Name: Semesi
Age at interview: 28 years
Occupation: Lawyer

Ethnicity: Tongan
Country of birth: Australia

In this video
0:00Early Years and Family
4:28Navigating Cultural Identity
6:40Starting a Law Career
9:50Finding Direction and Community
20:03Challenges at School and Parent’s Influence
25:07Language and Cultural Practice
27:43Cultural Identity and Reconnecting with Culture
33:42Challenges at University
36:49Challenges for Pasifika Youth
41:20Involvement with Pasifika and Indigenous Australian Communities
44:51Advice for Pasifika Youth

Early Years and Family


Probably we’ll start with maybe my place of birth. So I was born in Ryde, Sydney, Australia. And we didn’t come from a rich household. I think we were in an apartment and were renting there. We eventually worked ourselves up. I think it would be around high school when we bought our first house. And I came from a big family, a family of four, mum and dad. Dad was in the corporate sector. He worked himself from being somebody on the floor to a senior manager. And my mum just completed her degree, Bachelor of Nursing, and she started as a registered nurse.

My dad entered that senior management role in the corporate sector just when we were about to buy a house, so just before, and my mom was starting to work as a nurse during that time. And that opened the door for us to buy a house and be able to accommodate all four of us. But even then, it was four people and my parents into one house with three bedrooms. So still sharing bedrooms, but I think, because we all grew up in that Tongan mindset, it wasn’t an issue for us. We were aware that that’s a common thing.

We moved from Ryde to Western Sydney. Where a lot of our support networks were. Moved from Ryde to Greystanes. And in that place, I went to a Catholic school. And it was a decision for my parents to put me into that school not because they’re Catholic, they are Protestant, Wesleyan Methodist, but they wanted to put me in that school because of the discipline and the focus on a strict obedience to a Christian upbringing, but more importantly to studies and following good behaviour that comes from a Christian school, I guess. So I did that for primary school. I did that for high school.

And so, in that period, I think I was lucky to be part of a strong multicultural community, going to schools in the west. And I found that most of my friends were not Christian or Catholic at all, which was interesting because it kind of didn’t really enforce my Christianity, as one might expect, and it definitely didn’t enforce my Catholicism. So I think mostly, my Christianity was enforced by Mum and Dad taking me to church on Sundays. And we would engage in the usual Tongan church activities; Sunday school, Sunday performances, that kind of thing, youth services. That happened throughout my primary school to high school time.


Then, upon completion of high school, I realised that I wanted to do law, economics, particularly economics. That was my favourite subject. So I started off doing a Bachelor of Commerce, major in economics, and a Bachelor of Laws at the same time, at [university], which was a university that was in Sydney. During that time, I enjoyed the multiculturalism there. I had some friends from high school go there, as well. And I benefited from the fact that they were academically driven, and they supported me as well. There was a bit of a culture and education. I didn’t really associate myself with sporty kids, partly because I’m not talented in that respect, but also, I guess because my friends were very academically focused.

And I spent a year there, spent a year in Western Sydney. My dad had a sudden calling to ministry, so we then had our first placement in Newcastle. And I spent one year there, and I spent the rest of my university days in Newcastle. And at Newcastle, I did the same degrees, the Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Commerce, at a university that was mostly White.

Navigating Cultural Identity

In my cohort, I recall being one person out of 100 who was not White. I think I recall two other people who were international students. And I think the three of us were put up on a pedestal, just as a kind of ploy for the university to promote the fact that they’re multicultural. We were on the billboards a bit. But anyway, I enjoyed it. I think that I eventually pushed away at my cultural side, unfortunately, to fit in.

And I think, when I moved away from my cultural traits and my cultural roots, started to do Sunday School, which was White, youth services that ran on Whiteness, that kind of thing. I was still heavily involved in the church. I really enjoyed because I was a good Christian, son of a minister, so I was expected to be involved there. And I did my part. I was enjoying that, but I was also grappling with the fact that I had a new set of friends who were perhaps not agnostic, maybe atheists. And my friends were Anglo and a different set of values, their different social life.

