Building Services Mechanical Engineer

Name: Elvina
Age at interview: 38 years
Occupation: Building Services Mechanical Engineer

Ethnicity: Australian/Tongan
Country of birth: Australia

In this video
0:00Family Background and Early Years
5:51Primary School
7:41Cultural Identity and Home Life
18:23High School
22:42Parent’s Expectations
25:02Choosing a Career
30:27First Job
32:11Career and Cultural Influences
37:24Parent’s Support of Education
39:19Academic Strengths
41:38Advice for Pasifika Youth

Family Background and Early Years


Well, thanks for inviting me to be a part of this really important program and research into Pasifika people. I’m excited that there is going to be data collected and we’ll be able to see trends in our Pasifika people and help the younger generation become better and make their lives more meaningful in any way they can. So, I’ll just start with, I’m born and raised in Melbourne. I come from a family of four children, I’m the third daughter and both my older siblings were born in Tonga. So I’ll start with the migration story. My parents migrated from Tonga and came to Australia initially to visit family. My dad’s family predominantly were based in Melbourne, so they came on a holiday visa. My dad’s background is tourism and public relations in Tonga, so he was quite accustomed to traveling. And for my mum, it was her first time overseas.

So they came and visited, but unfortunately during that time of the three month visa, we had some hurricane in Tonga and my dad decided that he would stay here and help and get a job here to help build my family’s residence back in our homeland. So during that time, my parents had my two older siblings, but the second one they had left in Tonga with my grandma, and so my eldest sister was here with them, so it was the three of them. So their visa had expired, so my dad, my mum, my sister were actually illegal immigrants here in Melbourne. And during that period, they were heavily involved in the Tongan community, the church, the first Tongan church here in Victoria, which was in the city.

And they formed some really strong relationships with the Tongan community, particularly my dad heavily involved in church and leading bible study groups. And he’s very musical too, so had a young adults music group. And through that time, my mum fell pregnant with myself. Obviously, they were overstayers, and so it was a bit of a hard decision at that time. I didn’t find out till later, but because they were overstayers, they did want to abort me, so they went to get me aborted. But we were blessed that the minister…Oh, sorry, the doctor, that was going to provide that service, he’s actually Christian, so he asked my parents to go back and rethink that decision, which I’m glad that they did because they decided to go through with the pregnancy. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been born, so I’ll have to go back and work out where that doctor lives and yeah, probably say thank you.

So then I was born into a situation where the Australian laws at that time was if you’re born in Australia, you legally become an Australian citizen. Some issues happened where someone found out that my parents were overstayers and they dobbed them into the Department of Immigration. So we had this four year process of going through the court system, which ended up in the High Court in Canberra, to decide whether my parents would be granted Australian citizenship. And because I was an Australian, technically speaking, would they deport me? So it was an awkward start. I don’t remember it at all. I don’t recall the struggles my family went through at that time being illegal immigrants and not being able to work, but I do remember my dad and my mum really relying on their Tongan community and specifically their church community to help us get through that time.

So, long story short, it went to the High Court and a decision was made to let us all stay. And during that time of prayer, my dad had made his bargain with God that if God allowed us to stay in that legal system process, he would go into ministry and follow the footsteps of my grandfather and my great-grandfather who are ministers of religion back in Tonga. So it was an awkward path for my parents, I guess not the most stable or secure or safe migration into Australia, but a real blessing in disguise, looking back now. And I’m really blessed because I don’t recall the struggle that they went through, but my oldest sister, she obviously gets emotional when we talk about that time, because she remembers the struggle of being poor and relying on people’s donations and relying on people’s love really.

So that was how we ended up in Australia, and my dad went and studied theology and got his bachelors and became ordained a minister of the word.

Primary School

So my first recollection of schooling really wasn’t until my dad had…I think probably was studying theology and my mum was…My dad was studying full time and my mum was working in the factory to support us. We were staying in commission housing at that time. So I do recall not having similar things to other children. I do distinctly recall in terms of school uniform, for example, there is a photo where the school uniform was actually green, but we couldn’t afford the school uniform, but my mum bought us whatever school uniform she could find in the second-hand shop, which was actually red.

