Age at interview: 35 years
Country of birth: Australia
In this video
|0:00||Early Years and Primary School|
|11:11||Connection to I-Kiribati Culture|
|14:02||High School – Senior Years|
|22:06||Connecting to Culture and Identity|
|27:19||Parent’s Influence and Support at School|
|31:00||Connection with Family and Culture|
|43:39||Advice for Youth|
|50:52||Advice for Youth|
- Early Years and Primary School
- High School
- Connection to I-Kiribati Culture
- High School – Senior Years
- Connecting to Culture and Identity
- Parent’s Influence and Support at School
- Connection with Family and Culture
- Advice for Youth
- Advice for Youth
- Support during primary and high school
- Experiences of post-secondary education and training
- Developing Careers
- Experiences of Work
- Reflections and advice to young Pacific People
Early Years and Primary School
Well, my name is Marita. I am a I-Kiribati woman and an Australian, White Australian woman. I grew up down in Sale in Gippsland. So Sale has about, I think at the time, about 15,000 people. So a large country town, I suppose. My parents moved there. I was born down there. My parents moved there in about ’84 and I was born in ’85. And I think we just had a small house probably in the roughest part of town and I went to the closest primary school, which we used to joke about was the roughest one. And a good friend of mine who I’m still good friends with today, we often used to joke that it was the Bronx of Sale that we went to school in.
Looking back on it now, I know it was probably a rough school, but I had some really good friends there and I got into…I had a really quite a stable upbringing and it was very consistent. My dad was a teacher at the local high school. And so my mum was around. My mum was pretty young. I think she was 23 when she had me and 21 when she had my sister. I had a pretty consistent upbringing and pretty sheltered, I would say, despite sometimes there was kids in school that had turned up to school with a knife and I just would be like, “Yeah, well.” It honestly just washed over me. And I think as I’ve grown older, I think that’s generally my disposition. I don’t know whether it’s a Pacific Islander thing, but I’m just like, “Yeah, well, we’ll just keep on moving, seeing the good in every situation.”
So I had a good upbringing in Sale. I’m just trying to think of…One poignant moment in primary school was I remember a boy I liked. He knew that I liked him, and I remember he said something like, I’d been left in the oven for too long. And I honestly, once again, honestly didn’t even know what it meant. I hadn’t even really come across racism. Not directly to me. I think underlying I’d felt it towards my mother growing up and so I always wanted to be the good child because I think I felt this…
I’ve analysed this as I’ve gotten older. There’s this anxiety of younger kids with parents of colour and they can sense what their parents are going through. And so I think my sister and I were very much about being the good kids because she wanted us to be well behaved. She didn’t want us to cause a fuss to stand out any more than what we did because there was not really many kids of colour. There were a few Aboriginal kids at my school, Australian Aboriginal. But I can’t really think of that many other kids of colour at my school.
But yeah, I remember this boy saying I was left in the oven too long and it washed over me, and I was just like, “I don’t get. I just don’t get it.” But a good friend of mine, the friend who I’m still good friends with today who incidentally ended up becoming a lawyer was just right on it. And she just stuck up for me and was like, “You can’t say that. That’s a terrible thing to say.” And to this day, I think my recollection is through her as well. Because she’s just like, “That was my first instance of watching racism.” Whereas I was like, “I didn’t even really realise it was racist. I just thought it was a bad joke.” So I think that shows who I was like in primary school. I think even if things happened, it just washed over me, I didn’t really think about it. But I had a very acute awareness that my mum was dark and that my mum was different, but I didn’t necessarily think that was me.
And then I went to a high school. I ended up going to the Catholic school in town. So I suppose that was mid-range. There was a high school, a Catholic school and a grammar school in town. So I was middle-class, I suppose. I think a lot of people in town saw those high schools as three different classes. And so I went to that high school. There wasn’t again, not really that many kids of colour. There were, I think Filipino kids. There was a bit of an Asian community, a strong Filipino community, definitely. My mum was really close to a Fijian woman who lived in a town five minutes away. So we grew up with her kids. There were four of those kids, but they were a little bit younger, but we grew up babysitting them.