And still, though, definitely academically driven. So that worked with me. They were also doing those kinds of degrees. So we did study and they helped me along, as well. Perhaps even more studious than I was. But yeah, they focused on…My understanding is those values revolved around parties and that kind of thing. And it did have its impact upon me, as well. I’d kind of somewhat partake in it, but not most of it. I think I’m a good boy, overall. But yes, that was my university days.

Starting a Law Career

I spent five years in Newcastle and then moved back to Sydney to try to find a job. The first job I was given was because somebody opened the door for me. It was difficult to find a job based on the many applications I had, based on my qualifications. That’s a symptom from the amount of people doing law degrees and the industry is saturated with law graduates. I think there was a statistic saying three or five to one job openings. And I think I applied for many places in Newcastle. There wasn’t much success. In Sydney, there wasn’t much success there.

And it was tempting for me to fall into the trap of thinking that it had something to do with my first and last name that they saw in the resume. And I guess, when I was in those tough times, I thought it definitely had something to do with that. But I found that my friends, the White friends who reached out to me, probably resolved around the merit of getting to know me. But in the early instances of an interview, that’s hard. And I was offered an opportunity by somebody who I was…I was actually a member of a committee, on a church committee. And somebody offered a job to me. I think they knew my presence on that committee and what I offered, considering my background and how vocal I was, I guess, eloquently vocal.

So somebody welcomed me in. I did an internship there. I did placement from then onwards. I think people saw that I had runs on the board. So I had a placement with a barrister, placement with two law firms. And I then met my love of my life at a church committee meeting, as well. So she happened to be from Melbourne and I had to make the move. Didn’t enjoy Melbourne particularly, but it grew on me. And I was there with her two children, as well. She had children from a different marriage. And that was another thing that I was grappling with and trying to reconcile the conservative understandings of familyhood by our parents, being educated in this new society, becoming familiar with it all.

I’ve learned about there are different understandings of what a family structure can be, but that wasn’t always a shared understanding with my parents and my siblings. So came down a few years ago to Melbourne and lived with my wife and her two kids in the inner suburbs in North Melbourne.

Finding Direction and Community

And when I was there, I also got another job in law, this time in the community sector. Prior to that, I worked in the NFP sector as a lawyer, but I didn’t really go on to the community level, working specifically on the ground with community. And that was when I truly found my calling. That was when I said, “This is where I want to be for the rest of my career, helping people, but definitely on the ground this time, people who are vulnerable and marginalised.”

And I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to run a project directly with my people, people of my ethnicity and background, people with understanding of issues that directly affect our people, Pasifika people. We adopted the word Pasifika because it was an easy word that could encapsulate Maori and Pacific Islanders. It’s not always the case that Pasifika is accepted amongst Māori people, especially in New Zealand. They would rather you not clump them together. However, in Australia, I guess the Māori were a bit more open to having that umbrella term being used.

And anyway, that Pasifika project was something that I was able to lead and involved a Pasifika clinic, whereby there’ll be a Pasifika legal clinic in our office, and people were able to come in with their legal issues. It turned out to be probably more than what we expected. The breadth of legal issues was surprising. A lot of it revolved around misunderstanding of things like tax or financial hardship.

And I did notice that there were issues, systemic issues, around the understandings of discipline. And family violence, for example, stemmed around that understanding that the patriarchy, the patriarch can do certain things or has a certain role within the family and the matriarch, and the kids fall into that accordingly. Then there’s also the parents overall and the children overall.

And just understanding the culture and having colleagues who didn’t really understand the culture, that was an interesting thing. I did have people who were from minority backgrounds, and it was easier for them to grasp with it, but senior management and most of my colleagues were White and they couldn’t truly understand it unless I…I’ll try to explain it as something that has been systematic and enshrined within our upbringing. But yeah, I think it truly wasn’t understood.

Nevertheless, that experience was written up into a report and the report was made available to stakeholders and service providers. It really enlightened service providers, including the police, and helped them understand that there are cultural things behind their offending, behind their engagement with services. For example, services that treat people, well, treat or work with people who have mental health challenges, mental health being a prominent issue among Pasifika people for several reasons. And I think I’ve commonly heard that services struggle to work with Pasifika people, main reason being of the stigma that surrounds it, and just in general, what people who don’t speak up and offer the struggle that we go through, especially to family.

