Age at interview: 37 years
Occupation: IT Professional (Director of Event IT & Examinations & Chief Operating Officer)
Country of birth: Aotearoa New Zealand
Company: Lateral Plains
In this video
|0:00:00||Early Years and Moving to Australia|
|0:03:06||Primary School and High School|
|0:05:10||Home Life and Cultural Influences|
|0:12:19||University and Leaving Home|
|0:18:32||Failing at University|
|0:20:26||Pathway back to University|
|0:22:01||Starting a Career|
|0:27:49||Starting a Business|
|0:30:15||Work Ethic and Cultural Strengths|
|0:32:46||Reflections on Journey and Cultural Influences|
|0:37:56||Challenges and Support at School|
|0:46:02||Parent’s Support of Education|
|0:47:41||Challenges and Support at University|
|0:51:05||Supporting Pasifika Youth|
|0:55:38||Family Communication and Cultural Influences|
|1:00:22||Advice for Pasifika Youth|
- Early Years and Moving to Australia
- Primary School and High School
- Home Life and Cultural Influences
- University and Leaving Home
- Failing at University
- Pathway back to University
- Starting a Career
- Starting a Business
- Work Ethic and Cultural Strengths
- Reflections on Journey and Cultural Influences
- Challenges and Support at School
- Parent’s Support of Education
- Challenges and Support at University
- Supporting Pasifika Youth
- Family Communication and Cultural Influences
- Advice for Pasifika Youth
Early Years and Moving to Australia
My name’s Tevita, Tevita Topui. I’m 37 years old and I’ve been in Australia since 1994. My father and my biological mother were together in New Zealand and met in the ’80s. And unfortunately, due to my twin brother passing away, they both turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism. And it corrupted their family unit. It corrupted a lot of things. From that marriage, my parents had two other children, two siblings of mine, a sister and a brother. But the things and the traumas they were going through were too hard for them to maintain a relationship, so my father moved to Australia in 1994…Sorry 1993, to Sydney, to be with his siblings.
I followed in 1994 because my mother couldn’t look after me. I was a…To put it in clean terms, I was a pain in the backside and very, very, well, just very naughty. And I refused to go to school. I refused to do anything, really, unless I wanted to do it. I got into trouble a few times by police for stealing things from shops and things like that. And mum thought it’d be best to send me to be with my father. So I got to Australia, as I said, in 1994. And dad had just met a group of Tongans who were in a town called Robinvale, which is up in…Or down in Victoria. We were in Sydney at the time. And we very quickly moved to Robinvale for dad to start working straight away, which was great.
When I first got there, I couldn’t fathom what I…I didn’t know what to expect. I just thought it was just going to be another country town. Growing up in small towns, already just assumed it would be similar. It was a bit of a culture shock to get to a place where it was just red sand and grape farms or orange trees everywhere. And not knowing anybody was a bit of a shock. Dad got involved in one of the local churches pretty quickly, which is a great way for people to meet each other. Which was good for us kids as well because we got to meet other children as well, which was fantastic. But it was…For us, it was a big culture shock because as much as we knew we were Tongan, we didn’t really understand what that was. We didn’t speak Tongan at the time, we only spoke English. So it was hard to converse with other people and just get along with them. It was just very fortunate that there was a lot of children at our church as well that took me in and we hung out together, which was great.
Primary School and High School
I stayed in Robinvale for the bulk of my…Or actually, for all of my childhood life, after that. I completed primary school in Robinvale. And then I went on to the high school in Robinvale and completed my VCE there. Due to…Actually, whilst in high school, my father met my stepmum, who he’s currently married to and has been for…Actually, since 1995.
And that was a big turning point for us in our family because we went…Not just because we went from a family with a single dad who was struggling, with limited support but because my stepmum’s family were amazing. They just embraced us. They took us as their own and really solidified that family unit for us and brought us together. We were instantly a part of this massive family, which was amazing. And a loving family, something that, to be honest, we hadn’t really experienced before. And that may have been as a result of dad’s initial alcohol abuse, but he’s been cold turkey since he arrived in Australia and it’s certainly a very proud…I’m proud to say that for him. And I know he’s proud to say it himself. But I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that he had this new family unit that we’re a part of. Really supported him through that journey.
I did…Yes, completed year 12 in Robinvale and whilst I was doing my VCE studies, I was in a fortunate position where I was able to do a lot of other IT activities. So my career is in IT and in computers. I had a huge fascination with them all through high school. And the school was quite supportive. They would let me stay behind after school and use the computer labs, unsupervised, which was normally not allowed. I used it as a bit of an escape because I didn’t like to be at home.
Home Life and Cultural Influences
There were some pretty big rules at home that we didn’t like at the time but now I wish we implemented them myself. And they were all very much culturally based. Again, I didn’t like them at that time but now, I wish we did it.