But there’s this innate, I don’t know, something about Pacific Islanders where I was just like, I know those kids are my people and I’m going to look out for those kids and we will always just relate to each other’s experience, even though they were quite a bit younger. I think the oldest one was…Oh, I think she would have been maybe five years younger than me, but we were quite close with that family growing up. And again, I didn’t really experience that much racism at school. I had a very sheltered white-bread schooling. I really enjoyed my schooling time and I feel very fortunate that I didn’t really get bullied. I think I had a disposition where I was just happy-go-lucky, bubbly, got along with everyone, loved a joke, thought everything was a joke. And also, I genuinely liked school. I genuinely liked learning.
And so I think that helped a lot because as I’ve gotten older, you see so many kids that schools don’t work for the way that they want to learn. And I just consider myself fortunate as being someone who thrived in that type of learning environment. I’m a writer now and I have memories of learning how to write in prep and they would ask us to write about our weekend and I just saw it as a competition. I’d be writing 10 pages really speedily, and just be slamming them in front of the teacher being like, “There’s my essay” kind of thing. And so I just was constantly writing and I still say that now that I’ve written for as long as I can remember every day.
Yeah. I think that really helped my experience at school and at learning. I found it a way to really navigate school as well because I kept a lot of diaries and I did a lot of, I suppose, maybe self-therapy, if that’s what a diary is. I was just working through stuff writing to myself and I kept diaries for ages. So I would just try and work out problems and if I ever had a confrontation, if I was arguing with my parents, I would write them a letter. I would write letters to friends, and then emails came about in my later high school years, and so I was in contact with a lot of friends.
I suppose I’m just going to pinpoint a couple of times when race came up because they are really poignant for me. And it also starts to challenge that experience of it being a white-bread experience because that’s where your life experience turns being like, “Oh, I’m being othered here.” I remember my sister and I were…we were quite active netball players, and we played a lot of netball growing up and we loved it. I think I played twice a week. I was on about two or three different teams. I umpired as a part time job.
And I remember having a, I don’t know, a local regional competition and both my sister and I won our grand finals in different age groups. And at one point over the mic, they said something like, “And we’re so excited to have the Davies’ sisters. They’re like our very own Williams’ sisters.” And I just remember looking at my sister being like, “What the hell was that?” And also thinking, “We’re not black.” And it felt really racist to me. That was the first time that I was just like, “You’re not even close. And also, is that how everyone else is looking at us because I’ve honestly never even thought of myself as being different. But here I am being announced over the mic of how different I am and that’s because of my skin colour.”
So that was one that was just…as I got older, I was just like, “That was weird and that didn’t really feel very cool, and I don’t really like being described as someone…” I was like, “I play tennis. They’re American. I’m so far from the Williams’ sisters.” So that felt really weird and that really just in my mind triggered something of, I’m looked at differently here.
Connection to I-Kiribati Culture
I speak about this whole white-bread experience, but at the same time, I had a strong as possible cultural upbringing with my mother. We spoke a lot of Kiribati terms in the house. I was happy to share that at school with my friends. I would say, “Whenever we go to Kiribati, I’m called an I-Matang.” An I-Matang is a White person in Kiribati. Which again, in Kiribati I’m this I-Matang and in Australia, I’m this brown person. You start to think, “Well, I don’t really belong anywhere.”
And so we grew up eating a lot of fish and rice, a lot of chicken and rice. We weren’t really part of the Kiribati community. I think because the majority of it was in Melbourne. I mean, whenever we went to Melbourne it was just to see my auntie on my dad’s side, so my White auntie. My auntie on my mum’s side actually lived in our town for a little bit. So I was close to my Kiribati cousins in Sale for a little bit. And then they moved away. So I suppose I got these snippets, but my own version of a cultural upbringing, but not with a wider Kiribati Pacific Islander community around me. But we did go back to Kiribati quite a bit. Well, I suppose I went maybe five or six times while I was at school, in my schooling years, primary and high school. And when I was younger, when I think I was four, we went over there for a number of months, so I was speaking fluently when I was over there and then I came back and forgot it all.
But I definitely had this pride of being Kiribati, but it also felt very far away. So it’s almost like I had two completely different personalities and my mum was trying so hard to bring us up with a Kiribati cultural upbringing. But at the same time when it’s just your mum doing that, I think it was really hard for her, and I think there were many times that she was upset that we didn’t want to explore our identity as much. I think that was really hard for her and something that I’m very aware of now.
