• A commissioned illustration for the SBS Voices 'Straight Up Islander' collection by artist Tori-Jay Mordey. (Tori-Jay Mordey)Source: Tori-Jay Mordey
‘Straight Up Islander’ acts as a reclamation, an extension and a celebration of who we are, where we came from and how we want to be.
Winnie Siulolovao Dunn

11 Oct 2021 - 10:22 AM  UPDATED 13 Oct 2021 - 9:58 AM

Aside from First Nations people of so-called Australia, we are all descendants of migrants. Migration – to move from one place to another – has a deep meaning and history to those who identify with the many island groups and oceanways of the South Pacific. In a colonial context, we are known as Pacific Islanders – a term which was first used in 1785 to refer to those who were ‘native’ to ‘Polynesia’, ‘Melanesia’ and/or ‘Micronesia’. Much like how ‘Australia’ is a term forced upon First Nations people, ‘Pacific Islander’ is not a term we chose for ourselves. It certainly was not a term which came from the voyagers who used tā (time) and vā (space) to navigate between islands and oceanways now known as Tonga, Sāmoa, Fiji, Aotearoa, Tokelau, Hawai’i, Tahiti, Kiribati, Niue, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, West Papua, Torres Strait Islands and more.

‘Straight Up Islander’ is a collection of articles which reflect the ancestral and colonial history, nuances, intersections and short-comings of the term ‘Pacific Islander’, recognising our personal, political and geographical relationships to so-called Australia. ‘Straight Up Islander’ acts as a reclamation, an extension and a celebration of who we are, where we came from and how we want to be.

Together, their stories showcase the mana (strong spirit) of the complicated identities of ‘Islander’

This collection is broken into two parts (the second instalment coming later in 2021) – each of which feature five awe-inspiring writers who have either migrated from the smaller islands of the South Pacific Ocean or identify with those islands and oceanways because of their specific ancestry and heritage. Together, their stories showcase the mana (strong spirit) of the complicated identities of ‘Islander’ in so-called Australia. The writers bear witness to the ancient and modern narratives of our ancestral history, how to heal trauma, the unique ways in which COVID19 has changed our cultures, the localised forms of migration that we make as indigenous settlers across Aboriginal lands, how we find ourselves blended between cultures within and outside the South Pacific, and the ways in which being Indigenous, being Islander and being Black can intersect. These articles also uplift our understanding of ancient South Pacific art methods, which clash and blend with Western artforms; they extend our definitions of ‘Islander’, especially in regards to the Fijian-Indian community; they mould our ancient practices into modern ones; and they empower us to speak of the tapus (taboos) in our cultures.


To accompany these powerful and diverse pieces of writing, ‘Straight Up Islander’ also features a striking and vivid new image produced by the incredible Tori-Jay Mordey, a First Nations illustrator and artist with Torres Strait Islander and English heritage. Mālō ‘aupito!

I hope these stories bring from margin to centre the voices of communities in so-called Australia that are so often left to the wayside. To my fellow Islanders, I hope these stories reveal new ways we can know each other. To my fellow migrants, I hope these stories reveal new ways of knowing us. And to the First Nations people who host us, on whose lands we are guests, I hope these stories reveal how humbled we are by your sovereignty which was never ceded.

Winnie Dunn is the general manager of Sweatshop Western Sydney Literacy Movement, and guest editor of SBS Voices' Straight Up Islander series, showcasing the work of writers with ancestral ties across Oceania. 

Straight Up Islander
Honouring the ancient Oceanic kinship of my ancestors
My mother and father have always made it known to me, that the keepers of the Land, Earth and Soil cannot be separated from the Keepers of the Seas, Oceans, Water Ways and River Systems.
I changed my name to honour my Sāmoan ancestors
When I was really little, I was taught to speak in Sāmoan and Persian, the first languages of my parents. But by the time I was in Year 1... I had my tongues and names cut from me.
How a Samoan legend helped me cope with my trauma
I am reminded of Sina’s perseverance as she fled, of the way her thighs must have burned and her hair must have stuck to the back of her neck.
Moving back to Western Sydney helped me reclaim my Tongan identity and heal from childhood racism
I never felt different, because Blacktown was weaved with stories of hundreds of migrant families, like mine, and the sound of many native tongues that echoed in Westpoint mingled together in harmony.
Mourning with my Tongan family in the age of Zoom
As the eldest siblings, it would have fallen on us to provide assistance if we were there so we reconnected via Facebook Messenger and the numerous conversations we had (and still have) reduced me to tears.