For example, my mother…When I reference my mother, I mean my stepmother. My mother had a simple rule, and it was to be no English spoken at home. Us, kids, needed to learn how to speak Tongan and speak it effectively. So the rule was that you had to speak Tongan at home, there was no English. English was to be spoken at school and only at school. Or if you’re working, at work. This did cause my mother and I to come to loggerheads several times because unlike my little brother and little sister, I couldn’t pick it up as easy as they could. I was concentrating my studies on learning Italian, actually. So I was finding it hard to learn both. But it paid off. I can’t say that I’m fluent, but I can understand a conversation fluently and I can generally respond to most things. And it was certainly tough at times, particularly with growing up traditionally Tongan, in the sense that if you screwed up, you felt it. It wasn’t just a verbal scolding, there was all sorts of magical materials that would come out of the woodwork, and you’d get a whack with them, so.
That’s not one thing that I would do now. As I said, there are plenty of traditions we try and uphold but not getting the broom and giving your kid a whack on the bum. It’s not really how we roll these days. Growing up with a stepmum can be a bit trialling, particularly because as a young male, I was about 13 or 14 at the time, you try and push buttons and you do push back. And some of the worst things I’ve ever said to a person, were probably to my stepmum when like, for example, I did say to her once, “You’re not my mum. You can’t tell me what to do.” And obviously, it broke her heart. And then in return, my father broke my backside.
But we learnt, very quickly, what was right or wrong, what was respectful and what wasn’t. Oh, it’s little things. As what I thought was a cool kid growing up at 15, 16 this time, and swearing and cursing because you think it’s cool, is not that cool when another auntie overhears you and before you even get home from that visit to the shop, your parents know about it and are sitting at the table waiting for you. Because you know what’s going to happen very, very quickly after that. So as a result of my pain in the backside upbringing, I suppose, or attitude, I should say, I decided I needed to find a way to get out of the house more. So I then joined the local fire brigade and also took a job, initially, at a fish and chips shop. And I worked every night at the fish and chips shop all for a hundred dollars a week and whatever food I could take home, basically. But it meant I wasn’t at home. And the fire brigade was much the same.
One of the actual reasons why I joined the fire brigade…And I’ve never told anyone this, was because they had training on Tuesdays and Sundays, particularly Sundays. Which meant I didn’t have to go to church. And that was much to my father’s disgust. He supported me because it was a community-based organisation and it wasn’t like I was playing in the park or drinking or anything like that. I was supporting the community and I was doing something good for the community. So I…For the last few years of my life in Robinvale, I probably wasn’t as engaged as I could’ve been. I did find that, probably VCE in particular, would’ve been when I was the most engaged with the Tongan community. And that was probably because of one of my uncles, who is one of the leaders of our church. He’s an amazing man. Very supportive. And it was actually him that encouraged me to get out of Robinvale and get an education and get somewhere.
And some of the lessons that my father taught me, in a weird way…An example of that was I got a school report one year, I think it was year nine or year 10. And it was absolutely terrible. So dad decided that that was…Those school holidays, I was going to go out pruning with him. Pruning grapevines and pulling out the vines from the ones that are pruned. And we very, very quickly learned that it can be painful work, particularly if you miss a vine or two and dad finds it and gives you a whack with one. And he would tell me constantly, “Is this what you want to do for the rest of your life? Do you want to be out here in 40 degrees, with very little food and hurting yourself day in and day out?” And I very quickly made the decision that no matter what, I needed to work in an air-conditioned office.
Not that it made me a better student, but it did make me respect my father more and realise exactly what he was putting his body through every single day of the week. Other than Sunday because it’s the rest day. And it made me realise very quickly that our entire Pasifika community in Robinvale were the same. We’d get up day in, day out, rain, hail or sun and they would go out into those fields and work their butts off. We as kids would complain that dad was gone before we got up in the morning and he was home after we went to bed but we didn’t realise just how much work these people in our community were doing. It’s not until later in life when you realise some of these things. You don’t realise the struggles that your family go through to ensure that the children are looked after. We feel hard done by. We feel that…We’re not as rich as the next-door neighbour, or we don’t have that particular gaming console like that person does. And it’s not because our family or our parents didn’t want to give it to us, it was just, simply, they couldn’t.
They worked extremely hard to give us what they could. And it’s taught me some extremely valuable lessons.
University and Leaving Home
I graduated high school, 2001 and moved to Ballarat in Victoria. Initially, when I was trying to get out of Robinvale, my dad was supportive and he’s like, “If you want to go to university, go do that. It’s going to be great for you.” But at the same time, other people were like, “Just get a job. It’s easier.”
I ended up organising my university and lodgings and everything like that all myself. I didn’t tell my family about it until everything was sealed and the deal was done, and I had my letter of offer and I had accommodation. And that’s when I went to my family and said, “By the way, I’m moving out. And I’m moving out this date. I’ve saved all this money from working and everything’s paid for. I just need you guys to take me there.” Which was a big shock for my mum and she cried for days, to be honest. She was extremely proud, but she felt like I was running away. It wasn’t until we got here, to Ballarat, where I still am, when she told me the truth, that she was just, she was proud and…Yeah. And that was a big moment for my mum and I because it was always…There was that always, “You’re my stepmum,” “You’re my stepson,”…I know she loves me, and she loved me with all her heart…Sorry loves me, not past tense. But, at the same time, we had this love-hate relationship where we would clash, we would fight. And that all changed when I moved out.
