William Pawa

William Pawa

Canterbury's People: William Pawa felt there was something evocative about Lakemba when he moved to the suburb in 1987 with his wife. The words Lakemba and Oneata (local street) reminded him of his homeland, Fiji, as they are the names of the two islands there.


William was born in 1948 on an island in the Lau Province in Fiji. When he was nine years old, his parents moved to mainland Fiji. His father initially found work at the Vatukola goldmine and later received a small plot of land as a gift from the local chief or landowner about eight miles from Suva, the capital, in a semi rural area. The landowners in turn were allocated lands through the Native Lands Trust.

The landscape near Suva was dotted with the small Fijian household gardens where vegetables and animals were raised to feed the families. There were also a number of larger farms, which were leased by Indian farmers who produced commercial crops such as taro. These larger farms provided seasonal employment for Fijians like William's father. His family became friendly with both Indian farmers and other Fijian families nearby and William recalls mixing easily with all the local children.

Childhood in Fiji

William started school at the age of six and during his first years the trip from home to school was taken in an old open-backed bus. William was very keen on buying and playing marbles at this time. On days when his bus fare had financed a purchase of bright new marbles William would have walked the long and dusty road home to the farm. Invariably his white uniform would be covered in the red dust and his mother would be extremely upset.

Beside his prized marbles he did not have many toys as his family was not well off. In fact, his parents could not afford to send him to high school although he passed the entrance exam. His grandfather then suggested that his father return to the island of his birth, Turtle Island, to grow and sell copra (coconut). His earnings helped to put William in high school.

William was admitted to the Ratukadavulevu Secondary School in Tailevu which specialised in technical subjects and attracted boys from all over Fiji. While boarding at high school, he lived with his uncle and aunt in Suva. He did well at school, became a captain of Cakau House, one of the three sections of the school, and attained a cadetship with a large factory at the end of his high school years.

Turtle Island

Before he took up his cadetship, William travelled to Turtle Island for the first time. It was a very important visit for William because it reunited him with his parents and his grandfather, and also brought about a meeting with the island's chief.

"My grandfather organised to meet me in a special place – he waited for me there at my special inherited block of land. He cooked me a traditional meal of chicken and yams …"

William had a wonderful time during that holiday, it was a true coming of age in the heart of his family on Turtle Island. He learned about his ancestors and their history and took great pride in the status of his family on the island.

Shortly after this visit in 1970, another significant event in the history of the people of Turtle Island was initiated by his family. During the 1960s the population of Turtle Island had grown rapidly and reached a point where the island could not sustain the population living there. William's grandfather recommended that a number of families migrate to another island, Ovalau, where an estate of 1000 acres was purchased from the proceeds of copra sales. William's father led this migration and ensured that each migrating family received a 40-acre block of land to start their new life.

Cadetship and career

William began his cadetship and discovered the joys of life unrestricted by teachers, parents and school rules, but he soon became tired of this lifestyle. A young friend introduced him to the Assemblies of God Church and William was baptised into the congregation.

William spent the next few years working for the Department of Public Works as a marine maintenance engineer and later as a Purchasing Officer for a large development project, the Pacific Harbour Project in Deuba. During this time he became increasingly interested in Fijian politics and, in 1972, he and some colleagues formed a new political party in opposition to the existing Alliance Party. His party was concerned that indigenous Fijians receive a fair go in the commercial life of Fiji. William became their candidate in the 1972 General Election in Fiji.

Migration to Australia

The negative outcome of the election was a turning point in William's life. He decided that his future lay in furthering his engineering career so he abandoned his political ambitions and migrated to Australia in 1975 to expand his horizons in his chosen profession. He initially studied at the Darling Downs Institute in Queensland until he was accepted into the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). His most rewarding assignment while with the Air Force was at the Air Weapon Research Unit in Adelaide.

"The work was very interesting and all high security work. I was so proud to think that I had come so far since my childhood to be involved in a high security classification of this country's Defence Force."

Settling in Lakemba

It was in 1987, during his last year with the Air Force that the coup in Fiji took place which resulted in many Fijians seeking to migrate to Australia. The time came for William to leave the RAAF. When he moved to Lakemba he began his work with the local Fijian community. This marked a new direction in his life. He became very passionate about lobbying the Federal Government on Fijian migration issues and organising assistance to Fijians applying to migrate to Australia. He undertook legal and migration studies to help him in his work and now works as a registered migration agent in Lakemba.

William is also active in the local Assemblies of God Church. He has been a member of the Bethany Fellowship and helped in raising money to purchase the present church property in Lakemba. In his role as a broadcaster of religious material on TV Channel 31 he produces small broadcast pieces himself as well as runs the studio on a Sunday morning.

His work in religious broadcasting has taken him back to Fiji from time to time and William has established a dubbing studio and library there to distribute the programs he collects in Australia to people in Fiji. In this way, he hopes to provide a message of hope for his countryfolk.

The Lakemba community

William feels that one of the most attractive aspects of his local community in Lakemba is the healthy mix of cultures and the spirit of tolerance that exists there.

"There is a balance in this area of religious and cultural influences. There is the mosque but there is also the Korean Christian Church at the corner of Haldon Street and The Boulevarde and all the other churches. But it is the respect and cooperation between individuals that make this place both vibrant and safe despite the media focus on tensions in the community."

Through his work, William has come to know many local people within the different cultural communities in Lakemba and feels accepted and valued as a member of the community:

"I love the feeling of walking down Haldon Street and greeting everyone as I go … I would be sad to leave this area as it is the first time I have really felt settled since I left Fiji. Through the people I know and the work I do, I feel a little bit like the chief I could have been back in Fiji."