Lily Tangat from Vanuatu is employed at LJM Produce, south of Perth, as part of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme. After an initial adjustment period, she has come to enjoy the tranquility of the South West and working alongside workers from a host of other countries as well as making connections with the local community and developing skills to take back home.
“I’m loving it so far. We’re like a salad bowl of different cultures and we learn off each other, which is very rewarding.
“When I first arrived in Bunbury, I was very homesick. The prospect of being here for three years away from my family was difficult to contemplate. At first, it was hard to adjust to the fast pace of life. We like to take our time in Vanuatu, whereas in Australia everything needs to happen on time, every time.
“I’m a very sociable person, it’s not unusual for neighbours in Vanuatu to visit each other unannounced, so getting used to personal privacy and space is something that has been new for me."
Things started to fall into place for Lily when she started to meet people through her local church and soon the opportunity arose to do something completely different and learn a range of new skills.
Volunteering with the Bunbury Volunteer Bushfire Brigade
After seeing a Facebook post from the Bunbury Volunteer Bushfire Brigade calling for new recruits, she reached out to the Volunteer South West office in Bunbury, a referral service that matches individuals with a range of volunteer roles in the local area.
“I met a lovely lady who asked me a variety of questions regarding my interests. I told her that my father was in the military and as a child I used to be around other service personnel and observe their training activities. I mentioned a Facebook post that I saw for the Bunbury Volunteer Bushfire Brigade and thought my experience could be useful with them.
“We perform regular drills and maintenance of equipment to prepare us for bushfire season, but we also do a lot of community engagement to showcase our work and to educate the public.
“Once I started, I soon realised it’s much more than taking a hose to put out a fire. You learn skills that allow you to deal with an emergency situation like first aid, problem-solving, communication and importantly, teamwork.”
Asked about her motivations for joining the fire brigade, Lily said she wanted to give something back to Australia for the opportunity to join the PALM scheme.
“Once the pandemic began our financial situation at home became quite difficult and we needed support, she said.
"It comes naturally for Pacific islanders to give back for what you have received. This is a way I can use my free time to support my community while also gaining additional skills.”
While Lily insists she has gained more from her fellow volunteers than she has given, her captain at the Bunbury Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, Terri Kowal, says that she has been a great asset to the group.
“Our fire crew are like a second family and Lily has fitted in very well,” said Kowal.
Lily hopes to put her new firefighting skills to use when she returns to Vanuatu.
“The fire brigade in Vanuatu has some significant capability gaps in equipment, infrastructure and access to the regional parts of the country, so I hope that my experience will help improve the delivery of emergency services in Vanuatu.”
Asked what advice she would give to any newly arrived PALM scheme workers, she says:
“Don’t get complacent. Get out and engage with the community. I came here as a PALM scheme worker but I’m going back as a firefighter. If I can do it, you can!”