So you can see this classroom photo of 20 kids in their green, and then my sister and I, because it’s a mixed class, we were wearing red, and it was really, it’s amazing because at that time I didn’t even think we were different with our red. When I look back on it I just think, as a mother now, I couldn’t do that to my kids because there’s so much peer pressure and I’m just blessed at that age, I didn’t even realise that we were different and we weren’t as financially stable as some of my friends at school. So when my dad was ordained, we moved away from the Tongan community, having been brought up around Tongans who were real strong backbone and support for my family while dad was studying theology and mum was working factory work.

Cultural Identity and Home Life

We grew up with that whole, the village raises the family, because we had multiple families look after us when mum was working and dad was studying. So not many of these families were even related, but they ended up being cousins and uncles and aunties. And it made life…We were kind of like in our own little bubble where you didn’t feel like you were different from the rest of society, but you had a really close support network within the Tongan community, and you just knew that you were going to be okay even if your parents had no money or nowhere to live. There was always someone able to put us up for a night or we stayed with another family in their bungalow. I do recall that. We just thought it was fun to sleep over.

So, it wasn’t until my dad got ordained and then he got allocated to an Australian, Anglo-Saxon, very conservative church, that we really understood okay, this is a nice safe haven where we’ve been, and now this kind of reality, because we were placed in an area where there weren’t any other Tongans or many Islanders. So, it was different for us. I think we had to rely a bit more on ourselves, and dad encouraged us to embrace our culture, and with many Pacific Islanders, music is a huge part of our upbringing and it’s pretty natural to have music in the house, either you’re singing at church as your first introduction, or you’re just singing in the car on the way to church, or it’s music on the radio. So then we ended up singing a lot at church as a way of participating as young kids. There weren’t many other children at that church, so culturally that part of our Tongan identity, music and dancing, we really took that with us when we moved into this community where there weren’t many other Tongans.

So, it was really still embracing our culture, but in an environment that we understood we were different. It was kind of a bit sad for us, I think I missed a lot of my church friends and my cousins that I could identify with, not just physically, but culturally, and then moving to an area where they don’t even know where Tonga is, let alone singing and dancing. I’m a Tongan minority in a larger group of Western people. So it was almost a bit like living in two worlds where we knew we were Tongan but as soon as we’d go outside and we’re around Australian and Westerners, we can’t necessarily be Tongan completely, we kind of had to learn how to be a Tongan in a Western world, to put it frankly. And some of that involves, not hiding my culture, but definitely learning to go along with what the expectations of the Western culture were.

Things like birthday parties and sleepovers, there’s no way in our Tongan culture my parents at 8 would be allowing us to go and hang out after school at someone else’s house. We just don’t do that because we don’t trust people with our kids pretty much, only if you’re family. So I can distinctly remember people inviting us to parties, even at primary school, and we’d just be like, I wouldn’t even bother asking my parents, because I know the answer is no. So you’d just be like, “Yeah, thanks. But no, I’ve got something on,” or “I’ve got sports.” So you just make up some excuse why you can’t go to the party or you can’t go to the sleepover. And it’s amazing because that is quite sad, but at that time, it wasn’t like I felt deprived because I just knew that’s just the way it is.

It’s just like, I didn’t feel like I was missing out, obviously kids come back and talk about oh, they got these party bags and had so much fun. But for my siblings and I, we were just like, “Yeah, that’s life.” So we just knew this, in the Tongan way now we don’t do that kind of thing, but out there we have to make up an excuse of why we can’t attend those social gatherings because our culture is so conservative. So very early on, I think balancing, I would say the two hats, that’s the first time that I started doing that and I still to this day. 30 years later, I’d still say we have to balance the hats, because I embrace the culture, but I am aware that in order to be accepted in my Tongan community, I will embrace everything Tongan in me, but fully aware that on the flip side, when I’m around Tongans, there’s the balance of being Tongan but also being humble.

So there’s a bit of a flip where it’s in the Western side, we’d be all proud because through schooling you’d get prizes or whatever when you win spelling bees or that kind of thing. And that’s great and you get rewarded and it’s fantastic. Within the Tongan community itself, it’s not something you necessarily be like bragging about to the families. Like my mum wouldn’t get together with the other mums and be like, “Oh yeah, my daughter won this award.” You just don’t do that, because we’re just not a culture that I would say immediately our go to is not let’s support, let’s reward and embrace, let’s provide positivity and feedback and encouragement for young people that are being rewarded at school or in whatever their talent is.

