Here at Talanoa, we believe in looking to those who have walked before us for inspiration and encouragement, and because of that, we’re honoured to share Meliame Tauali’i-Fifita’s story. She shows us that you can still care for a large family while chasing your dream, and that even though things don’t work out just as you’ve planned, it sometimes mean it’ll work out to be even better than what you could’ve imagined. (Story by Talanoa Intern, Ilisapesi Muliaina)
Tell us a bit about yourself, the work that you do, and how you came to follow that career path?
I’ve grown up in Melbourne and now am a mother of six. My parents moved here from Kolomotu’a, Tonga in the mid-70s and they’ve always encouraged us to speak Tongan. Having my grandma, cousins, aunties and uncles come and stay with us has helped us to maintain this. Our Australian neighbours told my parents when we were growing up that “children who speak another language are not only blessed but are smart children.”
I thank God my parents encouraged us to speak Tongan as it has been rewarding for me in many ways, and today, I am blessed.
When I started this job on radio for the SBS Tongan program, my youngest son was only two days old. I started working as a casual producer and now am the Executive Producer of the program.
I had no intentions of becoming a radio broadcaster, as I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and before that I did business studies at High school. It was the previous Tongan broadcaster, (whom I owe a lot to for her encouragement and believing in me – Laota Latu), who encouraged me to apply for the job, and this is where I am at now.
What have been the biggest challenges in your line of work?
In everything we do, we have guidelines and work ethics that we have to follow. Most people don’t understand it’s not a community radio station – it’s a government funded radio station. Often we’ll receive demands from people in our Tongan community to either advertise or announce something that’s against our work guidelines and we try to explain to them that it isn’t possible, and sometimes they aren’t happy with us because of this.
Also, they have been certain news which people don’t like to hear and we’ve been criticized for airing it, but in this case people tend to forget that we’re a broadcasting service, and it’s part of what we do. In saying that we do try our best to help people from our Tongan community as much as we can.
Was there certain qualifications you had to meet for your profession?
I had to sit an exam before I was able to start, but it turned out to be rewarding because I’m now recognized as an interpreter and translator around the world. Majority of the work we do is translated from English to Tongan or vice versa, so knowing the Tongan language is a huge bonus. We receive government documents that need to be announced for the community to be aware of, so it’s important the information we give out is correct so that our Tongan listeners to understand.
What motivates you to push forward with all that you do?
Whenever I finish broadcasting a radio program I feel like I’ve achieved something positive through a feature I have done, an interview or general news. That’s what keeps me going and I walk away with a smile knowing that I’ve accomplished a useful program for the community to hear.
We’re able to connect Tongans from different areas and countries through our radio program as we provide news from Tonga, New Zealand, Canberra, Sydney, Queensland and sometimes other places around the world. For example, during the earthquake in Japan and the recent cyclone in Vanuatu, we spoke directly to Tongans who live there and they provided news and insight into what is happening.
I’m blessed to have also interviewed and met some of the most amazing people from our community and they’re what make me proud to be Tongan. We’ve had some great projects too that have been a great working experience for us.
What advice do you have for young Pacific people who might be thinking of doing the same thing?
Go for it! Just believe and know anything is possible and we need many of you younger ones to take our place in the future. It’s a rewarding job in the sense that you feel like you are not only informing your community and helping them to be aware of opportunities available for them but also connecting them. You can achieve anything if you set your mind to it. Even if it wasn’t what you planned and always keep your options open.
Where can we find you?
Tune into our radio program every Wednesday from 12 to 1 pm either through Digital radio on SBS 3 or on every TV in Australia on channel 39 or SBS 3 you can also listen through sbs.com.au/tongan. We also have our SBS Tongan Facebook page where we love to hear from you!
We’d like to thank Meliame for sharing her story with us, and we wish her all the best for the future.