Yes. So the report put forward to service providers and stakeholders, and there was a report in partnership with my wife. And it was in partnership with a Pasifika committee, as well. A lot of the project, legal clinic, the report…We had Talanoa sessions around Melbourne. as well. Those three things just revolved around support from the community and couldn’t have happened without community leaders.

The consolidation of Pasifika people, I’ve noticed, is especially strong in Victoria, with the establishment of peak bodies currently underway, if it’s not completed. I’m not too sure where things are, being in Darwin. But when I was down there, I noticed that there were key community leaders that stood out. And those ones were well renowned for having those strong links and networks and they were able to open the doors and have their tenterhooks into different parts of Melbourne. And they’re generous enough to offer those, and offer their time, their generosity.

But again, these people weren’t paid. It’s just the generosity of community people helping community people. Me, being a Pasifika person, I don’t think they would have done that for a White person. But I do see the passion that exists among parents and they’re just willing to help. Parents who would’ve spoken about the challenges of their children being deported because they have a criminal record, deported to New Zealand, just parents in general, those were the main people who reached out, just because they had children with issues, putting it bluntly.

Yes. So the community leaders are instrumental. I did notice that there were community leaders who didn’t want to assist. And it goes back to the common argument, or the common topic of argument, which is Pasifika people, people in communities fighting each other for funding, for recognition, amongst…recognition from service providers, but also government. And we are a tribal people, in general, but when it comes to money, that makes it even worse. And like I said, community people, mostly, they don’t get paid. They aren’t offered that opportunity by White employers, but the few of us that are, we’re often fighting the challenge that people want to, I guess, use our resources. And they get unhappy when we use our resources where it doesn’t benefit them. And there are those who are really grateful and perhaps not entirely sincere when they’re able to work with us.

And yeah, it’s a challenge, working with White employers and seeing our challenges with our people. A lot of the work that community people employed by White employers comes from not only place in community, but also our senior management, who don’t truly understand the struggle with our people. There’s a lot of hierarchy issues there. The role of the church is underestimated by somebody who’s atheist or agnostic. And the role of men, women, parents, and children, that’s another hierarchy that exists. Trying to draw out your issues, you might be directed by a White manager or a supervisor to do that, but it’s incredibly challenging, the technicalities of doing so without permission or parents or without parents being present or no one to be there. It’s very difficult. And youth sometimes find it difficult to open up because they might interpret you as somebody who might disclose their challenges to the parents and that kind of thing.

So yeah, it’s always difficult to get to understand the experience of family violence, get the possible perpetrator out of the room, understand youth issues. For example, the young person who might have mental health issues, that’s definitely not going to tell the parents or not going to tell the parents anytime soon. And yeah, there’s a lot of shame around disclosing legal issues around access to services, experiences with financial hardship, debt, appearing in court, that kind of thing. Difficult getting instructions from Pasifika peoples because of that shame and guilt. So yeah, that was the legal clinic challenge, the forum challenge to try to draw those stories out.

And I found my education was definitely helpful, but it’s definitely a White education. I didn’t receive any legal training for that kind of stuff. And there really isn’t any legal training, let’s say, to see how to deal with community. And I don’t think that’s going to be done unless someone from community becomes a senior academic. I know that there might be initiatives in New Zealand, but New Zealand is so far developed compared to where we are. And I’m not too sure which state has more Pasifika in it. I think that would be the state…the universities within that state might provide that education. But in the meantime, it has to be by experience, alone. I was luckily offered enough time to develop that experience and it came through trial and error. I think that’s the story of where I am right now. Do you have any questions?

Challenges at School and Parent’s Influence


So right back to your primary years, did you find that you were naturally quite a good learner, or did you struggle with particular subjects? And if you did, what sort of support did you get from home?

And I ask that because a lot of our, or certainly with the generation my parents were in, we didn’t get a lot of support. And it really was just because my parents didn’t understand the education curriculum, let alone what the education system was like in a foreign country. So my siblings and I really just stumbled our way through. And we did get some support, but not a lot. So I’m curious to find out what that experience was like for you or whether your experience was different.


