that.” So I’m like, “Are you serious?” And he’s like, “I’ll send you”, he said “I’ll send you I just didn’t want to tell you before. I want them to send you an official email to make it, make everything official.” So I’m like, “Oh, okay. Thank you, man.” And then I came back July. I came back July on, that was 2015 into 2016, I think.

End of year 2015. Somewhere around there. So as soon as I go back to Vanuatu, I had a month to fill out my visa forms, have an interview with the New Zealand high comm reps. So I did all that. I have a month to do that. So I had all that I went into the interview, they asked, one of the questions they asked me, I think that got me in was, “What is your, what is your drive to do this?” And my reply was, “Look my experience at the workshop, working for myself. I’ve got a lot of people coming through. A lot of my friends, a lot of, friends of friends, they just come through and hang around the workshop.

“So in order for me to, I want to, put myself in, in a level where I can give them back what I’ve learned and it can be, it will be something that is not just from what they’ve learned in the workshop, but what is learned from, another level, another level of, in the building industry, because there are different regulations in building back home in New Zealand and Australian standards sort of in the same boat.

“So in order to equip myself with that sort of skills, we’ll come back. And what I’m going to do is give that skills or what my knowledge to help others to help my friends. And they can help their friends. And it goes on like that.” And that was my main drive behind, behind wanting to seek further studies and to seek yeah, upgrading myself in, in my skills. So, the interview went well. And then I flew off to New Zealand. I was in New Zealand for a year. So that was a good experience as well because I get to see different the culture compared to Australia. Now, when I come to Australia, I feel like I’m in a foreign country. It is a foreign country, but I feel like, I don’t feel at home.

I know that I’m not in a foreign country. When I went to New Zealand, it’s the other way around. It’s a foreign country. But I feel like I’m at home, because I looked left, I see Islanders everywhere and where I was situated or staying for school. It was full of Islanders. I was, I fit in nicely. So there was good, there was good experience. I, that program just took me up another level. We actually built someone’s, our client’s, home on site from ground to finish. And then what they did was they just come and paint the house, bring a big truck, hydraulic jacks under the house, lift the house up, put it on a truck and take it and put it wherever the client buys the land.

So that, for me, that was a good experience. That was another, another step in my career that I’ve seen that. And then I’ve learned of other simpler and easier method of building, rather than, rather than blocks than bricks and concrete, just back home, and that’s it. So I get to, during the one year in New Zealand, I get to represent, I get to build a stage for [college name], for the building…two days building expo, which is huge. So I was very privileged to, and my lecturers were very privileged to get me to help out with that side of things.

And I had to, I had to take over, I was the leading hand in school. So we started off. What I found out was a lot of young kids, misuse the privilege they get. Now me going me from Vanuatu going to New Zealand, I don’t have those privilege. Someone in New Zealand or Australia going to this course, sponsored, they get a grand, a thousand bucks, they get free tools. They get boots, they get everything. You know, I’ve got given boots in just my hi-vis and helmet and just OH&S, PPE for myself. And that’s about it. I wasn’t given a grand or I wasn’t given three, two, so I had to go to the sponsor, the sponsorship, the sponsor organisation, the sponsorship, the sponsor people, the organisation that sponsored me. They gave me a; they gave me sort of a voucher to go and pick my things from Bunnings.

So it wasn’t much, but it was, I was being sponsored. So I didn’t complain. I was, I was happy. I was privileged to get it anyway. But what I found out was we started in a class of 20 or 28 people at the first week, second week, there’s only five of us or 10 of us. So it was a really, I saw that it was a, it was really bad. I tried encouraging. I tried encouraging my friends, my classmates and I managed to get through to some which stayed back, and we ended up finishing the house, but the rest just got side-tracked and dropped out. So I was happy that at least some stayed back, and then I was explaining to them that, coming from the islands, we don’t get this opportunity.

And you, you guys are here. You guys are very privileged. So make use of it because, if you want, I told them, and I just shared with them, my background, like I depend on my friends for money and food, until they come to a stage where I said, no I have to earn myself. I have to take myself out of it and work for myself and pay my own bills out of it. I can’t always depend on someone because you will get nowhere.