So when we got to Ballarat in February 2002, my mother is scared of drunk people, she always has been. And we pulled up at the res where I was about to move into. And it would’ve been about 9:30 at night, 10 ‘O clock at night and there was this three young blokes walking up and they were blind. They were just so drunk. And mum pushed me back towards the van and told dad to look after me. And dad’s response in English was, “Don’t worry, they probably don’t live here. They’ll just walk past.” And, sure enough, because he said that, they proceeded to pop over the fence, open the front door and walk into where I was living. Which freaked mum out. And she was, right there and then she said, “No. You can’t live here. We’re moving back to Robinvale. Let’s go.” Fortunately, dad was too tired, or stubborn, perhaps. And he said, “No. We’re moving his stuff inside and we’re going inside.” So we did. And I’m not sure if it was mum trying to punish the other boys that were there, or if she was genuinely…I suspect she was genuinely being nice but she made a point of waking me up at 8AM that Saturday morning and making me go knock on every door of the residence and wake them all up because she’s cooked them all breakfast.
So there was a lot of hungover and upset male, Anglos, Aussies because there was some random guy banging on their door at eight in the morning, after a big night out. But at the same time, they were extremely grateful to have a very large, cooked breakfast. And that was my first experience, I suppose, hanging out with a whole bunch of people that were hungover and, or, drunk. Because it was something I’d never done. Alcohol, for us at our house, I knew it was always against the rules. Not just because of dad’s previous life but because of our religion. It’s not that we aren’t allowed to drink, it’s just that we shouldn’t be drunk, or we shouldn’t drink…And, again, it depends on the religion, on the faith I suppose, or denomination. But it was always something at our home that was against the rules.
So mum and dad helped me…We set everything up and they were on their way a few hours later. And I was in this…Well, what I thought was a really big city. Ballarat’s not the biggest of cities. Has a population of just over 100 000 people. It’s big enough for me. And I didn’t know a soul. All I knew was that I had a week to get myself together before uni started. And so with that being a Saturday afternoon, I thought, “Well, what do I do? On Sunday, I will go to church.” Because that’s what I knew. And I did. The following Sunday morning, I got up and went to church, which fortunately was two doors away from the fire station. And I’d already transferred to that fire station as well, so I knew where that was. And I got to that church, and they were awesome. They immediately accepted me and just, “You’re another person that we want to hang out with.” And I hung out with them for about a week to two weeks whilst I started to make friends at uni.
So I started out…My initial course that I started here in Ballarat was actually a Bachelor of IT. And I lasted about three months, to be honest. Because the friendship circle that I was kicking around with were all Aussies and they like to have a beer on a Friday night and things like that. And I’d never done that before so the first time I did it, I had all six drinks, I think, and I was obliterated. But I enjoyed myself. And because I’d had this…Because I’d never done it before, it was a…I think I…I don’t know how to explain it, but I suppose it was like an addiction. I wanted to go and get drunk again. So the first, probably, six months of my life away from home, we just went partying on the weekends.
Failing at University
And as a result of that, the group of us that were all at uni together, we all failed. We failed miserably, to be honest. But we didn’t care. We didn’t care. We were enjoying ourselves. We were enjoying our lifestyles. And all I really cared about at the time was when the pager went off, you go down the fire station. You go do your job and then you’d come home. And then you’d wait ‘til Friday. So come Friday, we knew we were going to have a few drinks. So it was disappointing to my parents, to find out that I’d failed university but I think it was more disappointing that they didn’t know for over a year and a half because I didn’t tell them. Why would I?
It wasn’t until the second year of being here in Ballarat where I started working as a security guard to get by and make ends meet. And due to an incident, whilst in that employment, I actually got arrested and briefly incarcerated. And you very quickly grow up when you’ve been in serious trouble. And I was very fortunate that the groups that I had been friends with, that I’d moved away from some and friends with others…You know who your true friends are the morning after you walk out of a police station because you’ve really screwed up. So my world had to change. I didn’t have a choice. I could either follow a path of crime and stupidity or, excuse the terminology but you get your shit together and move on.
Pathway back to University
So I decided to re-enrol at university and finish my degree. And I couldn’t actually get in. They wouldn’t accept me. So instead, I did a certificate which I pretty much done with my eyes closed, which was boring but at the same time, I had a piece of paper to say, “Yes I can do this because I’ve got…Here’s the proof in the pudding.”
Then, after that, I then tried to get another…To re…go to uni, sorry, and enrolled in a Bachelor of Information Systems. And I was doing it online. And was around this time, as well, where I met my wife. And my wife knows that I’m doing this, and she said I can use her first name. So my wife’s name is Bonnie. And Bonnie gave me a lot of challenges but she gave me a lot of inspiration too. She reminded me that you can’t be a bum and sit around all day and do not much. And she encouraged me to get my life back together. Not just here, in Ballarat, but with my family as well because I had become disengaged from my family and disengaged with the community. Not just here, in Ballarat, but in Robinvale, where I grew up. Because we used to go there regularly, at least monthly. And I hadn’t visited for nearly 12 months, by the time I’d met Bonnie.
