Malelega & Rose

Legal Assistant & Workplace Consultant

Name: Malelega and Rose
Age at interview: 27 years, 25 years
Occupation: Legal Assistant, Workplace Consultant

Ethnicity: Pacific Islander
Country of birth: Samoa

In this video
0:00Malelega – Moving to Australia and Schooling
1:14Malelega – University
2:05Malelega – Volunteering and Starting Career
3:39Rose – Moving to Australia and Primary School
4:49Rose – High School
6:02Rose – Community and Church
7:17Rose – University
8:09Rose – Starting a Career
10:00Parent’s Influence and Expectations
11:56Experiences as a Pasifika Student
14:44Cultural Practices and Language
17:03Role Models and Finding a Direction
19:46Career Aspirations
21:30Advice for Youth

Malelega – Moving to Australia and Schooling


My background is Samoan, and I was born actually in Apia, Samoa. So, I guess for both me and Rose, so we both grew up in Samoa until we were roughly about two and four, then we came over to New Zealand in ’97. We then moved over to Australia in 2005, so I was 12 and Rose was about 10. And then we’ve been here ever since.

So, most of our childhood has been around the Pasifika community. It was definitely a big change when we came here to Australia, first of all because of our accents, I had to kind of immediately drop that. Yeah, in primary school was kind of bullied a little bit because of the accent. But from then on it was just…yeah, kind of had to integrate myself into that. Also, we were the only Pacific Islanders in our whole primary school, so that was a big shock to us. People mistaking us for Filipino or I guess another type of ethnicity who are a little bit darker or a little bit browner than us.

And then from there went into high school. Me and Rose went to the same high school, and the majority of the Islanders there were actually our family.

Malelega – University

And then from there I went to […] do my first Bachelor’s of Arts, because I didn’t actually really decide or know what I wanted to do at uni. I wasn’t really good at maths, so I definitely did not want to pursue anything in math. But I was quite good at arguing, so I thought, “Why not make a career out of that?” And so, I completed my Bachelor of Arts, took a year off and just started working full-time for my dad, so I just took on a filing clerk role for him for a year.

Then we had a big discussion about me returning back to uni, and then just ultimately trying to get a Bachelor of Law. So, I did that, went back. It was quite great there because there was actually a Pasifika group, an Islander community there, so it was quite good just to reconnect with them and just touch base with them.

Malelega – Volunteering and Starting Career

Then from there after my uni degree, then I just started working around trying to see if there was just any other avenue for me  within the legal sector. So, what I started doing is then I started volunteering at my local legal community centre in Laverton as well as in Werribee, because I found that there was obviously a big Pasifika community there, and I thought, “Well, obviously there’ll be a lot of Pasifika people there who would probably be more comfortable in having someone there who looks similar to them.”

I also did some volunteering for one of the…for legal aid. And then I found a Pasifika lawyer, occasionally he would say that he would get mistaken as the offender rather than an actual representative of the client. So, he got into that role because he obviously wanted to be just a familiar face for that person, make them feel comfortable, and they understand why they’re there, and that they’re actually seeking some help there.

Currently now I am working as an assistant in the legal sector, specifically around superannuation. Out of the whole organization in Australia there is actually only about three Pasifika Islander people or colleagues of mine.

So my first name is actually Malelega, and my middle name is Malelega.

So, my parents decided to give me a English name so that it would be more employable. I was kind of embarrassed to introduce myself as my Islander name,  and my partner, he would say, “Come and introduce yourself as Lega because that’s the name that your parents gave you.”

Rose – Moving to Australia and Primary School


I was born in Samoa, Apia, Samoa. When I was two years old my family moved over to New Zealand and we stayed there until I was 10. It was a really great childhood; we were surrounded by our family. I grew up in South Auckland, Māngere to be exact, so it was good because when we were there, our whole community was Samoan, I didn’t know anything outside of it, straight up Islanders everywhere, people just like me.

So, once we moved to Australia it was quite hard because, like my sister said, there was no one else that looked like us when we came here. No one even knew where Samoa was, it was all just European countries. And to be fair I didn’t know a lot of European countries, because my knowledge at that time was just Pacific Islander countries only.

When we went to our primary school we were the only Islanders there. And that was a bit of a struggle. We had to change our accent, the slang that we used So that was hard. And I didn’t really quite feel like I was myself. I felt like I lost a little bit of myself because I had to change myself to adapt.

