Pacific Islanders in regional Victoria

The research project Pacific Islanders in regional Victoria: settlers, visitors, and overstayers is an ARC Linkage project (LP 150100385, 2015-2018) funded by the Australian Research Council and La Trobe University’s Research Focus Area ‘Transforming Human Societies’. It is conducted by researchers in the Department of Social Inquiry, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at La Trobe University and Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council.

Our partners are: Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council and Mallee Sports Assembly


This project aims to understand the socio-economic situation of Pacific people living in the Mildura/Robinvale area of Victoria. The aim is to investigate how different immigration statuses impact on people’s lives including aspects such as access to public services, interactions within and across ethnic groups, and trans-local and transnational practices. The project will shed new light on Australian regional migration and bring marginalised regional populations into discussions of migration and transnationalism.

Five key research questions are being addressed:

  1. What are the implications for Pacific Islander communities in the region of their involvement with horticultural industries?
  2. What issues do Pacific Islanders face in mobilising social capital and accessing public services?
  3. What are the experiences and future aspirations of Pacific Islander youth in the region?
  4. What is the nature of Pacific Islanders’ relationships with other ethnic groups in the region?
  5. What trans-local and transnational networks do Pacific Islanders in the region maintain?


Professor Helen Lee

Helen Lee is Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Social Inquiry, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at La Trobe University in Melbourne. She has a BA (Hons) from Macquarie University in Sydney and PhD from the Australian National University in Canberra. Since the 1980s her research has focused on the people of Tonga, both in their home islands in the South Pacific and in the diaspora, particularly in Australia. Her doctoral research on Tongan childhood was published in 1996 as Becoming Tongan: an ethnography of childhood (H. Morton, University of Hawaii Press). She has published widely on migration and transnationalism, with a particular focus on the children of migrants, including Tongans overseas: between two shores (H. Lee, University of Hawai’i Press 2003); Ties the homeland: second generation transnationalism (H. Lee, ed. Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2008); and Migration and transnationalism: Pacific perspectives, co-edited with Steve Tupai Francis (ANU Press 2009). Her recent work has focused on overseas-born Tongan youth who attend high school in Tonga, and the impact of their experience on their cultural identity. She also works for the Pacific Leadership Program on projects with the Tonga National Leadership Development Program.

Mr Dean Wickham

Mr Dean Wickham (Partner Investigator) is Executive Officer of Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council. He has been managing a number of grants and programs to deliver sevices to migrant communities in Mildura, Robinvale and surrounding areas.  Collaborating with other stake holders including various researchers and government bodies, he works as an advocate for marginalised CALD communities and has experience in implementing new programs for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who face difficulties in their lives.

Dr Makiko Nishitani

Dr Makiko Nishitani is a Research Associate on the project based in the department of Social Inquiry at La Trobe University. Makiko is an anthropologist who completed her PhD on Tongan migrants in Australia in 2014. She has published articles on Tongan migrant women in the diaspora. For this project, she spent total of 6 months in Mildura, Robinvale and the surrounding area, conducting fieldwork in 2014, 2016 and 2017.


  • Nishitani, M & Lee, H 2017 (in press) “Invisible Islanders: precarious work and Pacific Islander settlers in rural Australia” Pacific Studies, vol. 40, no. 3
  • Chief Investigator Professor Helen Lee was interviewed to discuss the situation of Pacific Islander settlers in rural Australia.

Useful links

Contacts and Social Media

For further information about this project, please contact:

Professor Helen Lee
Department of Social Inquiry
La Trobe University
T: +61 3 9479 2749

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