Starting a Career
And so I decided, “All right, it’s time to get a job. And do something with life.” So I went and applied for a role . [IT company name].And much to my surprise, to be honest, the role was probably a bit beyond me but I did get through and I was successful. I worked
And whilst I was at […] have an education component as well and you can study with them, through them. So […]. One of the key factors for me was finishing my degree…And I loved it. I really did love it. Unfortunately, with all the travel that I was doing, and I’d been married for a couple years by then, Bonnie and I were trying to start a family. And we were struggling to do so. One, because well, you have to be home. That helps. And number two, unfortunately, due to illness, we lost our first child. And I was away, working.
I remember the phone call. And that made me realise that as much as a career is a great thing, your family is much more important. And it made me remember my father, remember how his daily grind, his daily struggle of getting up and going every day. Regardless of it was 45 degrees outside or if it was minus three degrees outside, he was still going to work. So I rang my boss at the time and said I’m coming home. And I was actually overseas at the time. And they said, “No.” They said, “You’ve started a very, very expensive project. We need this done.” And I said, “No.” And I just got on a plane and came back anyway. Which effectively was abandoning the workplace and there are laws…I found out later, there’s laws around that.
But I came home to be with my family. And reflected for quite a while on that and how as much as working for that company was amazing, there was no personal…There was nothing personal about it. There was no true care, or a culture of family first wasn’t there for me. So I actually ended up driving a taxi for a while. And my father-in-law owns a taxi and he said, “If you want to pick up a couple of shifts just to help with some money, there.” And so I did that. And I did that for about six months while I was trying to work out exactly what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. And regardless of how many jobs I applied for in Ballarat, whether it be a checkout chick job or working anywhere…I found out back then, in the early 2000s, that Ballarat was actually probably the most racist town I’ve ever lived in.
Growing up in Robinvale and Mildura, where every second person you walk past is the same colour skin as you or darker, you don’t notice racism because it’s not really there. And then you get into a town that’s extremely Australian, extremely Anglo, it can be a bit daunting the first time someone looks at you a bit funny and asks, “Oh, what nationality are you?” Because they…And yes, they are genuinely interested but I think some of them are worried too. So, yeah, it can be hard in some places. And I’m sure other people have had it worse than I have in Ballarat. And if I had time, I’d elaborate on some of them but, yeah.
So, as I’ve said, I drove a taxi for about six months and was very fortunate that one of the guys I went to uni with had his own IT business. And he rang me up and said, “Hey, T, can you potentially give us a hand? We’ve got two guys. One guy’s going overseas for six weeks and another person’s injured his back and he’ll be off work for about 6 months. Can you come in and help us?” So I did and that was my foot back into the IT world. And I went and worked…I ended up working there for four years, instead of six weeks. After working there, as much as I loved it, I needed to move on. And I took a senior manager’s role at another IT place. And was only there for just under a year. Unfortunately, my values didn’t align with the values of the owner of that particular company. Not saying that he’s not a good businessman, he just didn’t run…His values weren’t the same as mine. So I decided that it was time for me to get out.
Starting a Business
And Bonnie and I were in a position fortunate enough where money wasn’t so much of an issue at the time, so we took the leap of faith, and we went out and started our own company. So I started a boutique IT MSP business, which is a fancy way of saying that we fix computers for businesses, basically. And I started that in the shed at home, about seven years ago. Within four months of being in the garage at home we were too big, and we moved to an office here in town. And we had three staff working for us at the time…Sorry, two other staff, three being myself. And within six months of being in that office, we found that we were actually too big for that as well. And we moved a third time and again, hired more staff.
We ran that company for about two years, and we were working in partnership with another IT company here in town, where we would offer the hands and feet that they required and in return, when it came to some specialist hosting and…They would support us for that. And we found that we were actually competing on a couple of jobs. And they would either win or we would win. And then an opportunity came up for us to try and do one together, so we did. We went into business together on that particular role and it was extremely, extremely successful. And it got the conversation moving for the merger of the two companies.
And so we did that. And we’ve merged since then, we’ve merged the companies to be one. And, yeah, I would say that from that perspective, we’re probably one of the larger MSP businesses in Western Victoria. Certainly when it comes to number of employees we probably are. We have, here in Ballarat, there’s about 15 of us and in my testing location in Melbourne, we’ve got close to 140 guys down there, as well as offices in Sydney and Brisbane. So we’re extremely busy. But they’re all very much extremely hard-working people.
Work Ethic and Cultural Strengths
And I think the reason why we are where we are is, in my opinion and in my mind and the reason why I’ve worked so hard and I strive every single day, is because I think of not just my father but all the other aunties and uncles and other people that I’ve watched in Robinvale just get up every single day.
