Fruit Pickers to Premiers: The Kaufusi story
Mum and Dad are from matahau, a few kilometres west of Nuku’alofa, in tonga. They had the first three of their nine kids – Monica, Antonio, Lotiola, Magdalene, Seini, Patrick, Moana, Mele and Me – in tonga before moving to Auckland. That’s where I was born.
When I was seven, we moved to Bowen in Far North Queensland for a year before settling down in Bundaberg. Mum and Dad were determined to make a better life for their kids and Bundy was the place that offered us the most opportunity.
Mum and Dad were fruit pickers. They would pick whatever was in season, always for long hours and sometimes for seven days a week. They’d go from mangoes to tomatoes to watermelons to lychees. Everything.
On the weekends, or when we weren’t in school, all the kids would go out and help Mum and Dad in the orchards or the fields. When I was little, I would sleep in the car while they were out there picking and bring them out water.
When I was older, Dad would drag me out of bed to help out with the picking. It wasn’t much fun. Fruit picking is bloody hard work. By the end of the day your lower back is blown out. It’s hour after hour after hour of bending and lifting. I look back now and think, ‘Far out, how did we ever do that?’ At the same time, I reckon it made me.
It taught me that life ain’t easy. It taught me the values of hard work and helping others rather than just thinking about yourself.
Every little bit counted back then. We’d do whatever we could to earn a few extra dollars to help the family out. It didn’t matter if it was school holidays or weekends. We were all out there working for each other.