It’s a very much like, “That’s awesome that you did well, we will just keep it to ourselves.” And on the flip side, in Western country, it’s great to celebrate achievements, like yeah, go all loud and have a party and tell your friends. And so it real kind of messes with your head a little bit, because you’re kind of like I need to humble myself and not look like I’m showing off in front of my Pasifika people. But then on the flip side it’s like, “Oh man, I’m so awesome.” Around my Western friends, I can actually say, “Guys, this happened to me.” And amazing thing about that is, since I’ve been in primary school. It’s still relevant today, which really says a lot about our roots and our culture. It’s heavily built on this; the village raises the family. But in that context, it’s kind of difficult for the village to acknowledge or encourage individual achievements.

I think it’s really big on, we accomplish this and if someone is doing something that’s a little bit extraordinary, it’s kind of like, “Oh yeah. I don’t know.” It’s not immediately an embracing, it’s kind of like suspect, like, “Oh, no. I don’t know about that.” Or there’s some caution or anxiety over whether that’s actually true or…And I think that probably comes from that Island mentality where we usually like to do things in groups, particularly back home, but even coming in here now, it’s easier to do things as a group.

My Tongan friends and my family, if we have an idea of what we’re doing as a group, everybody will be on board, but if I’ve got an idea that I want to do by myself, there’s always that, “Mm-mm. Yeah okay, I don’t know what she’s on.” But yeah, you just go do what you think…And so, but if I’m around my Western friends, they were like, “Yeah, do it. Good for you.” So I think from a really young age, you really pick up on this kind of we’re going to succeed as a community, but if you go out individually by yourself yeah, good luck with that. So primary school I was around Westerners and then high school, we shifted to extremely wealthy area of Melbourne and even more so, I would call it very old school money and very Anglo-Saxon. And a lot of the people in this area had very high paying jobs, high social economic demographic.

High School

But we were called there because of dad’s church. And I remember crying, because it was the first time we’d be put into all-girls school in this area, and I remember thinking, “Oh.” And my sisters met me in the toilets on our first day, we were all crying because we were in high school first time, all-girls school, and we were wearing like, our school uniform was like blazers and the long socks and the hat. It was fully like a private school, but it was actually a public school. And we just felt really out of place to be honest. The first time my mum and dad…We were wearing the school uniform, but they had to buy so much school uniform clothes like the blazer, the hat, and then the winter uniform was like a tie. Everything was just like a private school, which was quite foreign for us because quite casual where we were previously in primary school.

So, we didn’t like it. I remember I didn’t like it for the first year. We really felt out of place, there weren’t any Islanders at that school. It was one-part New Zealand girl, and she befriended my sister, which was great. But the rest no. So we found again…Well I found, it’s that whole wearing a different hat thing of fitting into this Western very rich society. So we didn’t come in there and share all about Tongan cultural music dancing or contribute that way to the school life. It was really just heads down and study, because that’s all we could do really. I don’t even think many people knew that I was Tongan, I didn’t even share it. But outside of that, we were actually attending an Australian Tongan congregation.

So we were back to our culture, but still at school, very heavily, no Pasifika students there with us. So we were, oh, let’s say you kind of just pretend that you’re a Westerner, you just go along with whatever music they’re all listening to. At school, I wouldn’t say my Tongan music or reggae. I didn’t bring that into my school life, that was like something that I did outside of school friends. Even my school friends, I just followed whatever they were into. And it was just learning to adapt to whatever environment was there at school. So, hence, just studying, so pretty much studying through high school in that environment. I would say it ended up being a blessing that it was a girls’ school because there was no boys to distract.