Yeah. I find that the motivation I got to do well at school came a lot through fear. And the support that my parents offered was driven around motivation through fear. And I think that they would often use that tool rather too much. They didn’t complement it enough by sitting down and working with me through my homework, accepting that perhaps that was a reason why I didn’t do too well in my report. Just I didn’t really get that support when it came to homework.

So I’m not too sure what that might have been symptomatic of. I think it might have something to do with the fact that they’re out working, and they come home tired and kind of beaten down. It might have something to do with the fact that…I know that my parents were not ever taught. They did not have support from their parents when it came to them sitting down and doing their homework. I think they operated through fear, as well.

So I definitely had that. And also, with all Tongan children or all Pasifika children, the fear can manifest differently. So there’s extra impetus to make sure you get the right mark. I think my parents were particularly driven for me to get a higher grade. And therefore, I had to try to figure it out, myself. I think I did more work than most kids. I definitely wasn’t the brightest one and I definitely wasn’t the most vocal one to ask for help. So there was a lot of quiet time being assigned and I put in extra books, or whatever it was, to try to keep speed even to take the lead.

I remember even doing multiplication. And I transitioned from the primary school in Ryde to this private Catholic school. And they were already ahead. They had already done multiplication and I’d never done multiplication before. So I was doing a test and they were doing multiplication. And I thought the only way to handle this multiplication, not ever having done it before, was to use addition really fast. So I happened to do pretty well. I think I was third in the group. And then they had to move me up to the faster class. So that’s just an example of just me adapting. Didn’t really get that support from parents. That kind of technicality or that complexity wasn’t really accounted for. And even if I were to convey it, I didn’t really think they would understand it and just use the fear motivation.


When you were growing up, did you find that, even as you were navigating your journey with your schooling, did you find that there were teachers or the education system understood what some of your struggles were, if you did have any?


I think I was strong, mathematically, but in terms of English, that was the weaker side, the weaker of the two. So that meant that English relies on reading, and you have to truly understand Islander families to…You have to understand the Islander families. The children in those Islander families don’t read too much. And that was back when we just had free to air TV. I don’t know how it is now, with iPads and the like, my nephews and nieces. I did not read too much. I don’t know what I was doing. I didn’t read. So when it came to creative writing…What else? Writing, reading, that just didn’t come natural to me. And I don’t think teachers really understood that or took the effort to understand it.

Language and Cultural Practice


Did you guys practice speaking Tongan at home and in the community? Did you practice a lot of the Tongan traditional customs? And what was that like for you growing up in Sydney, too?


So I think, when I was in Sydney, I was involved in church every Sunday. And that’s a Sunday where they spoke Tongan in the service. It was incredibly boring. It was three hours long. And the challenge for, I think, most of us kids was that we weren’t used to speaking Tongan at home. It would just come and go, be inserted throughout sentences. And it meant that all of us have an understanding of Tongan when people speak to us in Tongan, but we wouldn’t be able to speak Tongan fluently or read fluently.

I spoke to mum and dad about that. And I’ve heard from mum and dad that they somewhat regret it. They made a decision to speak to us in English and make our English strong so they could fit in our school, our education might be better. Whether that’s true or not, that was their decision, but they kind of regret that. There’s an understanding there that we could have done well in school with both languages. And I kind of regret that, as well. I wish that they could have spoken Tongan to us, too. And especially my younger brother, I think it was harder for him. I think his Tongan’s worse than mine.

So yeah, it’s going to be difficult to try to instil Tongan in my children. And there’s no language schools, as well. Language schools are really rare in Australia, in general, but I think there’s only a few states that have that. Definitely none in the Northern Territory. And I did engage in…I don’t think it was for cultural reasons, though. In my own head, I thought it was just part of Tongan life, the birthdays, the funerals, the kava ceremonies. I didn’t like kava back then, but I eventually grew a taste to kava, but it definitely wasn’t cultural for the time I got accustomed to it.