I think if we had, us younger generation, if we had half the conviction, half the passion or the pride that our parents had back then, we could do more than build IT companies. We could build countries, we can build communities, we could do literally anything. Oh, if I had half the conviction my father had, I would be the biggest businessman in the country. But I don’t. I’m lazy. Let’s be honest. Yes, I have managed to finish some degrees and that certainly helped me out and certainly taught me so much more and that’s probably why our business is doing well because it’s not just running off the seat of your pants. I actually understand business acumen. I understand how processes are supposed to flow. I remember going to meetings where the clients and the potential clients, like, “I want a gant chart that does this, this and this,” and I didn’t know what that was. I had to come back to my office and Google it and go, “What’s a gant chart? All right. The client needs a quote and then it needs to be in this format.” I had no idea what that was.
So since studying further again, I’ve learned a lot more about that and a lot more about the business administration, the administration of the business. As a result of that, we now operate…We run, as I said, the offices – the test centres are Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and we work in New Zealand two to three times a year, on projects over there. This particular client has been a glorious addition to our client base. And, yeah, it’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s certainly been beneficial.
Reflections on Journey and Cultural Influences
And as I said earlier, I just attribute all of that to the fact that watching the people in our community work so damn hard that I strive to be half the person that they are and that they were. But one thing I can’t stress more is that I didn’t do it purely on getting out of high school and going straight to uni because as I said, I didn’t. I was silly for at least a year. I partied, I drank alcohol, truth be told I tried recreational drugs. I got in trouble with police. I didn’t go to church. I was an independent person. I just was crazy.
It was just the rude shock. I think that was a part of a culture shock for me because I was in such a tight-knit community group that you weren’t allowed to do these things, that you just rebelled and went and did it anyway. But I learned some valuable lessons. I learned that having a criminal record meant that I couldn’t apply for certain jobs. I actually started a nursing degree and my passion, at the time, was to be a nurse. And I later found out that because of my conviction I would never be able to be registered as a nurse. So I’d have to wait close to 15 years. So I said obviously that’s not for me and went back to IT.
There were so many avenues and so many paths out there, you just could’ve grabbed one that you enjoy and do it. As much as you’re going to have mum on one side saying, “Do this,” and dad on this side saying, “Do that,” and other elders in the community or family members saying do all these great things, only you can make your own decision. You can’t rely on other people to make your decisions. I mentioned earlier about one of the church leaders, he’s an uncle of mine and probably one of my heroes, to be honest. He said to me, before I left Robinvale, he said, “The people that you hang out with will always change your life but ensure that you try and change theirs, rather than let them change yours.” And it didn’t really mean much to me at the time, until I realised that I was kicking around with some pretty bad people and doing some stupid things.
And I’ve since, really recently, tried to look up these guys on social media and things like that, to find out where they are or…These were considered some of my closest friends at the time. And most of them are either incarcerated or unfortunately, there’s a few that have passed away and a couple that I just couldn’t find. And it made me be quite thankful that, culturally, we have these morals instilled in us, whether we like it or not. We have respect. We know right from wrong. We have some great teachings that have been taught to us physically sometimes, with wooden spoons or belts and sometimes just from sitting down, having great conversations with elders. And when I finally learned that and actually started using those, my world changed, and I became a better person.
And to be honest, it changed from my children too. I have two children who probably aren’t pushed to be as Tongan as much as we were. I do speak a little bit of Tongan at home, it’s not as much as I should. And there are a few cultural things that I still push for, particularly around having a daughter and a son and some of the rules around that we suffered through as kids about not going into each other’s rooms and things like that. And I do that not just because it’s culturally that’s the right thing to do but it also means they’re not going to fight because they’re not in each other’s room. So you’ve got to think outside the box sometimes.
Sometimes the little things that, when you’re a kid, don’t mean anything to you…Like my daughter is 11 and she’s never cut her hair and that’s because I’ve asked her not to. Unfortunately, there will be a day when I will ask her to cut her hair but, at the moment, it’s not now. And it took a lot to explain that to my daughter as well as to my wife but once they understood that it means a lot for me culturally, then that was fine. And I think there are some great lessons and some real value to be taken from some of our lessons. We just don’t know it yet. You don’t know it until, unfortunately, you’re either…Until you finally realise you are using them or doing them, or until you go, “Well, I probably could’ve done this and…” Yeah.
Challenges and Support at School
If we could just go all the way back to maybe the more formative years in your schooling, like your primary and your high school, what was the actual learning experience like for you? Because the reason why we ask that question is because we recognise that learning in schools, particularly with this curriculum, it can be challenging
…Some kids thrive but some don’t. So I just want to know what your personal experience was like? What was it like with particular subjects? Your experience with teachers? Did you find that it was difficult to do homework at home? How much support did you have from your parents?
Yeah. Okay. So in relation to my education back in Robinvale
, primary school was a bit of a breeze. It always is. You don’t have to do anything, really. When I got to high school, year seven and eight…Actually, all through high school, I really struggled with English. Actually, I’ll just rewind for a second. In primary school, I had to do the reading recovery program all the way up to grade six. I started primary school in Australia when I was in grade five and I couldn’t read at all. I was…I won’t say her name but there was a reading recovery teacher who used to come, normally, once a week. And I think she would sit with me twice a week for two years because I couldn’t read. By the time I was in year seven and year eight, my literary skills, reading skills were somewhat better. And I taught myself how to read from there on.