Anyway so, after a week, we did classwork in the morning and then we went out and did practical. Now my lecturer was keeping an eye on me, and, because with the background that I came with, he got my background on file. So, he knew what I was, what skills I’ve got. So after sussing me out, he approached me and said, “Chris, you know,” he said, “Don’t bring your bush building into New Zealand.” He said that and he laughed. He was joking around with me. And he said, “Ah, look, I’m just joking, but it works.” You know, if it works, as long as it works, that’s what it is. That’s what we need to do. If you want to build something, if it works, it works. As long as you under the guidelines and in, under the regulations, and if it works, you’re all good.

Now, I was the leading hand, so I took over the class. I took over the boys. I took over the house. Now, one of the experience that I got, that I encountered along when building is, we, there’s two classes building the same house. We were up on the roof, and my lecturer gave me the instructions, go up and put the…put the hip side of the valley roof up. Take a point and start putting yours up. And the other class was supposed to put their end up. Now, there is procedures to putting up a roof. So you need to have two ends up. They call it apex. So you need to have two of those trusses up and pull a line and start putting your trusses. Right? So we started on one side and we started flowing.

And the lecturer on the other side, they came late and then he came up and just went off at me. Like he told me, “Who told you to put this thing? Who told you to install the trusses? You all should be doing this and that.” He was aggressive. And then I got a shock and I’m like, and I just, I just replied back with a hard tone as well. I said, “Excuse me, don’t come up here and go off at me, because I am not from here, I am an international student. Now, if you do that back from where I come from, I will punch you right in the face. Okay. You know, but I’m not going to do that. I just wanted to tell you that you shouldn’t do that. How do you expect me to learn something when you come up here and you just go off at me? For us, for our back, from us, coming back home, we’re going to be, what that’s going to do is going to suppress us.”

“I will never ask you a question because of how you act towards me. And I would, I would hate you for the rest of the program that I’m here. So don’t, don’t come up here and…I’ve got instructions, that’s what I came up here to do. Yes. I know that you need to set up two points, but that is your class. That is your, your half of the way. I know that, I know that that’s the procedure, but I started my end anyway and I’m following the plan. I mean, if you want, you take it up with my lecturer.” And then he actually got angry with me, he stepped down and he took his class away from the house, and there’s only one class that build the house for the rest of the year. Now, after that incident, after a few months gone, I came back, and I saw the lecturer and I went up to him and I apologised. I said, “Look, I’m sorry if I come across, I have no hard feelings against you. I don’t hate you or anything, but how you come towards me, it’s very, it’s not good for me. And from where I come from it, I don’t see that as good, because that can create problems. But I apologise if I, if I step on your foot.” So he said, “Oh yeah, look, that’s what we have to do. Us lecturers, we have to be aggressive. We have to, otherwise you won’t learn.” And I said, “Yeah, I understand that. But you know, from where I come from, I won’t, if I was in your class, I wouldn’t want to learn, I would drop your class straight away because you need to, because we need to, we come to learn, we want you to teach us as in, you’re looking after something, you’re nurturing something, not chucking us in the deep end, expecting us to swim.”

So, yeah. So I learned a lot from that, from the one year I’ve been in New Zealand and now I’ve been able to work as well. When I was in New Zealand, I was allowed 20 hours to work. And I had to work alongside a local builder from Samoa. So I’ve introduced my, we found each other and I’ve helped him out and he’s helped me out. And yeah, I’ve learned a lot from him as well and he’s learned a lot from me. Now, after I came back…so now, that went on for a year. I didn’t, when I came back, I didn’t get to go for my graduation. I was just sent my certificate. And when I was there as well, they did a…the organisation that sponsored did a profiling on me and I was the only one from Vanuatu in carpentry,

Which, which had a lot on my shoulders to have to impress the sponsorship people and to bring something good back to the news of high comm and, and the country itself. That was my education journey, and practically my whole journey.

