Dreaming big and working hard
Limasina Unga remembers the struggles. She remembers the years when she’d wake her two children at the crack of dawn to prepare them for the long day ahead. The drop off to kui, or grandma, who would ferry the kids to school while Limasina went off to university. She remembers the long journey from their home in Blacktown to Australian Catholic University’s North Sydney Campus, where she studied hard for three years to attain her nursing qualification.
“We struggled back then, but that’s just how it is,” says Limasina, who graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing in 2014. “I always loved nursing, and if you want something in life, you have to work hard and go through some struggles to get it.”
Her son Siosaia remembers it, too. He remembers his dad Joye working long hours in his job as a medical engineer to cover the mortgage, and his mum juggling responsibilities to reach her dream of working as a nurse.
It makes him thankful for the opportunities he’s been given.
“Just seeing my mum while she was at ACU, waking at four in the morning to make our lunch, coming back home and cooking dinner and ironing our clothes, then studying late nights, it’s been really inspirational for me,” says Siosaia, 18.
“I admire the hard work my mum and dad put in, the effort they put into life, into their work, their education. Seeing their success, it motivates me to go out there and give it my best shot, whatever it is – sports, education, life.”
Movement for life
While he was a student at Patrician Brothers’ College in Blacktown, Siosaia Unga carved a name for himself as a gifted young rugby player, earning selection in a representative squad with the NSW Waratahs.
But when he received an offer to study exercise and sports science at ACU’s Blacktown Campus, just a stone’s throw from his family home, he decided to put his promising football career on hold.
“As soon as I got my ACU offer, I sat down with my parents and talked about it, and I told them I want to put rugby to one side for now to concentrate on my studies,” Siosaia says.
“For me, it feels like a really big opportunity to study sports science, to learn more about the human body and nutrition, things that really fascinate me.”
Siosaia’s interest in human physiology was first piqued when his mother was studying nursing. He recalls opening Limasina’s uni textbooks and being intrigued with the information he came across.
“Looking back, that was a big influence,” he says. “I’d look into her books and see stuff about the human body, about the way the body moves and how it works, and it really interested me.”
While the decision to put his footy career on hold came as a surprise to his family, Siosaia says he has no regrets about the path he’s chosen.
“Sport has so many benefits – physical, mental and social – and it’s really had a positive impact on my life. I want to learn more so that one day I can pass on that knowledge to others, to help people to be their best through sport and exercise.”
Limasina and Siosaia
Meanwhile, for Limasina, the news that her son would follow in her footsteps to study at ACU was a proud moment.
“In some ways, I was little bit sad that I wouldn’t get to watch him play rugby, because he’s such a good player,” she says.
“But when he said, ‘Mum, I want to concentrate on one thing, I want to focus on my education’, that made me so proud. Education has always been number one for me, and for him to make the decision to put all of his energy towards his education, it made me so happy.”
Limasina Unga arrived in Australia as an 18-year-old, having been born and raised on a small island in Tonga.
While her father moved the family here to give them the opportunities that weren’t available back home, she admits that adjusting to life in a big city was “a big shock”.
“I really missed my family, my friends and my culture,” she says. “But what can you do? I came here to further my studies, and before long I adapted to life here.”
With a young family to raise and a mortgage to pay, Limasina was initially hesitant to pursue her goal of studying nursing.
In the end, her husband Joye convinced her to chase her dream, and Limasina enrolled into nursing at ACU in 2011. She now works in the community, helping people living with disability.
“I love working in a field where I can help vulnerable people,” she says, “and over the years, I’ve found that’s what I’m really passionate about.”
While nowadays she sees herself as “both Tongan and Australian, 50/50”, she still has a deep love for her culture, and works hard to instil this love in Siosaia and his sister, Caroline.
“I’ve been living in Australia for a long time, but Tonga will always be with me until I die,” Limasina says. “The Tongan way, it’s about love for family and caring for others and always doing the best you can. I’ll never let go of that”
For Australian-born Siosaia, his connection to his family and his heritage has helped him to focus on education, faith and self-improvement. He’s grateful he was brought up in a household where “education is at the top”.
“My dad would always say, ‘read a book’, and when we came home from church we’d translate passages in the Bible from English to Tongan, and I think that focus really helped me to see the value of learning, of embracing my culture and holding it close,” Siosaia says.
“That focus on education has given me so much. It gives you a healthy mind, and that helps you to have a healthy body for sport and training, and all that comes together and makes you a better person – someone who can reach their goals through all their struggles, and then use their knowledge to help others.”
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