Rose – High School

And again, at high school there wasn’t many Islanders around. The only Islanders at our school were just me and my sister and our cousins. So, our cousins eventually moved over, and that was nice having other people here that looked like us and we could relate to. So, once they came to our school it kind of felt like home having other Islanders with us and we all grew up together. So, that was great in high school, having that connection to our community as well.

I just remember once I started hitting year 11 and 12 in high school, more Islander kids started coming through like year seven and eight, and I was like, “Oh okay, there’s more of us here, it’s good.” It was kind of empowering as well.

I also wanted to note that my parents, I think my parents…I’m pretty sure my parents specifically chose that school for us because they wanted us to focus on school, not get dragged into the youth, they didn’t really have such positive connotations. So, I guess that was an active choice by my parents, even though it was a sad choice, it’s an active choice that they chose that school for us to go to because there wasn’t an Islander community.

Rose – Community and Church

We did attend a Samoan church when we came here. Personally I didn’t quite feel connected through my community in church, partly because I’m not very religious.. And I guess I think my sister would feel the same way too. We didn’t quite feel a connection there. I couldn’t get along with the youth at the Samoan churches, and I think what has caused that is because I was so isolated for so long away from the Samoan youth.

So, going to a Samoan church as a Samoan, that was a bit of a struggle as well. Especially in the language area, like we’re not very fluent, just a few phrases here and there and mixed with English.

And I think our parents’ kind of picked up on that because eventually we moved to a pālagi (European) church, and that was so much better. Yeah, it’s weird because I felt more connection in the pālagi (European) church than I did the Samoan church. I just didn’t feel genuine when I was sitting in Samoan church there, even though it was my own people. So, I’m still trying to unpack that because I still don’t understand.

Rose – University

Back to schooling, after high school I went to uni. I went university, , and I underwent a bachelor’s degree in business management. It was a hard choice for me personally to pick something to study in uni. I’ve always known that I wanted to go to uni, but I just didn’t know what.

Yeah. So, I ended up studying business. It was hard, I’m not going to lie. It really challenges yourself as an individual because you [have to] take on the full responsibility of [educating] yourself. I did not see any other Islander on my campus, until my cousin came to the same uni. And when my cousin came to the uni I felt comfortable because there was someone else, and it was someone else I know and we were close. So, it was nice having her there.

Rose – Starting a Career

I graduated uni in 2016, and I started working at a property law firm with my mum, so she worked there as well. So, I started working there on a casual basis, and that was a good entry-level job for going into the corporate world.

At that workplace as well, it was only me and my mum who were the Islander community within that small office. And it was good, it was fine, until one other person came along, and you feel even more, “Oh wow, there’s more of us here.” And it’s just a lot better. Personally, for me I feel a lot better when I’m surrounded by Islanders. I can still deal when I’m with non-Islanders because throughout schooling and all of that I was away from the Islander community. So now I feel like I have to catch up in terms of trying to fit back in.

So, after that firm I moved to another law firm, which is where I currently work. I currently work at a corporate law firm in the city. I work in the business services department, so it’s like admin support for our clients and our lawyers in our firm. Yeah, and that’s been great. I really love my job. I learned that through my job how important admin is. It’s very important. It’s like the backbone of a firm, and a lot of people don’t…they underestimate how important it actually is.

I think I’m the only Islander at my firm, and it’s been fine. I think I’m at a point where I’m not seeking that comfort. And when I go out and I meet other Islanders, I can still interact with them comfortably, it doesn’t feel like such a huge gap like it did for me before.

Parent’s Influence and Expectations


Going back girls to your primary years, if you can remember particularly when you guys were going to school, maybe when you go to school here, what was learning like for you? Did you find that there were subjects that you did really well in, and then subjects that you didn’t do really well in?

And then, because what we also recognize too is that the Australian education system, it’s foreign for parents. They were really, really supportive of us doing well in education, but my parents just couldn’t understand the activities. So, I don’t know if that was similar for you girls, and maybe it might be a little bit different because your parents are younger than mine. But if you can just talk about what you recall from those primary years.

And then maybe just talk about your learning, what learning was like for you in high school. So, if you feel like you did really well, why do you think you did well? And if you didn’t, why do you think there is areas that you maybe struggle with as well?


My parents had already started reading to us at a young age, and they already were familiar I guess in the education system, especially when it was quite similar to New Zealand.


Yes. Yeah, so my parents had a plan when we moved here. They were going to go to uni and get qualified, and then get better jobs so that we can go to uni, so to support us.