But in saying that, Tongan culture, you’re not allowed to have boyfriends anyway in high school. So again, it was always making up all those excuses that you can’t go to the parties, can’t go to sleepovers. You kind of see that book guy at the bus stop, but yeah, nothing is going to happen, because you’re in this, like…I wouldn’t say it’s a cage, but you just don’t bother, because why bother stressing out your parents on something that’s like a high school crush. But I would say I was pretty blessed to have two older sisters because they were already, started going out and socialising before I’d finish school. So I was already exposed to social activities outside high school life, which was great anyway for me, which gave a good balance. But in terms of studying, I think that environment of just girls’ school there weren’t any other Islanders there, so all we could do was study in hindsight, although I didn’t necessarily enjoy, like love my high school years.

It gave a really strong platform for me to put my head down and try to study and achieve academically.

Parent’s Expectations

My dad was very studious back in Tonga, but didn’t finish his studies because he ended up coming to Australia at that time. But his family were always really strong on education and making sure that their kids prioritised education. So dad was always encouraging us to do the best that we can. He didn’t necessarily scold us or…I have to be honest, both my parents didn’t come to parent teacher nights, not really into that, more involved in church activities. But dad was really like, “I want you to study hard. And the reason being is because we want you to have better life. This is why we fought to stay in Australia, is so you kids can actually be educated here and create a better life for yourselves and your future generations.”

So that was always part of my dad’s speech about, “Study. Do better than your mum and I. Get a good job and not have to rely on other people like we did.” And it’s a great motivator and for my siblings and I. I think my parents were really strong on not being…Well, and they would say, “And don’t forget where you came from.” So it was just kind of a balance of try hard to have a better life than us, but also don’t ever forget the people that have helped you along the way and the struggle that you’ve had because only then you appreciate…studied and went and got into tertiary education. Well, went to tertiary educated college and got a tertiary education and we got jobs that could maintain us in adulthood.

Choosing a Career

For myself, I chose a career in engineering, was more to do with, I really enjoyed maths and problem solving, so that was a big part of why I decided to do engineering because it opened up so many doors. You could just study engineering and then pick what you wanted to do at that time. I do have to say the airport was a really big attraction to me. We used to go there a lot growing up obviously to welcome people from overseas. You go there a lot when you got family coming from Tonga. And I do remember going there so many times and you get these airport keyring photos, ever since I was little, and I still got those.

So I had a big…Well, I wouldn’t say fascination, but I did like airplanes, just that deck where you can go and watch the airplanes land and also depart. And I just liked the airport really, watching people arrive and watching people leave, wishing you could go on holiday too. So naturally I was kind of drawn into okay, engineering, mechanical seems pretty interesting. And we shared some same subjects at uni with aviation aerospace students. So I got some exposure to that. But I just enjoyed problem solving and maths, hence why that drew me to that field. I do have to admit, when I told my dad he was not happy that I was choosing to follow engineering only because in a Tongan way, my father’s mind is like engineers are like mechanics, if you’re an engineer, you’re a mechanic. In Tonga, it’s like, “Oh, you want to work…”

It’s kind of a dirty industry, you got to be dirty all the time and working with tools. So my dad didn’t really quite understand until I started uni and then he just said, “Oh, okay, well, it seems like…” I just explained to him, there’s other things you can do, it’s not just being a mechanic. You can be a designer, or you can work even in project management if you want. So just slowly dad was like, “Okay, sure. You want to be an engineer, I don’t know what that is exactly, but go for it.”


So I completed a mechanical engineering degree and I was shocked because there weren’t any women, there was 10 women in a lecture theatre of maybe 200. So I was not prepared for it to be a male dominated field. I have to say, I chose that not realising that A, there wouldn’t be many females, and B, females let alone Pacific Island women.

Actually, to this day, I don’t think I know one single Pasifika engineer, which is a bit sad. But at the uni I went to, we started a South Pacific club across the whole campus. I think again, there was only like 12, maybe 12 students, Tongans, Niuean, Samoan, and then there was Fijian in there. And again, it was interesting because the other students and myself, similar stories where we embrace our culture, but even in a uni environment, we’re still trying to fit in with the majority. So it’s not…We embrace it to a certain point, but it’s not like we’re going to uni and you can just tell we’re Islanders, like the way we dress or what music we listen to. We were again just fitting into, whatever the majority is, we’ll go with it.