Moving to Australia and Marriage

Now I’m going to, now I’m going to start on how I got, how I came to Australia. So when I was doing SWP in Brisbane, some of my…I’ve got Tongan family as well. And they, the Tongan family that…we were school mates back home. Now their father moved here, got married here, and they lived in Mildura. Now they’re here at the moment.

There’s a sister and brother that are here. The brother’s here, the sister’s in Melbourne. Now we were, while I was doing SWP, the sister was my classmate because the brother was a bit younger than me. So she messaged me out of the blue, “Hey Chris, where are you now? What are you doing? You know what…” And I said “Oh, I’m in Brisbane working in the farm…that’s what I’m doing.” And she said, “Oh, you’ve got any kids? How many kids now?” I’m like, “No kids. I’m single.” I said, “Oh, that boat has sailed, I think.” And she was like, “Oh no, don’t worry, I’ll find someone for you.” That’s how it is back home. “I’ll find someone for you.” I thought that was just a normal talk, conversation.

Two weeks after she visits me, “Hey, Chris, I found someone for you. Here are the details.” I said, “What? I thought you were just joking.” But okay. She chucked me the details and said, “Now it’s up to you, bro. Pray about it and talk to her, she’s in the same religion as we are as well.” By the way, I’m Seventh-day Adventist. And I said, “Oh okay, I’ll give it a…I’ll have a chat.” So I gave my wife, now, at the moment, my current wife, I gave her a call and we started […] to another and I said, “Oh look, I don’t want to just have a conversation on the phone.” From Brisbane to come down here, that’s very expensive for me. So, I said, “Oh look…” So, I flew from Brisbane to Melbourne and transited from Melbourne and I flew to Mildura, and she picked me up and dumped me at the motel on Deakin. So I said, “Alright, we’ll catch up when you finish work. Okay.”

So she chucked me in a motel. So I decided like, I’m not going to sit here. Spent 800 bucks, I need to get out. So I got out, and then I just walked, you know, just walked down to the mall. And then I went there and have a look around and mind you, the weather at that time was sort of cold, but the sun was a bite and yeah, it was, it was new for me. So anyways, I, yeah, so I had a look around Mildura. I went to the mall and then after that, when she finished work, she took me around and showed me around the park, the town, the place, and how Mildura is set up as in a grid. And that for me was, I said, “Oh, I’ll can get lost in here, I can’t even remember what street we turned down or where we going.” So after that I went back and then we kept in contact.

And while I was in New Zealand, we kept in contact. I sort of, when my semester break, when I was in New Zealand, I asked the organisation to let me stay in New Zealand. So when I stayed back for the holidays, I came to Australia. I applied for a visa, and I came to Australia, and I met my wife, current wife’s, parents. And I sort of do it the right way as we back in islands do, I just asked them for, if I can date their daughter. So they thought I was White. Not to be racist or anything. It’s because my name, Christopher Stewart, when they heard Christopher Stewart, “Oh, that’s a White bloke.” But when I rock up the door, the mum was like, “Oh, oh Chris? Okay, hi, nice to meet you.” Anyway, that went well, and everything went well, so one thing led to another.

I, later on down the track, I asked her to, I proposed to her, and then we were planning to get married. Now, while all this is happening, I was on a multiple visa for three years and I am allowed to come from Vanuatu and stay in Australia for three months, no work, no school, only holiday. And then I have to go back and then I’ll do that. So what I do is, when I go back home, I work a bit, save up some money and then I come, I come all the way to Mildura to live for three months in Mildura and then drive back up to Brisbane and then fly from Brisbane back to Vanuatu, work for a few months.

So I had to do that for a few times, and then we set a date to get married and, sadly, my wife’s mother was ill. So we had to move the wedding earlier so she can attend. So she wasn’t doing very good. So I had to, I had to pack up, I had to pack up at home. The last job that I did at home was for a phone company. So after I finished up that job, luckily I get to wrap everything up. I sold everything; I sold my truck. I sold, I left my tools to my cousin. I just picked up my bags and my clothes and I gave everything that I had because I knew that if I come this time around, I wouldn’t, and if we were to apply for a visa, I wouldn’t be able to go back. Because we’ve read up on the visa and the visa doesn’t allow me, if I apply in country, they won’t allow me to travel out of Australia.