And I feel like that’s why in primary school English was my stronger subject. And definitely back in high school it was the strongest for me because I took on literature.

I love to write stories; I like to read books and analyse them. So, that was my strongest subject in school. And my weakest one was definitely maths.


I think a little bit of the influence for me going down the legal route was my mum as well. She was already working in the legal sector already, and I thought, “Sweet, I want to be like my mum too.”

Experiences as a Pasifika Student


When did you realize that “Okay, right, so there’s no other Pasifika Island students here”? And then what did you do? Did you do anything in terms of trying to fit in? So, if you could just touch on that.


Yeah. For me, just remembering from primary school, I just have little memories of it. But it was more like the little things that made me adjust. Like it happened in increments. I’d be sitting there, someone would say something funny, and I would say something back and I would be like, “Oh, no one understood that joke. Okay, all right, let me adjust. Okay, now I know not to say that, or now I know to change that. Don’t use that slang because no one understands it, so I’ll change to what’s the Australian version of this word.”

But it was just using conversational cues, that’s how I fit in, that’s how I tried to fit in. Because I’m a very talkative person, I like to crack jokes, and I use a lot of humour in my normal language. So, it was more like bookmark…I had like a catalogue in my head of what slang not to use, what Kiwi slang I put in the back and used on someone else, and what Aussie slang I should always use. So, that’s how I dealt with it.

And then I took that into high school as well. Actually, high school was more…a bit better prepared because I had a couple of years in primary school to rev myself up to high school.


I think for me it was more of just making myself as small as possible and to separate myself from being an Islander. So, I wouldn’t really say anything at all to anyone just in case they would just click and hear my accent. It just meant that they couldn’t pick on me for one of the many things that we weren’t as Australian kids, or as Pasifika Islander kids going to an Australian school. So, I did a little as possible, I was a quiet achiever.

So, I guess the adjustment into high school I just didn’t have any real connection back to being a Pasifika. And I guess in the Australian school system I thought “No, it’s fine.” I lost all my accent, dropped it all, kind of had to figure my way in I guess the Aussie humour and started using the slang like arvo or like a sammie.

So, I kind of lost I guess my identity in that way, and I do recognize that now.


Growing up, me and my sister we had such different ways in how to approach Islanders. So like my sister said, she definitely did make herself smaller, and I tried to connect more with Islanders.

And then now we always joke around that I’m the more Islander one out of her, than her, she’s the more whiter version of the both of us.

Cultural Practices and Language

Do you guys travel to Samoa often? Can you just speak to me, just share a little bit about your connection to your homeland, if you travel often, what sort of events and things you participate in if you do at all.

So, if you don’t mind girls, if you can just share a little bit about your personal experiences about what you understand about some of the cultural obligations of Samoans, and how you never get that.


Yeah. We were definitely late bloomers. I think around our early 20s, that’s definitely when we started…So, when we were younger, we did not really learn the language. We understood it, like when our parents said something to us, we could understand it, but we couldn’t quite speak it. In our late 20s our parents definitely started to teach us more of the cultures.

Our first trip to Samoa was eye-opening for us. I think I was 10, 12. It was a huge cultural shock because obviously it’s not the same as here or New Zealand, as much as you’d like to think that New Zealand’s as close as it is.

We’ve been back to Samoa quite a few times now. Maybe five or six. And I guess each time we’ve gone back we’ve gotten more used to the climate and all of that and doing all the traditional stuff.

For me personally, now that I’m much older, I’ve been actively seeking out to learn more about the culture. So, it’s little things that I do like looking up some old-school Samoan songs and just learning the lyrics. Every time my parents would say a phrase that I didn’t understand I’d be like, “Ah, what does that mean?” And then they’ll translate it to me.

I’m a little sad that I didn’t learn it much earlier. But I also understand that the reason why I didn’t learn it much earlier was because I was too busy trying to fit in, and I don’t blame myself for that, I was only a kid. But it’s never too late to learn more about it, so it’s a slow progress for me, yeah.


Also, just with the language, I’m not as great as my sister is in speaking Samoan. And then also my partner, he is a Westerner, so he wants to learn the language too and it kind of forces me

Role Models and Finding a Direction


Okay, cool. So girls, just when you were both in university, did you find your journey in university any different to, in terms of your learning…because I feel like I get the sense that learning obviously was quite natural for you both.