High School – Senior Years
I’m just trying to think of where I went next. From high school, I just assumed I was going to uni. Like I said, I was a studious personality. I didn’t really top the classes, but I did well enough to get A’s every now and again, but then I really liked partying on the weekends, and so I didn’t study as much as some other friends. My group of friends around me were really studious. So in my friends at school, we had a culture of studying and it was okay to excel, which I think really helped because a lot of the time, especially in year 12, we’d be like, “Are you going to this eighteenth?” And I’d be like, “Yay, I’m going.” And then half the friends would be like, “Well, I’ll go late because I’ll do some study beforehand.” And a friend will be like, “I’m not going to go. I have a essay I need to hand in.”
So there was this thing around us of…I usually wanted to go to the parties. I usually did, but I still wanted to do well academically. So usually, I’d try and do it as much as I could during school or cram it in or something. I’ve got a fly on my screen. I’m so sorry. That being said, I should have done more of the subjects of what I was interested in. I just thought I had to do maths because everyone does maths and I hate maths. I’m so bad at it.
I think I tried every trick in the book to get out of my maths class and my teacher wouldn’t have a bar of it. So that one I trampled through, but all of legal studies and English literature and English and drama I found it really easy, and I really enjoyed those subjects. I remember my dad told me…He was the music teacher at my high school, and he had been a professional trumpet player before being a music teacher. And he met my mum by…he was in the Australian Army Band. And when he was in his, I think early thirties, he was asked to go to Kiribati to start the new Kiribati national band. And so, he went over there and fell in love with my mum, and they got married and came back to Australia.
And I remember my dad saying to me, “Whatever you do, don’t go into the creative field. Don’t do anything arts. There’s no money in it. You will always be struggling,” which I was like, “What do you know dad?” And also, bad example, he was a trumpet player. I was just like, “You’re telling me to do something that you did.”
So from there, I got the score to get into creative arts at [university name]in Melbourne. And I moved to Melbourne with a friend and was just studying creative arts there, majoring in drama. So I went straight into the arts like my dad asked me not to. And I had lots of people telling me that I should be a teacher, and it just didn’t feel right.
I thought it was a nice fallback or something that I was like, “Maybe I’d like to do that but it’s not…” It just didn’t feel right. And then I remember I met a good friend who’s still a very close friend of mine today, a girl, [friend’s name], who was PNG, and she was in my drama class. And she was half PNG, grew up in Melbourne, and we’re in this drama class and she was just like, “My Pacific sister. We’re sisters. This is so good.” And I just remember that moment feeling really disconnected with my identity. I just was like, “Do we even call each other sisters? Is that what we do?” I haven’t really been around that many Pacific Islanders. And she was just super excited. She was like, “Yes, we Pacific representing this class.” Whereas I was so used to being the only brown person, let alone only Pacific Islander in the community that I was just like, okay.
And then she was talking about our mothers and how similar they were. And we both had woven mats. She came over and I had a woven mat, and she was like, “These are just like mine.” And I was like, “Oh, we are similar. I didn’t realise.” I just had no concept of maybe there’s a community there, and that maybe this is really an identity thing that I haven’t really been looking into that much. So yeah, […] was a big step into understanding what stepping into an identity could look like. She was PNG. At the time she had a PNG boyfriend. She knew a lot of people in the Tongan community. She was at PNG Independence Day dancing, and I’d only seen dancing. I hadn’t taken part in any I-Kiribati dancing. So she was really eye opening to me of, oh, I’m really letting down the team here, the Kiribati team, because she’s really upholding PNG culture the way that she can, and I’m doing nothing of that. And so that was really pivotal for me.
And then I suppose that kept humming away in the background. But at the same time, you can’t really be like, “I’m ready for my community. Where is it?” I think it’s a process to get into it and you have to actively almost find it in yourself to go, “How do I live out my identity as a Pacific Islander?” I was always very proud to be Kiribati, but I didn’t really know how to live that on a daily basis. And then I suppose after uni, I remember I did honoursAnd I remember I wasn’t very confident in my drama class. I think I just needed a bit of some encouragement from my teacher. My teacher was just like, “Your people explored the Pacific Islands. They know the Pacific Ocean. How are you lacking in confidence when you are the navigators of the biggest ocean in the world? I don’t understand why you think you can’t do this.” And I just was like, “Really? We navigated the ocean? How do I not know this?” So yeah, little poignant moments of people helping me find my way.
