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In conversation with Creative Fellow Veisinia Tonga

14 June 2022

We caught up with 2022 Creative Fellow Veisinia Tonga to hear about her career path so far, and any words of wisdom she has for current students.

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Q&A 

Q: Hi Veisinia! Firstly, we can’t help but notice that you wear a lot of hats; journalist, florist, writer and co-founder. Can you tell us a bit about your career path up to now?

A: When I finished VCE I moved to Aotearoa for a few years. While I was there I studied journalism and did a cadetship working in some of the newspapers on the North Island and training under some of the greats in Pasifika Media. On my return to Australia I did two years of a public relations degree but decided that PR wasn’t what I wanted to do so I switched to Tafe and learned floristry. I worked my way to head designer and manager.

I loved event floristry and in particular designing large floral installations so I started my own business that specialises in this. I did some major installations for the Melbourne International Flower Show, Melbourne Immigration Museum, and for corporate spaces. That’s when floristry morphed in to an art practice. I wanted to design and create what I wanted and not according to someone else’s brief. My first major installation was a piece inspired by Mondrian for the Melbourne International Flower Show in the late 90s.

At present I am exploring traditional Tongan floral/kakala art, its cultural significance and as a vehicle for telling stories. I am also doing more writing, my first love. I’m grateful to have so many opportunities to create.

Q: How do you manage having such varied passions and projects?

A: I have a very short attention span. I get bored if something gets too repetitive. Having varied projects keeps things interesting. There is a continual loop of excitement created when you start and finish a project then move on to something new. It can sometimes get a bit overwhelming, if I take on too much, but I have learned to work at my own capacity, and to only take on work if it excites me and it gives me joy or an opportunity for growth and learning. I have learned to take on just enough and what that is for me personally. I take regular breaks in between to just lay around and read a book for pleasure or to binge watch something. Rest is self love.

Q: Students for the past couple of years have spent a lot of time learning from home. Do you have any advice to help them find inspiration as they return to the classroom?

A: We’re living through unprecedented times. It’s becoming cliche to describe our world this way, however, it’s important that we remember this as we adjust and face these challenges. It’s okay to not feel okay, if you are having trouble finding inspiration you’re not alone.

Personally, I find doing something creative helps. Learn something new or do something you’ve never done before. Learn how to knit or crochet, learn coding, buy some rollerskates, climb a tree. Do creative things unrelated to what you are learning academically. I spend time with people I feel completely comfortable with and if I venture out to any major events or to public spaces I take a comfort buddy with me for support. Talk to your friends and family if you are feeling overwhelmed. We’re all figuring this out together and friends are helpful in unpacking these unfamiliar feelings with.

Q: Out of curiosity, what kind of student were you? Did you enjoy the education environment?

A: I was an awful student. My assignments were always late and I was easily distracted. I spent a lot of time in detention or sitting in the co-ordinators office. When I enjoyed a subject I excelled at it but if something didn’t interest me I struggled to stay focused. I only liked going to school because it was where my friends were.

I did highschool in the 80s and our curriculum included subjects that were designed to make us good little house wives. Subjects like home economics and sewing. It is no wonder we became disruptive. I did the bare minimum just to get a pass. I loved reading and writing so a lot of my learning was self-directed. I deep dived into things I though were cool and consumed mountains of books. Fantasy, sci-fi, spy novels, biographies. I spent a lot of time in the State Library in my youth researching obscure subjects. I was obsessed with world politics and read the major newspapers cover to cover.

I grew up in the cold war era, there was a lot of scare mongering and propaganda in the papers. I joined the communist party and spent my weekends going to meetings and listening to ‘radical’ ideas. I went to protests and combined cynicism with teen angst. I was that annoying kid who always had an opinion on everything and a conspiracy theory to match.

Q: Your 2022 fellowship project plans to cast light on Tongan daily life before European contact using the memoirs and accounts of early missionaries and explorers. How do you motivate yourself to get started on such a substantial piece of work?

A: This project is a passion project. It excites me, so my motivation level is high. I’m eager to discover new things about this period. It’s like panning for gold. Every new book or document may hold a gem of information that is new and that may add to my understanding of what life was like for us back then. The challenge for me is pulling myself out of it and re-focusing on the other projects I have on.

It’s a substantial undertaking and it can be overwhelming I feel the weight of responsibility to do my best for my community and for future generations. I constantly ask myself 'what are my blind spots?' so I consult widely with my elders in order to lessen these and broaden my understanding.

Another challenge is to not get sidetracked by snippets of information that I find interesting and go off on a tangent. I constantly have to remind myself of the parameters of my research to stop from going down a different rabbit hole.

Q: Thanks for your time! Finally, we’d love to hear how your fellowship is going so far?

A: The first few months of the year has been a bit full on because of projects coming back all at once when lockdown lifted. I’ve done less than I would have liked to so far. There have been some exciting finds and I’ve found some gems. I am looking forward to what else will come out of the extensive collection and from my conversations with elders. My calendar is clearing and I look forward to losing myself in the collections again.