Cultural Identity and Reconnecting with Culture


You mentioned something about maybe disengaging or just there’s a disconnect from you and your culture, or there was a period in your life where you felt there’s a disconnect, or you turned your back.  Why you think things went the way they did, and then what potentially drew you back in?


Yeah. That’s a good question. So when I went to Newcastle, in general, that place is a very White place. It’s very different to going to…I liken it to going to a Westfield in Western Sydney, in Parramatta or Penrith. Then you go to a similar store in Newcastle, and you’ll struggle. You’ll have to squint your eyes in the distance to try to find somebody who’s not White. So that’s the kind of place Newcastle is. And when you go to university and go to those kinds of degrees, it’s even harder, those professional degrees.

So when I went there, when I developed a friendship group, when I was in the process of developing one, I copied their cultural settings to try to fit in. And it meant that I was a bit averse to discussing church, church being a key point in Pasifika life, part of Pasifika identity. So I avoided talking about church or religion, Christianity, just for fear of ridicule, but that’s because it was just not on the agenda for them.

There was no understanding, even if I were to talk about religion. And I recognise that was a part that was lacking for me. I just kind of disengage from a Christianity point of view, engaged with Christianity also through a White lens because the very nature of Newcastle, the congregations were Whites and the whole structure of the services, the English, all cultural aspects, funerals, birthdays, they were White or Anglo.

So I really regretted that, but in some ways I don’t think I would have been able to develop the friends that I was able to, in the end. I did also become more averse to using my name, my actual Tongan name. There were situations where I remember ordering coffee and I just knew that every person would get it wrong and I’d have to spend a lot of time to try to get them to learn my name, say my name properly. I remember saying James when they asked for my name, just because I couldn’t be bothered. So I used the English translation of my name.

So that’s just an example of how I kind of put away my language and culture just to survive. And I think it was something that got introduced when we had family from New Zealand coming over, family from Sydney coming up to Newcastle. Culture got introduced. We had Tongan food in the house again. Yeah, it was good. I enjoyed that, but it was in small doses.


And so do you find now, particularly at this point in your life, that you embrace that side of your identity and that you’re no longer looking for ways to…Do you struggle with that part of your identity or have you reconciled that at this point in your life?


I think I’ve reconciled that. I’ve accepted where I am. I’ve also grappled with my presence in a family which is White and come to an understanding of where my children are at, generationally, their upbringing. It’s difficult to try to claw back some culture. I think, because religion and culture are so intertwined, perhaps religion is the only entry point. The rites, the funerals, and the birthdays that I’m attending, even for people of culture, they’re also for the new generation and those aren’t cultural. For example, my brother, just people my age, I’m noticing more and more that those cultural entry points aren’t there. And that they might have made a similar decision, a similar adjustment to their friendship groups and their networks.

It’s just there are less entry points that I’m finding. And religion is probably the only one. I occasionally attend church and say…That’s something that I’ve focused on, saying prayer before meals, but that’s falling behind. So without religion, religion, as I said, being intertwined with our culture, almost, in a large way, which is intertwined with our culture, and without that entry point, then I can’t really see the culture sustaining because you lose the food, you lose going to Tongan services, you lose the language, you lose the rites, the birthdays, the funerals. So it’s just phasing out, bit by bit. Perhaps the last remnants would be the grandparents coming over and speaking language and they having the kids. That’s it.

Challenges at University


Did you find that, going through university, it was a relatively smooth process and that the learning journey was okay for you, or did you struggle with particular subjects as you were going through uni?


I’m just trying to think back to uni. I think I’m at the point where my whole memory past children has just scattered. Okay, I’ll think back to my uni days. I might start with the economics point. So with economics at high school, I was able to benefit off somebody who didn’t really cast people into categories and spent time with each person, despite the fact that they were Islander or not. There are Indians, there are people from the Middle East. So I do know some teachers were definitely gravitating towards certain kids, but this person wasn’t. He just happened to be somebody who was, I guess, more genuine and spoke the language, generally, for multicultural peoples. It was suited to Western Sydney. So that person really opened the door for me truly engaging with economics.