Because we didn’t have a television at home, so reading was a new escape for me, which was amazing. I read some amazing books. But, at the same time, I could read the text, sometimes I couldn’t understand the text but fortunately I had a dictionary as well. But I couldn’t write it. My spelling…And to today, my spelling is still atrocious. If it wasn’t for spell-check and Microsoft Word, I honestly don’t know how well I’d…Where we’d be at the moment. But the hardest part about high school for me was, to be honest, I’m a very kinetic learner. I find it hard to sit there and listen to people talk to me, lecturers talk to me. If I have a book in front of me, I can get through by reading the book, rather than the teacher talk to me. But then, at the same time, with my reading…I have a thing called dyslexia, where I need to put something over the text sometimes, if it’s very, very white. or wear glasses, which may have also been one of the reasons why I’ve always found it hard to read.
And I’m crap at math’s which is ironic because most IT people generally have to be very good at math…Sorry, programmers and software design people need to be good at math. My IT career started in hardware so it’s neither here nor there. But I did really struggle through high school, so much in fact, that I remember in year 12 that I wasn’t sure if I’d actually passed. I wasn’t sure if I’d get that certificate because I…Just, English, as I said, wasn’t the easiest to do. Math was terrible. The only reason why I got through, I feel, was because I was fortunate in year nine and year 10, that I was able to do year 12 IT studies and year 12 music. I loved playing an instrument and I loved the music class. And I could follow that quite well. And even the theory side was easy for me, in music and computers.
I remember in metal work, the teacher…All we had to do was create some little piece of something. And I was so damn terrible at that that the teacher did it for me. And then said, “Now, just go outside for half an hour, come back and hand it into me. And then I’ll pass you.” He only passed me. He didn’t give me a grade of any sort. And I’m very lucky that that particular teacher was extremely supportive. So was my math teacher. Trying not to say his name. He was a great support, and he knew that I struggled. He knew it was hard, so much in fact, that after school, if I wasn’t working, he would sit with me and he would try and help me as best he could. But I built that relationship with him because he was also the IT teacher. And he knew that I had my passion for IT. He knew that when it came to computers and technology, that was easy for me. Very, very easy.
We did have a program in our school in the later years, which was like a homework club. The school got funding for it to have a Pasifika aid. And we had this homework club that would run each night. And where we were supposed to do homework, truth be told, most of the time we just played on the computers. But it did help at times because studying, for me at home, was…I couldn’t do it. Kitchen table, as much as…If I wanted to study, I’d be at the kitchen table. The kitchen table wasn’t for studying, it was for the family to have their meals at. And generally, by the time we got home, it was around mealtime. Mum did have a rule that you didn’t have to do any cooking or cleaning if you were doing homework, so quite often I was doing homework.
But truth be told, I’d much rather be doing something else. And I still struggle with that. Even today, if I have the choice of grabbing one of my workbooks out and trying to do some further study, or play a computer game or working on something else, I will work on that other thing. I will avoid doing that study.
And I’m not sure what it is but…So there’s something about me that, I find that if I actually do study for a particular exam and I study all week, or two weeks leading up to that exam and I sit that exam, I do okay. But if I leave it alone until the last minute and cram the night before, I do really, really well. It’s the same as any projects or essays that I’ve had to hand in. I find that if I start writing the essay when they first give it to you, do your research, then write, I do okay. But if I cram it all and do it the night before, I generally always had got a distinction or higher. I’m not an academic. I never have been. And I’ve struggled through that all through high school.
And it was just…We were just lucky that Robinvale…I can only talk about my school, [school] had some certain teachers that were just amazing. My English teacher who would always go out of her way to ensure that we were okay, and we were looked after. And if we were struggling, rather than yell at us or tell us off, she would pull you aside at recess or lunch and say, “Hey, I know you’re not doing too well on this particular thing, how about we go and talk about it. And we go and…” And she would help you out. I remember one year she gave me a verbal test instead of a written test because my handwriting…And my handwriting today is still shocking. I avoid handwriting at all costs because my 11-year-old daughter’s handwriting is neater than mine. It’s…Yeah. School was hard. It was. But it doesn’t mean you can’t get through it and get there in the end. Yeah.
Parent’s Support of Education
It sounds like you obviously did a lot of your studying, or homework outside of the home. Do you think that your parents understood…Were they able to support you, in terms of…You know how you…From a palangi (European) the parents sit down with their children, and they do the reading and all of that? What was that like for you, in terms of having your parents involved within your schooling?
Unfortunately, it was pretty much non-existent. I do remember asking for help on a particular math problem one night and mum said, “Your dad’s good at math. Go show dad.” And so I went and showed dad and dad’s like, “No, that’s not real math’s. They didn’t teach that when we were at school.” And I think…I can’t remember what the equations were. I think it was to find the median, something like…It was to do with median numbers and things like that. And, yeah, if I wanted help outside of school, I would generally have to go and find another cousin, a cousin that could help me, who was a few years older than me. But yeah. There unfortunately was no help at home. Generally, that’s why homework class did pay off sometimes because I was always the youngest in the group. A lot of the people from my music class, for example, in my year 12 IT classes, they were people in your year level, actually. And they were the year above me…or two years above me. So I could go to them sometimes for help but there was no help at home.