Connecting to Culture and Identity
And then fast forward to when I’m about 24. And I went to London to live for a couple of years, as a lot of people do. And I was working some corporate temp job, and I remember a tsunami that hit Japan. So this must have been 2010. A tsunami hit Japan and they were worried it was going to hit Kiribati because Kiribati is so flat. They were worried it was going to ricochet back across the Pacific Ocean, and that would have ramifications to Kiribati, especially being such a low-lying country or low-lying islands that even the slightest big tide was going to really impact Kiribati, and they were worried about that. And my mum was on the phone to me in London and she was on the phone to her mum in Kiribati. We were just talking about it a lot. And then I just got this overwhelming sense of guilt that there’s only a hundred thousand people in Kiribati globally on the islands and the diaspora. And I’m one of the, I suppose, receivers of that culture and I’ve been doing nothing with it. So that makes me cry.
Yeah. So that day I was like, “Oh my God, this whole country is going to go under, and I’ve done jack shit about it. I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know anything about my culture. I don’t know the stories to pass on to the children that I might have. I just don’t know anything to pass on except for a few I-Kiribati words and a couple of mats at home.” So I started a blog that night because writing’s the only way that I know how to figure out my thoughts. So I decided to start a blog called The Little Island That Could, and that was an online research project for me to learn about the culture, learn about climate change, learn stories, and write them down in my own words, because that’s how I knew how to remember information was to write it in my own words.
So I started this blog and it was just for me, but I’d share it on Facebook every now and again. And then it just started growing and then people started referring to me as a writer. And I was just like, “I don’t think so. I wouldn’t call myself a writer.” And yeah, it was just me just trying to figure out my way. And then I’m just noticing the glare on these glasses and whether I should move that. So from then on, I just threw myself into writing about Kiribati. And that was a way for me to finally step into my identity. I learned a lot. People were asking me about it. People were emailing me. People were thanking me for the information.
I would look back on the articles and first of all be like, “It’s terribly written.” Now that I look back on it, it was started in 2010. Also, I’m like, “That’s wrong.” That was me writing with a White perspective on Pacific issues. And so that website was really an evolution as to me stepping into my Kiribati self and centring as a Kiribati person. And also really not realising that I didn’t have to apologise to really step into my culture. I don’t have to try and be a White person in a White world. We have a Kiribati history which is amazing and fantastic. It needs to be shared, and it’s an honour to share that. So over those years, I started to learn more and more about myself and sharing information about Kiribati. And yeah, I suppose that’s where I’ve ended up today being a writer and very, very much at peace and very strong in the sense that Kiribati is my identity, and that is an honour to be Pacific Islander, especially in Australia.
Parent’s Influence and Support at School
Oh, thanks, Marita. That was beautiful. So you say so yourself that you were quite studious and you actually really enjoyed the learning environment. At home, because often you would get your homework pieces to take home. Who would you seek advice from? Would you naturally just go to your dad because of his teaching background or would…What was it like for your mum to support you in your schooling journey as you were growing up?
Well, even though my dad is a music teacher and taught at my high school, my mum actually is higher educated as a teacher and trained as a teacher in Kiribati. And which again, wasn’t recognised in Australia. I realised that I took on my love of writing from her and she’s very studious. And so I think it comes from her, the always wanting to better myself or wanting to learn more information. That being said, my dad is very well read, and I have some of my best memories of being in the high school age was coming home and September 11th happened. And I just remember being like, “What is going on?” And dad just, with all the newspapers in front of him and he just was like, “Right, this is The Age, this is what they are talking about here. And George W. Bush’s father,” which I was like, “Okay, I don’t…” He started to give me this global context and introducing me to news.
He would give me a broader context of this is where the world is at globally. And I remember my mum was in Kiribati, my sister was living in Melbourne, and I remember when September 11 happened and it was early in the morning and my dad running in, I think I was in year 10 and being like, “I think a world war’s starting. You have to come and watch the news.” And so watching the news was just ingrained in our family, that we had to know what was going on.
So I think the mixture of both, of my dad reading a lot, and also my mum genuinely liking wanting to study, writing a lot and also really upholding the importance of education, I think both of them together led to a culture of just like, “Oh, well, if you’ve got homework, you just do it.” And just giving a broader understanding of it wasn’t hard at home to get information. I just remember sitting at the table and asking dad like, “Well, what happened with World War II? What’s that about?” And he would just give me a rundown and he’d be like, “You should read about that. We’ve got a book somewhere.” Sometimes I’d read it, sometimes I wouldn’t. But there were a lot of books in the household to read and I was read to every night which I think also brought on a love of reading.
