Breaking Barriers

As I stepped into our familiar lounge, now beautifully decorated (it went through its Cinderella moment), I found myself on the brink of an adventure- my very first formal dinner. Our guest of honor, Dr. Siupeli Haukoloa-Paea, was armed with wit, an arsenal of fun stories, and an energy level that lit up the room. He turned to me, offered me an infectious grin, and, in an almost-perfect Indonesian accent, casually uttered “Apa kabar?” (how are you). As an Indonesian, hearing that familiar greeting instantly added a touch of warmth, making my first formal dinner feel more welcoming and personal.

A proud Torres Strait Islander and Tongan, Dr Siupeli regaled us with anecdotes from his childhood, offering us a glimpse into Indigenous culture. With the clinking of cutlery, Dr Siupeli’s stories took center stage. One moment I was taking a bite of my filo pastry, and the next, I’ve got a VIP pass to an opera! He broke into a song called Laga Ina which was a heartfelt tribute to his heritage and ancestors. In sharing his life story, he spoke about how it was a rite of passage for Indigenous people to become rugby players or security guards. But he was committed to forge his own path. His determination led him to pursue higher education- the first in his family- where he then went on to become a Podiatric surgeon. Dr. Siupeli has not only opened doors for a more diverse presence in the medical field but is also an inspiration, encouraging us to create our own narrative and to strive to make a difference. As someone entering the healthcare field, his words struck a chord in me (pun intended), inspiring me to navigate the path ahead with determination, perseverance, and maybe a compass to get around campus.

As I left my first formal dinner, I carried with me not just the delicious food, but motivation and a heightened appreciation for diversity and Indigenous culture.

To learn more about the Indigenous culture, visit the Gadigal Centre in the John Wooley Building (A20) from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 am.


Article by: Simran Vaswani (Mandelbaum resident)

Photography: Andres Zambrano (Mandelbaum resident)