And I think that was probably because we were the minority at uni. So that’s always carried through where we’re putting on the other hat. And then being female at uni, you get more attention because the boys know all the 20 girls, which is fine, but it’s kind of like, well out of the 20 girls, I’m Pacific Islander. So then, even more so boys are unfamiliar with, “Oh, where is she from?” or even interested really, which didn’t really bother me, but I just recognise that, “Okay, well, I am a female, it’s going to be hard in this century”, and B, my Tongan heritage is not necessarily going to be something that people are going to recognise, they’ll just see me as, “Okay, she’s a girl that’s doing engineering, how odd?” But the added bonus of the Pacific Islander culture, I think as we are known, even now my colleagues, they kind of ask, “Oh where’s Tonga, I don’t know where Tonga is.”

First Job

So after graduating, I was really fortunate, my first job where I applied, you can’t graduate from that uni until you get three months’ work experience, and I was really fortunate because my sister was working for a civil engineering firm. So she asked them if they had any contacts that I could send my resume to, and luckily that they did. Her boss was fantastic, and he flicked on my resume to his colleague who was a mechanical engineer in building services, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and he took my CV, and he gave me a chance. So I did three months’ work experience, and then I graduated with that work experience and then they offered me a job straight away.

So I was very blessed to get straight from uni work experience and land a job without too much stress. I think it says a lot about how important social connections are and being able to like really recognise and take opportunities as they come, because I don’t think, if I hadn’t…I’d been sending my resumes everywhere, but people don’t know you from a bar of soap. So luckily my sister had been working at this company for so many years, she’d already built that trust with her boss, so her saying, “Oh, this is my sister. Can you give her a chance? Can you ask around your friends?” That really opened the door for me to land a job, land a position at a reputable company, Australian company, but also set the foundation for the rest of my career.

Career and Cultural Influences

So, I’m no longer at that company anymore, but from their interest in, I’ve just been able to land new jobs through, not through word of mouth, similar thing, that connection. So people that I work with at that first job they’ve moved on and then a position has come up, then they’ve called me and said, “Oh, this position, do you want to come?” And then I would go for the interview and then I’d land that role. So I haven’t been exposed to that competitiveness of fighting against other competitors, or…I do know that they have quotas for females to be hired in engineering firms because there’s not many of us. But in saying that, I’ve been really fortunate where I’ve had friends that have referred me on. So, that’s how I’ve landed jobs, and the role that I’m currently in, as an HVAC engineer, which is heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

So, even though, don’t see many Pasifika women, but I still embrace my Tongan culture, but in my workplace, I would say where I can see my Tongan culture, well, part of that in me being present in the corporate world is definitely when we talk about humility, I’m not one to put myself up for promotion. I don’t fight against my colleagues to get the end of year pay rise or the bonuses. And I know in my mind that’s just the way we’ve been brought up. I’m happy if someone else is rooting for that, and I don’t get that promotion, it doesn’t bug me. I’m not saying that I’m not motivated, but it’s kind of like, “That’s cool, not my time.” And that’s a bit of the…I would definitely say that’s a bit of a Tongan culture where we kind of like, “It’s all right, I’m not going to be too forward and make myself look showy.”

And that can work well, but it can also be a weakness of our culture in the corporate world because corporate world’s not really about being humble at all. It’s really about promoting yourself, promoting the company, getting out there. So in that retrospect, yes, I have moved up the corporate ladder, but I could have definitely moved up quicker as a female in engineering, specifically, if I had more…I would say if I had more of that individual drive that perhaps a Westerner might have. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, I think that’s a great thing. But I do know naturally I’m not one to self-promote myself in the workplace, and I think that’s a lot to do with my culture.

And on the flip side too, I notice, particularly in recent years, more so not a stress head, and I think that is also a lot to do with the saying of Pacific Islanders, “Well, we can do it the Pacific way and just do it tomorrow.” It’s not like we’re…It’s kind of like Island mentality where it’s like, “Yeah, yeah, it’s going to be done. It’s going to be done on Island time.” So people will be stressing out in the meeting and I’ll just be like, “Mm-hmm (affirmative), yep.” And they’ll just be like, “Elvina, why aren’t you stressed, the client wants this.” And I’m like, “It’s going to be done, no point of stressing about it.” And it’s a weird kind of…I’ve only, in recent years where my managers are like, “Oh, you’re kind of a little bit laid back when it comes to big stressful moments. Why is that?”