Connection with Family and Culture
I think you mentioned that you travelled back to Kiribati a couple of times in your younger years. But do you guys still travel now and how much do you actually still practice the language with your mum? And is your mum involved in Kiribati community? Are they still back in Sale, or are they here in Melbourne?
They’ve actually moved. I now live in the Macedon Ranges, so an hour out of Melbourne. And they moved to be closer to me a couple of years ago from Sale to Kyneton, which has actually been great. They’re very active with my children, which is fantastic. The last time I went back was in 2017. I just had one child then. I took her when she was 18 months old. My partner is White Australian, sort of Irish descendant, and I remember getting to this point and I was just like…I think the time before that, I hadn’t been since 2011, 2012, that summer. And so it had been five years and my partner had never been and I was just like, “I can feel the ocean is calling me. It’s calling me and I need to go. I’ve had a child; we need to go to Kiribati. I need to feel the ocean.”
And I was sort of joking. I was like, “You don’t even realise it, but the ocean is calling you because you now have a Kiribati child.” Even though he’s White Irish descendant was like, “You are being called by the ocean because you are now I-Kiribati because you have to hold this culture too to our daughter.” And he was like, “Yeah, I know what the ocean is calling me. It’s telling me that the ticket’s too expensive. We can’t go.” And I was like, “No, we’re going.” So it was really important for me to go especially with our child there. And so yeah, 2017 was the last time. Obviously COVID, we don’t have a plan to go anytime in the near future, but we spoke about it today about how we’d like to go in three or four years, might be realistic.
We have a second daughter, so I’d like to take her there. Ideally, I would love to get a job where I could go there for a year and work and my girls can study there for a year, just go to primary school. If that doesn’t come to fruition, then at least go for a month or two, just so they can start to get an idea of the culture. They’ve got I-Kiribati names. Well, my oldest has gotten a I-Kiribati name and Irish second name, and my youngest has got an Irish first name, which can translate to I-Kiribati. And her second name is an I-Kiribati word. So I’m doing everything I can to maintain that culture. I speak as much as I can, much I-Kiribati to my mum. I mean, we generally speak English, but a lot of the time there are certain phrases that we just generally speak in I-Kiribati. And a lot of the time I’ll be learning extra words because she actually works as a I-Kiribati consultant and translator.
And so PhD students ask her to teach her about Kiribati and she translates a lot of work. So yeah, I’m just trying to soak in as much Islander culture, as much Kiribati culture from her. She’s seen as te unaine, which is the old woman, but that’s like a respected elder. So I tease her saying, “You’re te unaine.” But that’s a very respectful word and she has a lot of indigenous knowledge. So she’s still passing a lot of stories onto me and I furiously write them down or I try and record her or trying…But at the same time life happens and a lot of the time we’re just chatting and…but yeah, when I remember to, I remember to ask a story and write it down or something.
Oh, I love that point that you mentioned about how in your language you translate to ‘old person’, but it’s actually quite endearing. So we have similar terms too. And if you were to translate it in a literal sense like in an English context it would come across being quite oh, like old. But it’s actually…In an islander perspective it’s quite endearing and it’s respectful.
There’s so much weight to the actual term as opposed to what it means. So thanks so much for sharing that. So are you a writer now? Do you just write for yourself or…So what are you doing exactly now in terms of your career as a writer?
Yeah. I mean, I suppose as a writer, I am working as a writer. I mean, I write full-time for my job. With kids, I probably work about roughly three days a week. I do a lot of freelance work, but I’ve learnt as a writer, you need to…Well, my style has been, yes, I can do it all and work try and figure out as I go. So I do a lot of different stuff. I have it compartmentalised in my mind that I do a lot of specific work on Kiribati culture, so I have written articles, I have written creative essays, which sometimes I pitch to magazines to say, “Do you want an article about this?” And a lot of it is climate change as well, or sometimes they contact me and say, “We saw your work here. Would you like to do a piece for us?”
I also wrote a children’s book which is called Teaote and the Wall or Teaote and the Wall. And that’s a children’s book that talks about a Pacific Island way of talking about climate change. We don’t talk about climate change; we talk about the weather and we talk about observing the ocean and where the sun is at. But also it’s a very happy book, and it’s about my mum building the sea wall to protect our home in Kiribati.
