“Culture is in my blood. Growing up we started going to church, with our parents, we don't have a choice,” says Archie Atiau. “You don't talk back to your parents, you get a good walloping if you talk back.”
For Atiau, it is that culture running deep in his blood from his upbringing on Pukapuka, that makes him appreciate Cook Islands teaching and values. He knows it is important to keep it alive.
Atiau moved from New Zealand to Brisbane in 2010, where he was Pukapuka community president. The more he tried to focus more on his personal life, the call of culture and his community people kept reaching him.
He later became treasurer of the Queensland Cook Islands Council, and then president.
In Australia, he says, he saw his people needed cultural empowerment more than they did in New Zealand. The hardest challenge was to find a venue to support their people and their cultural events.
Now, with the opening of Base HQ, he is excited that his people have a place to embrace their community.
Base HQ is a place to cater for Cook Islands cultural events whether it be a wedding, a birthday, a hair cutting ceremony, graduation events or the annual Te Maeva Nui celebration – it is the hub of keeping Cook Islands culture alive in Queensland.
Atiau said at the same time, Cook Islanders coming in to Queensland to fundraise or host an event need not worry because Base HQ has the space for it.
The Council has always planned to get a property; few would have dreamed of the Base hall which has standing room for more than 400 people.
“This is a place for our own people, to cater for our events. There are a lot of places in Australia but they did not have the flexibility we wanted. Our people have been here for years, we needed our own space.”
They opened in February; just a few weeks later Covid hit them hard. It wasn’t their health that was hit (there have been no cases from their Cook Island community) but their incomes.
So they needed to think outside the box, to get some money rolling in.
“We did not want to burden our people with fundraising. We don’t want our people to rely on others but to know the market is out there.”
So, with a lot of teamwork, they managed to open a coffee shop known as Base Cafe within Base HQ.
“We have to be creative and make it sustainable.”
Atiau, a business consultant, says this has helped keep income coming in. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
He acknowledges other Pasifika communities like the Samoan community for supporting them during this time.
Now, Base HQ plans to employ people when they open a merchandise shop later in the year.
The shop is to assist young entrepreneurs promote their labels and to reach a wider market.
“There are so many talented entrepreneurs whose designs and products are sold by word of mouth or online,” he says. “The merchandise shop will be a platform for our people. Those who make tivaivai will also showcase their products here.”
Cook Islanders are thriving in Brisbane, Atiau says, with young people investing their money in small business to help themselves and the community.
“They are not just sitting around, it's great and we are proud as we see them grow, they are making use of this Covid and Covid is making people take ownership and invest into something.”
Atiau says he is blessed to be surrounded by open-minded people, including his wife and children.
He has called on his people back home to not let Covid affect their lives. There are ways to earn income that don’t rely too much on tourism.
“We are already sitting on a goldmine, we have our ocean and we have the luxury of our 15 islands filled with root crops and coconuts, the skills and talents.
“When walking on the beach, we are walking on money, the shells are a means of innovative ideas and designs,” he explains.
“So don't let Covid consume you. There are means to get income, rather than asking questions that will create doubt, support organisations that have a view for the better future of our people.
“These are hard times, we are our worst enemies, support each other and we can be as successful as the outside world.”