And it’s kind of like, “Oh, I didn’t even pick up on it.” But now I’m like, “Oh, that’s just the way we are, I think,” which can be a good thing in times of stress where we’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m not going to stress about it because worrying is not going to help. I’ll get to it when I get to it.” I think that’s been really helpful part of the culture, which I thought, “Oh yeah, I think this is a Tongan approach or a Pacific approach.”

So that’s pretty much where I’m at now. I’m still kind of doing the two hats thing, but I can actually now reflect back and see a lot of my working life. A lot of the positives from being Tongan, I could see that in my working life, but I could also see some of the negatives in our culture, which kind of…I wouldn’t say block, but delays promotion in the corporate world and things like…Because I’m probably not as individualistic thinking as I could be or competitive.

Parent’s Support of Education


Just in terms of your primary and high school learning, how did you find learning particular subjects, because recognising that the Australian education curriculum would have been difficult for our parents and like my mum and dad couldn’t help me with any of it because they didn’t understand. What was it like for you?


No, my parents didn’t tutor us, they kind of left us, because I’ve got the sisters. We just all used to do our homework around the dining table and try to help each other out. If not, we’d have to ask our teachers.

Yeah, so no, we didn’t have tutors, or my parents didn’t take us through that, they were really heavily involved with church. So we just kind of all sat around the dining table and did our homework together. And if we needed more help, we pretty much had to ask our teachers or if we wanted to stay back at lunch time. But it was more relying on ourselves to really get through assessments and dad was even…Like I said, they didn’t go to parent teacher interviews because they were just so involved with church. So yeah, similar to…Well, that was pretty normal, I think for all of my cousins and Tongan church friends, no one helped us with schooling, which I can imagine will be tough for…My dad valued education, it’s not like he didn’t want us to study. We weren’t allowed to watch TV until we finished our homework, but it’s not like he sat with us and helped us through the problems.

Academic Strengths


When did you find that you have a natural instinct towards…Was there anything that drew you to the subjects like maths and…Those particular subjects that you did


I do remember the first school we went to grade three, my teacher, we’d only do like…We’d just do two hours of straight no talking, and really old school blackboard copying times tables. And so, from that age, timetables really came naturally me or patterns what I’d say. So it’s just something I picked up. My dad’s background was maths and scienceSo from there, I think maybe that math side of things, maybe dad, because dad’s pretty good at maths. But it’s not like…he could do times tables and things, but I didn’t go to him for like algebra or calculus or the more difficult things. So that naturally, maths was kind of, naturally I enjoyed it from a really young age. But not saying that all my siblings…

My other sister is really artistic. She’s just really fantastic with any kind of painting or sewing. And the beauty was my parents embraced all of our talents, I would say. They didn’t necessarily help us with them, but they said, “Okay, you’re good at maths, that’s great Vins” and my sister and my mum was always like, “Oh yes, she’s artistic, and she gets that from me.” Which was nice to have that support. They always supported the things that we wanted to do. Didn’t always understand why we wanted to pursue the careers, but I would say they accepted it. I think arts, particularly for my sister that probably scared my parents because they were like, “Oh, how are you going to get a job studying fashion design.” But they supported it and then in the end she stayed in that industry. So I think they were very supportive of us, but not necessarily hands-on. Definitely not hands-on.

Advice for Pasifika Youth


What are the three things in terms of tips that you would recommend for anyone that is looking at your journey, that would love to do what you’re doing? So what are three things that you would recommend our Pasifika youth and particularly our Pacific girls, could do to pursue what you’re doing?


I think you really need to have, and I’m not going to be biased, but a very strong self…sense of identity and confidence, which is really difficult in our culture because I know we’re not a culture that promotes self-recognition and acknowledgement of your worth and your achievements…it’s really big on humility. But within your own self, I think as a female, you really need to believe that you are good. Like if you discover that, oh, I’m actually really good at this, or maths and I actually really enjoy it, I would say…I definitely say I do wear the two hats, I’m not one to go and promote myself in my community, but inside it’s very important that you acknowledge that, “You know what, I’m bloody good at this.” In whatever field, I wouldn’t even say in engineering.

