A British Army staff sergeant is putting his Fijian background to good use building relationships on Exercise Puk Puk in Papua New Guinea.
CAPTION: British Army Staff Sergeant Kalivati Bakani on-site during Exercise Puk Puk at Goldie River Training Depot in Papua New Guinea. Story by British Army Staff Sergeant Kalivati Bakani on-site during Exercise Puk Puk at Goldie River Training Depot in Papua New Guinea. Photo by Sergeant Nunu Campos.
Engineers from the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF), Australian Army and British Army are working together to increase bonds and develop trade skills while improving existing infrastructure at the Goldie River Training Depot near Port Moresby.
Staff Sergeant Kalivati Bakani joined the British Army as a design draftsman in November 2007 at 18, straight out of high school.
“My family house is in Suva, but I am originally from the Island of Ovalau, my village is Arovudi,” Staff Sergeant Bakani said.
“I was always a quiet kid growing up. The big thing back home is growing up around extended family, that sense of communal living. The house was always full – a lot of joy, happiness.”
Aside from his new home town being much colder than Fiji, he found the pace a little quicker.
“One thing that is definitely different is that being in the islands is very laid back. We call it island time,” Staff Sergeant Bakani said.
“When I went over to the UK, life was very fast-paced.”
Staff Sergeant Bakani said it was great to be in PNG.
“As soon as we touched down from the plane, it felt like we were in the Pacific. I just feel like we’re back home with the weather,” he said.
“Even when we went to church and we had the welcoming church service, that just reminded me of services back home, where church is a big part of life.”
Despite speaking a different language to soldiers from the PNGDF, Staff Sergeant Bakani said his Pacific background made it easy to relate.
“I think they feel a bit more comfortable around me because the general culture is the same; I can relate to them, they can relate to me,” Staff Sergeant Bakani said.
“They have been telling me about some of their family backgrounds, teaching me some of the phrases that they use; I feel it does help to be from Fiji.”
The main scope of works for the joint contingent is the construction of a classroom, inert demolition training facility and upgrading a guard house at the depot.
Staff Sergeant Bakani’s job on the exercise is to ensure potential supporting tasks are conducted.
“If there is capacity over the project, we can just take the job and distribute the task to the troops. If they are two days ahead of their current job, they can complete the small task,” he said.
The annual engineering exercise, held to strengthen ties between the Australian Defence Force and the PNGDF, has been running since the early 2000s.