So I left everything. I said goodbye to everything, everyone and I came and that was two and, almost two and a half years ago now. So basically, we moved, moved here, and then we got married and then we applied for a partnership visa. Now, when I sold all my stuff, yes, I got all the money, all the money paid for my wedding. When I came and then after that, I was in, financially, I was zero. My wife, my current wife at the moment, had to pay for my visa. I can’t work. So she was supporting me and she was looking after me financially in that sense, until we submitted the visa and until we got a, I had to get onto a bridging visa while I waited, waited for the process. So when I got my bridging visa, that allows me to work.

Starting a Business in Australia

So as soon as I, I am allowed to work, we applied for an ABN because, I’ve got that mindset that I would like to work for myself. So I brought that with me to here and, and that’s what I did. I’m operating as a sole trader, and we got an ABN. We got it approved and get it into, you know, all the tax. Now, one thing for me with the system is, working here, is paying tax. Back home I’m not used to paying tax, but this is in the system, and that is new for me, but it’s acceptable because of the rate you being, you get paid at. So it, coming from the islands is at the end of the day, after you pay your tax, you still have enough money. After you pay your bills, you still have enough money.

It’s, for the experience that I went through, for the journey that I’ve been through, it’s hard and when I see that, I’m still appreciate what I’ve got left after paying the bills, the tax, whatever. Which you know, and the rent and yeah. So I was happy. I was happy that I can do that again. And which, when I started that, being living in Mildura, I’m operating as a, as the maintenance go-to-guy for them, whenever they have something broken, they just give me a call. So I did that.

And yeah, and I get to, get in to meet people that, link all us up and now that we are having this conversation, which is a privilege and, and a blessing to have. So living in Mildura, culture wise, it is, it is sort of laid back. It is sort of laid back, which is good for me to transit from where I am back home. Where you get up, I get up in my own time. I do, my, it’s island time. But here, when I come here, it’s laid back, but still on time. And people, worked for a few clients and, they, when you say day one timing, timing, when are you going to finish this? When are you going to, how long do you think that’s going to take, you know?

And one thing I noticed that, over time, over the years, time is going faster than what we think. So when I say, for instance, “Oh, this job is only going to take a few hours,” it ended up taking several hours. So, that is one thing I learned being here. And one thing I also learned is being on time and you have to be. If you have to have a reason to explain, why you’re, why you’re going to be late or, what’s the reason. So there’s always an explanation for everything. Which is good, because that creates an understanding between me and my client. So I guess to say moving is a big step for me and a very good and a very, a really good step for me, because I get to use the skills that I have upgraded myself with in the building industry that taught me.

Future Aspirations

So I get to use all that now. So that, for me, that is a, another step in my career that I’m going for. So now when working with […], I noticed that […] is all for helping, helping people. Whether you’re a refugee or whether you need help, and the person running it is a very, very, very good person people, like people’s person, sorry. And he’s good at what he, what he does, you know? And I admire him because he’s put me through a lot of channels that helped me out. And he’s also encouraged me and that’s what led me, we’ve exchanged ideas and now it’s led me, I’ve told him my idea.

I said, “Look, I can, if you have a program, that you want to bring young kids. And then I teach, if they want to ask questions, and I teach them how to change a tap, if it’s leaking, or change a light bulb, or even a door lock, or hang a door or paint or whatever. I got all that, I got all those skills. If there’s an opportunity, don’t worry to give me a call and I’m happy to help.”

So, with that, it’s because being here I learned too, that we’ve got a big Island community, Pacific Island community as well here in Australia. So that connection will, if we get, have that opportunity to connect, we will, we would rise up to a level where we can be recognised, not just by a labourer, but by having a skill. Having a skill of doing things, and just to give us that motivation and to give us that courage to not be shy because of the language barrier or not to be, just not to be shy in talking. Because when you talk, then you get to know people, and then from there you get to do things and then you get to make friends and things just roll along like that.