I think as a Pacific Islander female, recognising to yourself, “I’m good at this.” And yes, my culture is big on humility, there are ways to navigate that. I don’t think you need to be showy about your gifts, but definitely use that as a mechanism to get out there, because in the Western world, they’re happy for you to brag about yourself. You’re outside this village, you can go out there and be that person that you might not necessarily be able to be in your own community. You can take all your resumes and send them to everyone, because you’re actually sending it to outside this box that you have. Your religion of support, it’s wonderful. But it’s not necessarily going to be that helpful in promoting your individual gifts.

So I would definitely say you got to really believe that and accept that, yeah, you’re damn good at whatever it is, whether it’s engineering, and get out there outside the box and know that you don’t have to be that humble person out in the real world. You just be whoever you want to be really and not be afraid of people, I guess, small community coming back, and the backlash was saying that you’re trying to be too showy and you’re leaving us behind. I think that can be…You can recognise that happening because that can happen among your friends or your family. But you’ve just really got to accept that, no, this has nothing to do with me leaving my community or losing your identity. Sometimes we think that if we go outside our village, we’re not Tongan anymore, or you’re not whatever culture you are.

And I think it’s really important to recognise that you don’t lose your heritage because you’re stepping out of the village expectations. No one can take that away from you. I don’t know how many people, even family who just give you that phrase, that you’re fie pālangi, which is like, oh, you want to be a Westerner? That kind of comment is really unhelpful. But for any Pacific Islander, particularly for females, there’s no such thing. You take the good things of being a Tongan and no one can take that away from you, or a Pacific Islander. And you go and you share that with the world, because…And it’s a really hard thing because you think I’m leaving my culture behind, or I’m looking down at my culture, but you’re not. You just got to recognise, “You know what, I’m actually good at this and I’m going to go out there and promote the fact that I am. This is my background.” And add value to whatever industry you want to go into.

I think that is really a huge thing is having that confidence. And I’m not saying that everybody is religious in Pacific Islander community but having a really strong foundation for me to my faith, but it can be for anyone. Wherever you draw strength from, I think that’s really important as well, because that’s how you kind of replenish your energy and your support, because you’re not always going to get…It’s definitely not going to be, “Awesome, you’re sailing.” You’re going to get knock backs, so you need that support system wherever that comes from. But that real self-belief that you can step out your village, I think is really key, and knowing that no one can take your culture away from you till the day you die. It’s something that you keep.

And it’s a bit like our Tongan…I would say Tongan national emblem, which is like God and Tonga is my inheritance. I think that’s very true in summing that up, in my situation. It doesn’t matter if I’m born here, and it doesn’t matter if I can’t speak Tongan fluently, or I’m not fully involved in the Tongan community. But no one can take your inheritance away from you, your Tongan inheritance, or your faith, I think. And that’s huge to step outside your community and go, just because I’m doing something else, if it’s engineering, whatever it is girls want to do, it doesn’t mean that you’re not tied to your culture because no one can take that way. They will try and comment and say, you want to be a Westerner. But really having that belief in yourself and say, this is really important.



What is the ultimate success, and what does success look like for you? It can be in anything that you attribute to success to.


So success for me really is just being…I think definitely being grateful.

I got to say, I think the success is really just being grateful for all the things and looking back on where you start and where you are now, where I’ve been in life and just being grateful for the things that you’ve been able to receive or gain or achieve, no matter how small. I think that’s probably success. I don’t necessarily see my work…My work is fantastic, but I don’t see it necessarily as like, I’ve made it. It’s kind of more of a everyday thing where I’m like, “Oh yeah, my kid is healthy. I’m good. My husband is good. We’re all safe.” And my kids having food on the table is very important.

And I would be lying if I didn’t say having to be able to provide for my children more than what my parents were able to provide for me, that is success, because I can’t imagine putting my kids through, not just the poverty, but just all of the pressures that I had growing up. I don’t want them going through that. So that’s success for me, if I can better their lives than what I had. But also making sure that they don’t forget where we came from.

  • ‘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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