For example, can you just…I know that you mentioned that your mum worked in the legal practice or in the legal sector, so that was probably a really quite pivotal moment in shaping the way that you thought. Did you always think that you were going to be in law?


To be honest, no. I only had my mum and my dad, and those were I guess my immediate role models into what can be achieved as a Pasifika Islander. There was no real I guess academic or any kind of corporate role model to look up to.


And touching on how you asked about why you struggle to figure out what you want. I don’t know if this is the same for my sister, but I feel like I felt…”Okay, she knows she’s going to do law. What am I going to do?”mumBeing an Islander in something other than factory work. T This isn’t any shade at all to that type of work, because there’s nothing wrong with that. But I just didn’t want to be a second-generation factory worker. That was something that I knew that I did not want to be, because I’ve always thought that my parents did not bring us all the way here for me to go and do that.


In terms of thinking about your professional careers, or even in your schooling life, did you have, other than your parents, is there anybody in your lives that you recall being like goals? Like ultimate goals? Or even a mentor that you think have helped…


I did not have a role model to look up to apart from my parents. I didn’t have an outside influence. And yeah, I guess I missed out on that opportunity, but I feel like my parents were enough for me. Yeah.


Definitely for me as well. And then also I remember there was my legal teacher, my legal studies teacher back in high school, she was Australian background, but she kind of recognized the struggle that I had with obviously being an Islander kid in a predominantly I guess Western high school. She definitely guided me and provided just that extra support. And I remember her setting me aside and saying, “You can actually succeed in this area. You’ve kind of got something going on there, so definitely keep with it.”

Career Aspirations


Now just thinking about where you’re both at career-wise, what does the next chapter look like for you, ? What are your future aspirations in terms of where you’re going?


Definitely trying to just give back to my community, and then also trying to give back and support my parents as well. Just because of throughout our whole lives they’ve just supported us with no matter what, they’ve guided us as well and they’ve always made sure that we just stuck on our paths or at least made sure that we recognized where we were going and supported that, no matter what our choices were.


For me, I’m comfortable where I am, and I’m happy with where I am, just being at the law firm I’m in and being in the department that I’m in. So, right now I guess I would see myself staying here for a couple of years, because I’ve only been here for a year now. And I’m enjoying what I’m learning about…even though I don’t want to be lawyer, I enjoy being in that industry.

But a long-term goal is I really do want to put my business management degree to use, I’ll put it finally to use. And a big thing is that me and my dad have discussed owning our own coffee shop. So, that’s definitely a goal that I do want to reach, yeah. But right now I’m good with where I’m at, and I know where I’m going to go.


Are you aware of the Pasifika Lawyers Association that’s built out of Queensland?


Yeah, are they open to other states?


I don’t think so. Me and a couple of other, two other female lawyers, we’re trying to get an association together down here in Melbourne. But we just haven’t got enough ground yet.

Advice for Youth


What is three tips that you would recommend, based on your profession, that you would recommend for the next up-and-coming Pasifika youth or another female or guy watching your journey. What is three tips that you would recommend they do to become, or to essentially be where you’re at today?


Yeah. Probably the first one is just go out and see what’s out in your local community. Definitely employers, as well as I guess just making the connections. They appreciate you working in your community and trying to make that connection there.

The second one, I would say just pursue what you want to do, regardless of what it is and regardless of what people say.


For me I guess the first tip I would have is don’t minimize yourself. Don’t keep yourself down to where you think you should be, because you can do so much better.

I guess number two is find something that you love to do or find something that you at least enjoy. And it’s okay if it takes a couple of tries, because no one gets it on the first hit. I know I didn’t. Yeah, so I guess just keep trying. Keep doing something. As long as you’re doing something in life, as long as you’re actively trying to find something to pursue, or whether you do something for six months and you don’t like it, that’s fine, that’s okay.

And I guess the third tip is it’s okay to fail. It’s definitely okay to fail. And don’t regret it if you do fail, because you’ve ultimately learned a lesson. There’s lessons to be learned whether you fail or you succeed, but I guess the failure is more scarier for everyone. So, definitely do not be afraid to fail.



What does success look like to you? That could be in anything.


I guess it’s enjoying what you love and then just not being stressed when you come home from it. Getting a good night’s sleep.


Success for me looks like I don’t have to check my balance in my EFTPOS bank account, and that’s really an honest question…oh sorry, that’s really an honest answer for me personally, because it’s been a struggle growing up. Financial stability is so important, and that’s what success looks like for me.

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