Adjusting to Australia

So with Mildura’s culture, the weather, it’s too cold for me, when it gets cold. And it’s too hot for me, when it gets hot. But I’m adjusting and I’m adjusting well. And then from where I am back home to where I am now, I have taken a big leap, a big step. Coming from a small, how should I say, a small town to a big country. Because when I’m – back home, we hear that Australia is the land of opportunity, and now that I’m here, that saying is definitely true, because there is a lot of opportunity and, I can be doing everything if there’s 10 of me, but I’m only one person and I can only do as much. So, I’m adapting to, to Sunraysia community. The people are friendly, they’re good and bad, but you know, there’s always good and bad in, in every community. So I like the place. Yeah. Yeah. I’m sort of settling in already. It’s been two years now.

Raising a Family

So with my sort of family side of things, I’ve got a nine month daughter, first child.

So that puts me on another level, because I have to work even twice as hard to secure a future for her, as you know. Like I don’t have to, I don’t get to have the things that…the things to give her a good future. So, I will try my best to give her that, everything that I don’t have, you see, and I don’t grow up with. So I will have to try and do the best that I can. So, yeah. So that brings us to where I am at the moment.

Current Career

So living in Mildura for now, and I am actually working two jobs. I’ve got my normal time job and I run my sole trader business after hours. So I’m…surprisingly, I’m working for a, I don’t think you would expect a carpenter to be working for a stonemason.

So I am now, mind you, that’s another upgrade. For me in my career path and other skills, a set of skills that I’m taking under my belt, is working with stone. Now stone is the different material. There’s different OH&S rules applying to it. You have to mask, mask up and suit up, all day. You’re working with, you’re working wet all day, with grinding, and with cutting. And, and one thing that really interests me and pulled me when I was asked to work for this, the stone company, is the machinery. Now I’m old school. I cut things with the saw, hand saw. My uncle back home owns a very old table saw, and I’m familiar with that, but this is a whole different level. This is computerised things, stuff, you, you stuck a USB into the machine and then, you load it up, and you set it up and you let the machine cut everything.

And I’m like, “Oh yeah.” That’s, you know, for me, that’s exciting. I was excited. I was excited to learn new things. I was, because in, you know, it is in already, I was in my mind, I was already thinking about, if in the building industry, I would want to get to computerised machines like CNC. There’s for stone and there’s for timber, there’s for cutting everything, kitchen cabinets. The cabinet makers use CNC, and you just chuck a sheet of ply or MDF in there, it cuts everything. You just program it on the computer. And for me, that is like, whoa. That is like a bonus there because you can just see it on the computer, yep, okay and press cut instead of going out there on hand and cutting and doing all these things. But what I find out about it is that there’s a downside of it.

Yes, you get that, you get that upgrading skill. But what I find is, people don’t know how to use the old tools. The normal tools that you, if you don’t, if it turns off, you know, if the power cuts, the internet doesn’t work, how are you going to do things? That’s what I see the barrier of that, the disadvantage of learning that, you know, but for me, I’m happy because I’ve been, I’ve done it from the beginning and I’ve been right through and now like, I’m up to where technology is now. And it’s just all for me, it’s all surprising and learning. I’m still learning, I’m still learning. I’m still, and I am getting, I’m getting good at it anyway. So how, how will this give you a bit of insight on how the stonemason found me? So he was lucky enough to walk in on me installing a kitchen, and funny enough that I suggested stone to the clients, and the client went and pick a stone and he got my measurements.

I gave the measurements to the clients, I took it to him, and he came back to double-check the measurements. And he came, he measured up and he said, “Oh, that’s nice. Who measured this?” And I rocked up and I said, “Oh, it’s me. I did the kitchen.” And then he goes to my client, “Okay, that’s all good. I’ll go and do the stone, and measure up, and cut it up, it’ll be ready in a few days. Can you give me your carpenter’s number so I can collaborate to see whether…” But that was a set-up, actually. So my client gave the number and I was driving with my client at the time. My client is a friend, a family friend.