And I was able to get a good, decent mark and that was my strongest subject for economics. And I’d happened to get a good mark in that, to the point where I was encouraged by my parents to do more, obviously. So I did law, as well as economics, commerce majoring in economics. So I did find that some subjects were difficult. The ones that involved heavy, heavy amounts of maths, those were very difficult. I disengaged from maths, actually. And when I was in my last year of high school…I think, in my last year of high school, my English picked up. I was doing extension English at the highest levels. And I went from extension maths to basic advanced math. So I went down a level. I think that came around because my group of friends were starting to gravitate more towards English. They were stronger in English. Despite the fact that I was strong in maths, I moved away from it a bit.

So I guess I would have been able to handle it a bit better if I didn’t follow suit, in my defence. It was statistics, these graphs, complex graphs, those kinds of things. So that was a challenge. And I didn’t benefit from a teacher that will sit down with me and take time with me, but mind you, I was always a shy person, being Tongan, a natural person who’s shy, but in general, comparing myself to Tongans, I’m not a loud Tongan. And my family is, my siblings are, but I’m definitely the quiet Tongan, which is why I think I’m more coconut than many.

Challenges for Pasifika Youth


Given that you’ve worked in community, and you’ve had your own personal experiences of Pacific Islanders, what do you think are some of the contributing factors to why our young people struggle in school? It could be anything. I know that there’s a number of factors, but what do you think is some of the contributing factors, based on your experience, for why our kids just find it hard?


One example just speaks volumes of that, where you had a program where police would go onsite at school. Police was White. The kids knew police by name. That’s just an indication of their level of interaction, their involvement. And that was hugely problematic to me. I just couldn’t believe it. That’s the kind of mindset that senior management of school is in, and the mindset police are in. This idea that they could use the same model, the old model, White cops use the idea of police on schools, use the White people rather than people who are liaising with kids, multicultural liaison officers.

So that’s just symptomatic of a lack of an effort to really understand the cultural nuance of Islanders. It really looked different when you had Pasifika peoples from youth services come onsite, sit with kids in their rooms, really talk it out, unpack that complexity of their issues, learning about their behaviour, going back to the foundation of their upbringing, also understanding that the trauma that they might be carrying is intergenerational.

Being somebody who is possibly a victim of family violence because the person who’s inflicting family violence also survived family violence, themselves. Understanding that complexity on the part of the children on the men’s behaviour or, I’m sorry, female behaviour, as well. Understanding that there are Pasifika people who just struggle to…they cannot have parent-teacher interviews in the same way as other kids. So getting parents and a teacher and a student in the room is an incredibly difficult task for the student to even say a word. They will often sit there quietly, head down, even when you’re in court or whatever and the…It really doesn’t suit them.

You really needed somebody who was a Pasifika lawyer. Maybe the parents might make an attempt to have them speak on their behalf or have the Pasifika lawyer maybe convince them more directly. Even as a replacement, just have me speak on the young person’s behalf. They do really need somebody to shift the narrative a bit. And I’m just saying that, with Pasifika professionals, that side of the family or within the family step up, they can really shake that up, that general narrative. Their parents have control of children, and children’s identity comes from parents, it comes from family.

Talking about schools, they had an understanding where all of them are the same, Islanders and multicultural kids, CALD kids, but really that they are…For example, the gravitation to rugby is different from the gravitation to basketball. The idea of kids being good at sport is also something that needs to change, as well. There are kids who aren’t sporty. There are kids who go to rugby, but for different reasons. So that effort to go the next mile, to peel back and go further, sit with kids, perhaps it’s even more important than them getting a good grade.

Involvement with Pasifika and Indigenous Australian Communities


In terms of where you’re at now with your current role, could you just touch on a little bit of what you’re doing and what involvement you still have, if you are, with the Pacific Island community?


Currently, unfortunate that I’m in Northern Territory because I can’t continue on my work with Pasifika peoples. I am hoping to do community work through engaging with community groups that have reached out to me. Well, you guys reaching out to me, that’s so great. It’s an opportunity for me to play a part, play a role, in some small or big way. It’s great and I appreciate that. And when organisations, I guess, reach out to me, that’s what makes me feel better, being in the Northern Territory and away from Pasifika peoples.