And yeah. So I have that children’s book, which just sells every now and again, that does not give me a wage at all, but it’s extra income. And then my other work I suppose is copywriting, which is, I suppose, professional writing for advertising. My title is storyteller for a strategic brand agency, and we do a lot of strategic work to help organisations figure out who they are, figure out how they tell their audience what they do, figure out what they…And my job is more strategic content. So I teach big organisations like universities, hospitals, education, health, government, big organisations. I usually tell them how to write in their tone of voice and what their tone of voice is. And I advise them on what kind of language they should be using to speak to their specific audiences. So I do a little bit of writing for websites, but I do a lot of the background stuff, more advising on strategic content. But I write for websites and then for friends.
People will say, “Can I have a bio.” And I’ll write them a biography. And so yeah, I have a lot of work coming in from all different places, but it’s taken a while to get there, but at the same time, I’ve just said, yes, a lot of the time, lots of lessons along the way. But for a writer, it’s really good to have that strategic content or brand agency or advertising agency marketing as a stable income and then to have all the other creative stuff when you have the time to be able to do that and not expect a regular income from that, but that’s just extra on the side.
So I have these two things where I’m working a lot doing brand work. And then on the other side…I don’t know. I’m at a stage in my career where I just say yes to a lot of things but at the same time, I have a really set of core values. I’m very lucky that at this point in my career, I’m able to make a decision to say, “I only work for ethical organisations or government organisations or education ones where they’re actually helping people.” And if there’s something that comes up that really conflicts, especially with things like climate change and environment, and as any Kiribati person, I just think I can’t do that. I honestly can’t get there because I write…It’s also part of who I am that I write about this stuff.
I can’t write for an organisation or a business that’s doing the opposite. So I’m very lucky that I had this set values where thinking I only do work that I really believe in, and that’s when I do my best work. I suppose I should take a step back. I was very lucky that when I was temping in London, I got a lot of temp work with advertising agencies as a receptionist and then moving into assistant work. Lots of people along the way would just say, “You write really good emails. Can you draft my email and I’ll forward it on?” Or “How do I explain this to someone?” And I’d be like, “I don’t know. Write it like this.”
So I had that agency administration receptionist background. And then when I came back to Melbourne and lived in Melbourne, I got a similar assistant role for an agency. And then I discovered that they were paying writers to go off and write things and I was sitting there like, “People get paid for this? I can do that. Why are we emailing them? I could totally write that.” And so I had my blog going on the side where I was writing a lot. And then I was also at another job paying people and being like, “We need to find a writer that does this.” And I’d be like, “Why are people getting paid to do this?” And then I realised that that was an actual job.
So as I’ve gone on, I’ve been able to merge the two as a writer and also working in the ad agencies. But now I’ve moved into the brand strategic advisory consultancy side, which is a lot more aligned. Because advertising again, I felt like, why are we selling this? What’s the big picture here? It’s just like, I feel like I’m helping more organisations just be able to articulate better.
Advice for Youth
That’s amazing. I love that little bit of context that you just gave, Marita. So Marita, for anyone that’s up and coming, or really fresh out of high school headed to university and listening to your journey, what are some things that you would recommend that they do to get them started if they feel really passionately about writing?
I would say, try and write for yourself consistently, because that’s when you start to figure out your own style and how you best work. So whether you hold yourself accountable just with a diary or online on a blog or writing stories, I think that’s the best way, because then you start to figure out how to write. Even things like whenever I get invited to a birthday or a wedding, I always write a limerick to someone just because I think it’s fun, but it’s also just kind of…it gets your creative brain going rather than…When I say I’ve written every day for as long as I can remember, it’s because all of that is writing for me. Sometimes I’ll write creative shopping lists. Sometimes I won’t write it down, but I’ll make up a creative story to my daughters. And still for me, that is still writing because my brain is writing it.
So I would see every opportunity to learn. But at the same time, like my dad, you also have to figure out a way to have a stable income and I think eventually have it. And if you work with both, eventually I think they will align because eventually you’ll get to a point where you suddenly can understand the niche that you’re in. I think for writers, there’s lots of opportunities to learn. There’s lots of online courses. There’s lots of places where you can pitch articles. There’s lots of grants that you can apply for, even though that’s fairly…I found it fairly hard to apply for grants when I was young because I just didn’t understand the system and I didn’t understand what people were asking for and I just didn’t have that experience. But at the same time, I would just try and write as much as you can and try and find your own style. But never shy away from identity and bring it in. It is the way that differentiates you.