So we were driving and I got a call, and he said, “Hey. Yeah, it’s just me from the stone shop. Yeah, just checking, are you going to be there Wednesday? Yeah, I’m bringing the stone.” I say, “Oh, yeah. I’ll be there.” He said, “Okay. Another thing that I’m calling, well, the main reason that I’m calling is that, what are you doing for work? Are you working full-time for someone, or are you working for yourself, or what’s the deal?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m working for myself at the moment.” And he goes, “Oh well, you looking for full-time?” And I’m like, “Well, I’ll be interested as long as I can still do my own business after-hours. If you happy with me doing that, then yeah, I can take you up on the offer.” And then he goes, “Oh yep, that’s fine. You can do whatever you want, as long as you give me 7:00 to half 4:00, that’ll be sweet.”

And then I’m like, “Oh. Okay, that’s good.” Then he goes, “Just come in for an interview and look…” He told me, he said, “Look, your measurement is good. You got nothing wrong on the measurement and I was surprised to see that because a lot of people, I had to go to re-measure and it’s changed measurements, but all your measurements are right. And I need someone that is on-measure, knows how’s to measure, and good with tools, and on hands. And what you’re going to be learning is machines and computer.” And when he mentioned computers, for me I already clicked. I’m like, “Yep, okay, that’s my door.” God works in mysterious ways and that’s another blessing for me. And that was, I got offered the job when it was the corona lockdown, and that is something I was surprised because a lot of people, it affects a lot of people, which is sad.

For me, myself, it did not affect me because I was working by myself. There was no one around me, so I was an essential worker at the time because my wife was back at home looking after the baby, so I have to work. So I was working the whole time. The lock down, I was essential, so I was working. So to this day, currently, I am working as a stonemason and that is another trade. That is another skill that I have just acquired. Since I have started for the stonemason, I am now the workshop…how do you call it? Supervisor, the workshop foreman, floor foreman in the workshop at the moment, within six months. So I found out that, I don’t know if this has a thing to do with race, racism, I have no idea. I have nothing against someone being racist to me, that’s their problem. But when I walked in, there was two blokes working there. One was leaving, obviously retiring. He’s been there for seven years, and there’s a young bloke that was supposed to take his place.

And I think the young bloke was threatened by me, I think, in some way, shape, or form, I have no idea, but he left, and it was just me and the boss at the time. So I took a lot of responsibility in a short period of time, but surprisingly, I handled it pretty well. Even my boss was surprised, and all thanks to God because our skills come from him. Anyway, so that’s where I’m at the moment. And we’ve gone through a few kids, come and gone through, a few blokes come and gone through, and all up at the workshop now, I’m looking after two boys at the workshop and the boss is in the office. So again, it brings me to teaching, I was teaching again. Every new person that come, I had to teach them. Keep in mind that I’ve only start this in just under six months.

I would probably be six months now, but I have acquired the skills and learned very quick, and I am relating what I’ve learnt, and the stonemasons taught me as well, what to do and what not to do, so I’ve just adapted that and relay that to whoever’s coming, starting to work with us. And as well as get them comfortable, and as well as in a friendly way, not seeing each other as workmates, but then in a sense they feel comfortable, comfortable working. Not trying to impress someone or not trying to feel like I’m behind their back because I know what it’s like to work for someone and they’re behind your back. I’ve been through that, so I did not like that, it doesn’t make you perform to your fullest. And that can give a bad picture again to the boss, and then you might end up not having a job. So I am enjoying myself in my current situation at the moment at work. We get to do a lot of things. I get to meet a lot of builders.

I get to meet a lot of cabinetmakers, and exchange conversation, and learning from them, as well as learning what they are using, as in new materials, new drawer sliders, new handles, different set of skills or work procedures they use to make cabinets as compared to what I know. So that is in a sense, I am learning not only stone but I’m learning cabinets as well because when they install the cabinets, I then go and install the benchtop. Now, when install the benchtop, I did not just install the benchtop, I look at the cupboards, I look at the different ideas, the different designs, the different mechanism they use, the touch and open, the push and then it just, retractable sliders. All that is new for me, and which is always a winning for me, and something that I can share with someone else.