Challenges and Support at University
I think you touched on it a little bit, about when you went to uni the first time and then you got a taste of your social life. And so you failed, I think, for the first year. But then you eventually circled back to that when you realised, “Oh, okay. I’ve got to put my head down and get my study done.” listening to you now and you’re talking about some of these struggles with your learning, did you still find that even in university you were having all the same struggles? And what enabled you to get through, to finish all your degrees? Even with your MBA too because I anticipate that would’ve been quite intense. So what got you through it?
To be honest, perseverance. As I said, I’m fortunate that I can type very quickly so rather than writing notes now I type all my notes. And it’s also easier for me to find and track because I know short keys and shortcuts that will help me identify different things very, very quickly. I’m lucky that I have a very supportive wife who’s…Actually, her first role and her first degree was teaching, so she’s been able to give me a few tips. And I do actually write notes now as well, manually. And sometimes I have to decipher. The big difference between primary, secondary and higher education is that higher education is…You don’t…Well, you do get as much support, if not more but it just comes in a different way. But I found though that in higher ed, there’s more peer support and peer support works, in my opinion. Well, it certainly works for me, with either having Facebook groups or different social medium chat platforms, where we can share ideas, share notes and we can have physical conversations. That’s been quite advantageous to me. To be honest, without it, I don’t think I would’ve gotten through.
I’ve never completed a degree in the usual three years or whatever the timeframe is. It’s always taken me longer. But at the same time, if you know where to ask for support, the support’s generally available to you. If you know that you can approach your academic advisor and say, “Hey, I’m really struggling with this particular area,” nine out of ten times, as long as you’re not doing it every single time, or asking for extensions constantly, they’re going to help you. That’s their job. And they actually do care. I don’t think I’ve met one that didn’t.
So I found that leaning on…Well, it was my wife’s idea, but leaning on the academic institution that you’re partnered with at the time, leaning on their facilities and making sure that you use all of it to your advantage, not just the advisors but leaning on the library staff, leaning on the people in your group that you have…Working together has been the key for all of it. If I had to try and do all of this 100% by myself, it wouldn’t have happened. But with the support of other people and other groups, yeah, I’ve gotten through it.
Supporting Pasifika Youth
Because as you and I, we know Robinvale and Mildura quite well. In terms of…Based on what you understand of our youth back there, what are your thoughts around the disengagement with our youth back there, in terms of disengagement in education, or just being a little bit lost, in terms of finding their way into a career?
To be honest, I think that…And I still have a sibling there and I still have a lot of family up that way. To be honest, I think they’re bored. Like myself, they didn’t engage in high school and didn’t enjoy it. They pushed back where they had to or where they wanted to. I also find, from just listening to conversations and hearing about what’s going on up that way, is that there’s a lot more relaxation in the rules. When I was in high school, if you weren’t in uniform, you knew about it. You got detention or you got punished for it. Now, there are students walking around the school in whatever the heck they like and they’re smoking cigarettes. That’s just unheard of when we were at school. As a result of that non-governance, I suppose, people just, they’re not engaged.
And I think, I must admit, as an educator’s point of view, I’m sure the educators are in the same boat going, “I can’t help them. I’ve tried.” And I just don’t know if there’s enough motivation for those educators. Or perhaps it could be simply a lack of funding. They want to do a particular program and they can’t do it. I think that we’ve lost our way in some way, culturally as well. I think that some of the values that were instilled in us as children aren’t necessarily being taught now. And I’m a culprit of that too, as I said earlier. There are some things that I’ve taught my children that I probably should’ve taught them sooner. And there’s other customs and traditions that I should’ve taught them sooner, but I haven’t. And maybe it’s me as a parent. Maybe it’s part…Well, it certainly is my fault as a parent. But maybe I’ve been lazy, maybe I feel that it’s probably not appropriate. I don’t know. But I find that that’s the same in the community up there.
The community as a whole…When we were growing up in the late ’80s and in the ’90s, in those areas, we had a very, very tight-knit community group. And you knew that every event, all of those same people would be there, you’d catch up, you’d have fun. It’d be great. And now, due to cultural changes, due to some people leaving, et cetera, these groups are now no longer one big group. They have several smaller groups, which changes the dynamic. It also changes, as silly as it sounds, within that community where it creates its own socio-economic status groups within that other group. Where some people are like, “Well, I’m wearing a thousand-dollar suit and you’ve only got a pair of op-shop jeans on.” I don’t get it. I think that to be honest, they’re just disengaged. They haven’t had the support that they need, the support that I think we got, in some ways.
There were obviously other areas that we could’ve had further support in as well, but I feel that we were the lucky ones and we did get that support. And that was probably also because the Victorian Department of Education went, “Oh, crap! What do we do with all these Polynesian kids? How do we…” Whereas these days, there are just more kids. And unfortunately, there are people out there that are jaded and don’t want to help when they should. And I think that the people, the young ones that I’ve seen recently and met recently, are just disengaged and just don’t care anyway. They resigned to the fact that they’re going to end up in the grapes, or almonds, or whichever fruit is going at the time. When truth be told, they don’t need to. If they talk to the right people, or go to TAFE, or get an apprenticeship, they can be enjoying so much more in life.
