Niu Oceania Cultural Centre
Thank you, Madam Speaker. Three weeks ago it was my privilege to be one of three participants on a panel discussion regarding women in leadership in the ACT’s Pasifika community. Other panellists were Her Excellency Hinauri Petana, Samoan High Commissioner to Australia; and Myjolynne Kim, a PhD candidate at ANU from the Micronesian island of Chuuk. The forum borrowed its theme from this year’s International Women’s Day – Be Bold for Change – and was sponsored by a remarkable new organisation, the Niu Oceania Cultural Centre.
Niu Oceania was formally launched on 31 March 2017 at the ANU’s Hedley Bull Building. Its primary aim is to teach, disseminate and preserve the languages, arts, cultures and values of the Pacific Islands. One of the organisation’s primary activities is language instruction. The centre provides basic adult language classes in Samoan, Tongan, Fijian and Tok Pisin. These classes are held each Thursday evening from 6:00 until 8:00 on the ANU campus, with languages alternating each week. Tomorrow evening, for example, there will be parallel sessions in Fijian and Tongan, and next week classes will be held in Samoan and Tok Pisin.
These classes have been designed for learners who have no or little existing knowledge and are the perfect opportunity for anyone, Islander or otherwise, to pick up a completely new language. The first hour of each session is a learning and sharing activity that focuses on themes and issues important to the ACT’s Pasifika community. This helps fulfil the centre’s mission of preserving and teaching culture and values.
In addition to these language classes, Niu Oceania holds weekly public forums, also on Thursday evenings from 6:00 until 8:00 at the ANU. The topics of these forums are chosen to be relevant to Canberra’s diverse Islander communities, and the presenters come from these same communities. For example, the week before the panel discussion on women in leadership was a health and wellbeing workshop. Dr Roannie Ng Shiu, convenor of Pacific studies at the ANU, presented, and she was joined by two Pacific Islander students: Teisa Holani, who is currently studying a doctor of medicine and surgery at the ANU; and Fa’onetapu Takiari, who is currently studying for a degree in the field of sport and exercise science at the University of Canberra.
People of Pacific Islander background currently constitute only 1.3 per cent of the Australian population – slightly less in the ACT – but the Pasifika community is growing rapidly and will reach 3 per cent in the coming decades. Dr Ng Shiu’s PhD research focussed on health and education inequalities for Pacific communities in New Zealand, and those inequities are replicated here in Australia. For example, data from the ABS indicates that life expectancy for Pasifika people living in Australia is as low as it is for Indigenous Australians, and young Islanders are far less likely than the general population to pursue university education.
This is what makes the work of Niu Oceania Cultural Centre so vital. In its few months, it has become an important virtual space for Canberra’s diverse Islander population to meet together, to learn, to share, to highlight the excellent work being done by many in the territory’s Pasifika community and to provide easy-to-access pathways forward for those who wish to excel as well. And it is doing so whilst at the same time showcasing and preserving language, culture, arts and values in a vibrant and exciting way.
I congratulate all those involved with Niu Oceania and wish them my very best for much success in the coming months and years.