Even at work, I’ve been asked to help out with building cabinets for a car fit out, for if you want to travel, you want to put a bed behind your car. My workmates already asked me, “Oh, can you give me a hand to…and then I can learn from you as well to fit out my van, so I’ll go travelling.” And then I’m like, “Yeah, sure. Not a problem, anytime. So when you’re ready, then we can go for it.” So, yeah. Basically, that’s my journey from where I’ve started and where I am today. Now, I’ve made a lot of friends in Mildura, church friends as well as family friends, and yeah, I’m enjoying it. For some people, lockdown, this coronavirus is very hard for some people, but we’ll go through it and we’ll come out at the end. So, yeah.

I guess, that’s where I’m at, at the moment and yeah, living in Mildura now, and I have a little family for myself. And continue to learn in the industry that I’m in, the building industry, and it’s more construction industry and residential. At the moment I am a temporary resident. I just got approved a month ago, end of January I got approved, so I am a temporary resident for Australia, waiting to be a permanent.

Future Aspirations

I’m planning, these are my future…where my career is leading. I want to end up being a master builder, that’s what I’m looking towards. At the moment, coming from a background where I come from, master builder for me at the moment, I can’t afford it, not on a temporary visa. But if I make it to permanent residence, I might be eligible for some government grants and some TAFE courses that I can get in order to get to where I’m heading.

The reason why I want to be a master builder is because when I get older, I won’t be able to hold a tool anymore. I won’t be able to pick up a hammer or even a nail gun, it will be too strong for an old man. So what I want to equip myself with is teaching. With a master builder, I’ll be able to teach. I will be able to teach other people my skills and create or show them pathways that they can take, if they want to. I can be a building inspector because I just walk in with a pen and paper, because that’s what I saw in New Zealand. A very old guy,  and he’s a building inspector. He comes in with the plan and goes, “Okay. Yep. Yep. You need to change this screw,” circle the screw and put, change it.

So for me thinking, if I get old, I can still do that. I can still walk, I can still use a pen and paper, and I can still be involved in the building industry, and I can still be involved to motivate people and learn, and just share with people. It might help them decide where they would want to take the next step in life, as in work-side of things. While working for myself here, I have an apprentice, a family friend that wanted to learn, for free that is. So what he does, he just comes along with me and when I go out to the job, he packs the car, he brings me the tools and he learns along the way. He asks me questions and I’m able to teach him what I learn. And we exchange conversation and I ask him, “What do you want to do?” Now, this particular person is good at drawing, so I said, “Have you thought about architect or engineering?” And he said, “Yeah, I’ve thought about it and I want to do it.” And I said, “Look, take it from me, I have to deal with architects, and they make a lot of money. If you want to make a lot of money and you good at drawing already…and you have the opportunity, you are a citizen here, you’ll get sponsored.”

“Go for it because at the end of the day, you will be an architect, and you enjoy drawing, so you will be something that you’ll be enjoy doing it, and you will be earning money enjoying doing it, while doing it. So, it’s a win-win situation. Take it from me, I think, if I’m pushing you on the right direction, but at the end of the day you make your choice. But I think, go for architecture or engineering and do that sort of path.” And surprisingly, he’s gone that way, so I was very happy to hear that. And he’s continuing his education and seeking sponsors too on that path. So, yeah. Been here for two and a half years now, and I feel I’m happy because I think God put us in a certain place for a certain reason. And I believe that I’m here and how I’m going is in meeting people along the way, and teaching is where God wants me to be and that’s where I am at the moment.

Advice for Youth


Have you got any advice that you can give to any of the young kids that are watching you that might want to start? What are three things that you recommend they should do in the early parts of their career to get to where they are…oh, well, to potentially get to where, if they want to do what you’re doing, what’s three things that you would suggest are the best things that they could do to get themselves started?


Thank you. So the best advice I would give, from my experience, is that if you have an uncle, or your dad, or an elder, or your brother, that is working in any skills, any area of work, and if you are interested in that area, don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t be afraid to go and hang around them and ask. One thing that I’ve learnt is asking, because you won’t learn anything if you don’t ask. If you just sit there and look, how would you know how that thing is done? Yeah, you can see someone doing something, right, but there is techniques and ways to do it. There is prep work before you do something, and you have to prepare yourself, the tools necessary to do it. So instead of sitting down, you need to ask a lot of questions.