Family Communication and Cultural Influences
In terms of the communication between inter generations…So from gen one, so my parents, and then obviously the communication between them and me is really different to the way I communicate now with my children.
And I find that I’m…Maybe some of the barriers with growing up with just my inability to articulate some of my struggles to my parents and vice versa. Because I totally appreciate that…We were lucky because, as you know, my mom’s English was always quite good. My dad’s English, not so much. So it’s really obvious in the way we interact. And so I’m making much more of a concerted effort to talk to my dad, even though my Tongan’s not amazing. But I do appreciate that his English is not great, so we’ve always really struggled. But my point in that is, is that do you think that impacts the way that we interact with our parents, in terms of getting through life? How much of an impact does that have, is the point of communication?
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, to be honest. Now that I think about it and think about some of the community groups that I’ve been involved with in the last 10 or so years, even my own family where I’ve shown up to an event or something…And being the oldest, I end up being the one that’s doing the talking. And my Tongan isn’t great either, but I generally get by. And then I’ll have a conversation with another cousin who is growing up with two Tongan parents and always been with them. And you start talking Tongan to him and they’re like, “What are you saying? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Because I don’t speak it or understand it.” And I think that’s because…Well, I know it’s because his parents never made him speak Tongan. And as a result of that, they…I know that he struggles to communicate with his parents. And their English isn’t great so when they’re angry or when they’re trying to explain something to him, they’re speaking in Tongan. And when he’s responding, they’re speaking in English. So there is stuff lost in translation.
I can’t remember how many events I’ve been to where I’ve had other younger people than us turn around and go, “What’s he talking about?” Because they just…Unfortunately, I think we’re losing our language like many other cultures that have moved to other countries, or that have been colonised by other people. They’re losing touch with something that should be very important to us, is our traditions and our cultures. And there are a lot of people, including myself, who should’ve learned Tongan better, or should’ve learned Tongan full stop. Not just Tongan, but other cultures as well. I have several Samoan friends here in Ballarat. And out of the four boys, four brothers, only one of them speaks Samoan. The other three know all the rude words but that’s it. And it’s sad that…Because it is a big communication gap.
When I ring my mother…Well, my parents, to talk to them, it’s a similar situation here. My dad’s English is quite good, and mum’s is okay. So I find that when I’m talking to dad, it’s very much English based, unless he converts to Tongan and then I respond in Tongan. Whereas if I’m talking to mum, it’s always Tongan. And the only time she speaks English is when she’s telling the grandkids that she loves them or talking to the grandkids. Even though I’ve encouraged her as well, I said, “Talk Tongan to the grandkids,” because they need to learn it. So I think, yeah, the communication between not just our generation, the generation after us and the generation before us, but also communication with other community groups. So educators and other alignment, like an apprentice agency, for example, if young people aren’t confident communicators, not just in Tongan but in English as well, they don’t want to communicate.
And there’s a lot of reasons for people not to be confident communicators. For me, many years I had really, really bad teeth. So as a result of that, I would always talk like this. And it was just a mumble. So a lot of people didn’t understand me. And that affected my work prospects. It affected a lot of things. Communication is the key to anything and everything, to be honest. Without clear communication there’s…Well, yeah, it is the key for everything.
Advice for Pasifika Youth
In terms of your actual career and where you are now, if you were to be in a room with a group of up-and-coming youth, what are three tips that you would recommend for these kids who look at your journey and your career, want to be like you? Or if…Maybe not be like you but just are inspired by your journey. What would you recommend are the three top tips that they should do?
Don’t listen to the public. Okay? And by that I mean, unfortunately, in society there’s always people that want to bring you down. Whether that’s because they’re jealous of your success, whether they’re jealous of small things, like the fact that you have nice shoes on, or you have more hair than they do. Don’t listen to the public. Do your thing. Only you know what you want to do or where you want to be. And it changes. Like I said earlier, I thought briefly that I wanted to be a nurse. And I’m glad I didn’t end up pursuing that career. But only you know where you want to be. That’s number one. Number two, don’t forget where you came from. If we can be half the people that our parents were and work as hard or half as hard as our parents did to ensure that we are where we are today, then you will be successful in any career path you take. Our parents and probably our grandparents were the two hardest working generations that have ever existed. If we can be half the people they are, then you will not fail.
And number three, if you fail, don’t worry. You can’t get any lower than that. I failed. To be honest, this is my third company. My first company I went bankrupt. But you know what? Once you get to rock bottom, the only place to go is up. So you pick yourself up and you dust yourself off and you keep on going.
What’s your definition of success and it can be in anything?
I think…And it’s a very broad thing. Success, for some people, is having riches and having, I don’t know. For me, personally, success is having a beautiful home that supports my family. And, as I said, I have two beautiful children and my wife. For the last 15 years I’ve always had a sibling living here too, to be honest, one or the other. Actually, all three who’ve lived here at some stage. So in my opinion, success is having a warm home that is welcoming and able to accommodate other people.
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