For me, I found that that’s the way that differentiates me. I have an experience of a woman of colour, a Pacific Island background. I have ancestors coming at me left, right and centre with all of this advice that I’ve been born into that I can’t even hide away from it anymore. So I would say that that is always a strength, always. And if someone doesn’t see it as a strength, then they’re wrong. I can’t express that enough. I think once you understand that that’s a strength and that being Pacific Islander is a superpower, then you’ll always move in the right direction.
That’s amazing. And so Marita, for you in terms of where you’re at in your life. Well, what would you describe as your definition of success? Well, it can be in anything.
I’m just trying to think. I am building an extension at the moment. My partner is a carpenter and he’s building it and we bought a house and it’s bringing up these weird feelings of, I didn’t think I could ever deserve this. It felt like, I don’t know whether it’s a weird class thing where I thought that that was for a different class of person. That is one point where I think that’s a success because I can provide a home for my family, and I can figure out how to pay the mortgage each month. That is success.
Success in another way is having children and being able to name them Kiribati names confidently, knowing that this is my identity and I’m passing it on. I feel really proud of myself, of being able to get to a point where I can identify and be really, really strong in my Kiribati identity. I suppose I am always looking creatively. My mind is always going. I’m always looking to do more. I think about whether I should do a PhD. That is on my mind at the moment. I haven’t been in academia since…I mean, I just did my honours, so I haven’t really been in academia really. So that feels a bit daunting, but I was always told that if something feels scary, then you’re on the right path.
But at the same time, I also just applied for a grant to write a play, to turn my book into a play. I’ve never written a play before. So part of me thinks I’m an idiot for even applying for it. If I got the grant, what would I do? I suddenly am forced to write a play and I’ve never written a play before in my life. But again, that’s another thing where it’s like, it feels a little bit scary. I’ll deal with it at the time. If I get the grant, then I’ll just try and produce something out of nothing. So family, being able to support them and always thinking what is next? I think I’d be really disappointed in myself if I will always just happy with this and that’s it, that’s my life. I just don’t think I’ve been brought up that way. I’m always thinking of the next challenge. What else can I do? How else can I use writing? Whether it is writing or not, but I mean, that’s my go-to. So just trying to figure out another way to…I’m always thinking of what should I do next?
Advice for Youth
Another thing on advice for younger kids that I would probably say is that if they can, get a mentor and get a Pacific mentor. Because once I found two women, Kiribati women, writers, academics. They were sisters. As soon as I found them, it’s like my world unlocked. I finally had someone to look up to in terms of the standard of work that is expected of me as a Kiribati woman. Also, reading back on their work and understanding how they have navigated through that career in a White-centered world and in Western society and their strength.
One of them unfortunately passed away and I hadn’t even met her, and I bawled my eyes out that day because I just was like, “I lost one of the mentors, one of the people that I looked up to.” That I just finally was like, “Yes, I want to be kind of like you.”
So if you can, find a mentor. Mentors can always change, but find someone who knows your culture and you can go…That would be really cool. Or if they run a business, I want to run a different business, but I want to run it like them. I don’t know, they’re in tech, but make sure that they have at least their diversity numbers are like this, and I want to have the same amount of that. So I would really encourage having a look. Look out there and see if you can find mentors. It’s a really great North Star to have. You can always change mentors. They don’t have to be your lifelong mentor. It’s just like, right now, this is the goal I want to get to, so that’s what I want to achieve, and that person’s done it too. My next step after that, my career’s moving in a different spot, so I now want to move to that. There’s a mentor there. They did something similar. That’s another part of advice that I would partake.
Support during primary and high school
- Peers and friends as a source of support at school
- Support from parents during schooling (Part 1 & Part 2)
- Support from teachers and schools
- Transition from school to post-school education (Part 1 & Part 2)
Experiences of post-secondary education and training
- Experiences of university
- University journeys: Interruptions and finding one’s direction
- Diverse pathways towards university
- Experiences of TAFE
- Short courses and on-the-job training
- Early aspirations and current occupation
- Talking about future aspirations with family members
- Networks of family and friends
- Be proactive and seize unexpected opportunities
- Creating opportunities: Volunteering
Experiences of Work
- Benefits of being a Pacific Islander at work
- Engaging with Pacific community members through work (Part 1 & Part 2)
- Navigating family and career
- Future aspirations
Reflections and advice to young Pacific People
- ‘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