Now I know that coming in the culture, in Pacific Islander culture here, growing up in Australia, some of us tend to not want to listen to mum and dad, or your uncle, or your auntie, or your brother, intend to do that, sort of retaliate. But my advice is don’t do that because you can learn a lot from the person older than you, even the younger person you can learn from. But from my experience, I’ve learned that when I see my uncle doing something, the minute I have a question in my head that I don’t understand, I ask it straight away. He will reply with an answer and that answer will stick with you for the rest of your career, for the rest of your life, for the rest of what you want to do. This just doesn’t go for carpentry; you can apply this in all sorts of career paths that you are deciding to take if you’re thinking to do that.

Another thing is not just ask a question, but you need to watch and pay attention, and take interest in something. If you’re interested in something, then you would want to know more about something. And the more you want to know about something, the more you will learn about something. And the more you learn about something, the more you will get to either like it or dislike it. And the drive behind all this is, you have to find something that you like. You can’t just follow, just because, oh, mum and dad said I’m going to be a doctor or an engineer, and then they push you on that path. Yes, that’s a good thing, but at the end of the day it comes down to you because you will be attending the job and it’s your performance that will be required at the job.

And you will be the one taking that path, and going to school, and doing the studies, and doing all that. But think about it this way, if you like something from an early age, if you like something, your interest, and you put your time into it, you put it…and if the unis or the schools are offering it, take it. Because what you like, if you love doing something, you will never get tired of doing it, you will enjoy your day every day at work doing something that you like to do. I think that is all the good advice that I can give you.

Another one is that you have to, don’t always…oh, how should I phrase this to make it more understanding? Don’t be afraid to take constructive criticism. You will come across, a lot of people will put you down, “Oh no, this job won’t pay you that much. Oh, why you want to do that?” Just because of someone’s unsuccessful path, doesn’t mean that…if they put you down, don’t even feel sad or feel put down, you need to always put your head up. If they put you down, just take it as a constructive criticism and look to your goal, look to your goal and work towards it. Yeah, what else can I think of that’s…I think I’ve covered the most important ones.

Oh, and keep in mind, is because I know we’re all Islanders and, well, this goes for anyone. We have to listen. Sometimes we don’t want to listen when someone’s telling you something, but if you don’t listen, it’s all connected. See, if you look at something, if you don’t ask, you won’t know. If you look at something, if you ask, if you don’t listen, it wouldn’t stick with you. But if you look at something, you ask the question and you listen, it will be with you. Something with me is, I always respect elderly people. Doesn’t matter, older people than me. I respect everyone, but elderly people, I respect more. I give more respect to them because the knowledge they have, I don’t have. You see? So, the more time you spend with elderly people, the more knowledge you will get.

You will learn some things that when you go to school, you won’t learn. So that’s, coming from an Islander background, that’s how it is. But all this, if you applied in…if you’re not an Islander, that’s fine. You can apply the same thing and it will help you in the long run. Trust me. Yeah, thank you. Thank you, Ane.



What does success, or how would you define success in your eyes, or on your terms? What does success look like to you?


Oh, that’s an easy one for me, actually. Success for me is…I don’t know why I’m getting emotional, I should not, but okay. I apologise for that. Well, success for me is being able to achieve what you want to achieve, not for the status, not for the money, and not for yourself. Oh, geez. Yeah, because I might not be as qualified as most of the people who are in Australia, but from my Pacific Island background, at the level that I am, when I help someone, for me that is success.

And every day is a learning curve. I mean, you might think you have a degree in something, I might go and end up being a master builder, who knows? God knows. But when I get there, it doesn’t end there because every day comes a different situation. It’s always changing, and you always meet people along the way, and different types of people, and how you approach them it’s different. So for me, success is, yeah, I will summarise success is being able to achieve what you want to achieve, not for the money, and not for yourself, but to help others and yeah, and keep on learning. That is success because we learn every day. So I guess, yeah, I think I’m going around the bush on this one, but yeah, for me I think success is summed up in that. Yeah.

  • ‘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
Scroll to Top