It does make me think about how problematic it is that we might have Pasifika people across Australia and unfortunately, it gravitates us towards population centres for us to do anything to contribute to our communities, as a whole. So I guess places like Northern Territory, the sheer volume of people, there’s no incentive to do work just for the small people that are up here. Like I was saying before, I think it’s more incentive for me to go to Melbourne to do community work, just because you don’t have to do the hard work, though some established…Well, there is a significant established network there. Organisations are on the up and getting on the up quicker. So that’s a good thing about Victoria that I miss, being in Northern Territory.

Currently, I moved to Northern Territory to work with a community which is uniquely and perhaps even more disadvantaged, the Indigenous peoples, First Nations peoples. And being with them, I realised that it’s more complex than I ever imagined. And I don’t benefit from life experience, as well. So it’s even more difficult, something that I haven’t experienced before, but some of my learnings with the Pasifika communities really benefits my work with First Nations communities. Just the principles of spending time storytelling, talanoa, crosses over to storytelling with First Nations people.

That’s the work I’m doing now as a community lawyer, still. My plan is to generate a project which is somewhat similar, going out to perhaps running a pilot project in a remote community, in East Arnhem Land. Maybe facilitating, using a hub to provide legal help, financial literacy, perhaps providing literacy skills, numeracy skills at the foundational level and, down the track, offering legal services, like community legal education, like legal help, casework, those kinds of legal services, then also financial counselling, as well, helping people become familiar with Centrelink and the ATO, matters of those natures in the financial realm.

Advice for Pasifika Youth


For the up-and-coming kids who would look at you and maybe aspire to be a lawyer or to do what you’re doing, what are the top three things that you would recommend our up-and-coming kids to get to the point that you’re at? So three top tips.


I think the first tip would be to be patient. Be patient because they’re going to get knocked back many times, be disheartened. And if you don’t be patient and you fall into being trapped or being sorry for yourself, falling into the negative behaviours because you’ve been rejected, that’s when you’re giving up before truly trying. So the rewards come to people who are patient. That’s what I found. Being knocked down by many job applications, confronting conflicts with different people along the way, people who might not have your back, professionally, people who are difficult inside your organisation and people who are difficult outside your organisation. You have to have a lot of patience.

And secondly, you also need hope. Not to get downhearted…People often are a bit cynical in this line of work, in the community work, a bit negative. And there has to be a narrative of change is possible. People are inherently good. And you have to hope that things can change for the better. Otherwise, they usually won’t. There are times when I didn’t have much hope and I did kind of give up a bit. And those were times where, truly, the work wasn’t quality. I think we were just trying to push the bill, trying to clock out nine to five. Really, you’re not advancing who you are. You’re not advancing the organisation that you’re working with and the people that you’re working with. It thrives on people who have hope.

And I think the third one might be you need to have courage, courage in yourself to try something new, be someone who you’re not, and learn that you actually are this person or even the person that you’re not. I think you thrive off your own mistakes, so you need to have the courage to make them and learn more about yourself. I made so many mistakes in the past and I think that’s fine. I’ve done well, in some respect. Like I said, I made mistakes with people who I shouldn’t have trusted. I’ve made mistakes with going with causes which were not right, that were doomed to fail, but that failure was embraced, and I quickly adjusted. And, again, you got to have courage to perhaps even break the norms, break structures.

And to be honest, I think you have to have courage to put your own family under risk, you own friendship groups under risk, because you don’t get much reward when you fail in this sector, definitely in the community sector, and be looked upon with ridicule when you show courage in different causes. And people might think bad of you. People might develop a reputation about you that’s not true. So be courageous enough to have people speak bad about you and don’t care.



How would you define success? What does success look like to you?


You have to be at a point where you love what you’re doing because I think that’s so rare, to truly love what you’re doing. That’s something that I found. To truly love what you’re doing because that’s all you really want to be doing, eventually. And once you do get to that point, like I said, you need to employ all these principles to eventually get to the place where you love what you’re doing. You do have to go through sectors, you do have to go through people, the heartbreak and the failure, the hours and the effort, time, effort, and money to get to where you are. I think success would be doing what you love.

  • ‘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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