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One Torres Strait Islander woman’s incredible journey to success

05 July 2021

This NAIDOC Week, we caught up with proud Torres Strait Islander and Wuthathi woman, Kantesha Takai to learn about her career achievements and to find out what NAIDOC Week means to her.

The daughter of a Crayfisherman, she was born and raised in the Torres Strait and has lived on Iama (Yam Island), Waibene (Thursday Island) and Muralug (Prince of Wales Island).

Kantesha attributes her career to the strong work ethic gained at very early age when helping her Dad during school holidays. Passionate about sharing her knowledge and skills with her people, Kantesha strives to inspire to others to chase their dreams, start businesses, invest and reach their goals.

As the youngest member of Advance Queensland’s Business and Innovation Reference Group, Kantesha is helping provide a voice for Torres Strait Islander businesses. She is also a trainer for Advance Queensland’s One Business Program. This is her story.

Tell us who you are, where your mob are from and where you grew up… 

My name is Kantesha Takai. I am a proud Torres Strait Islander and Wuthathi woman, living on Waibene (Thursday Island) in Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait).

I was born and raised in the Torres Strait. Growing up on Muralug (Prince of Wales Island) was such a unique upbringing as we didn’t have running water or electricity and we were 100% reliant on solar, generators and water tanks.

Getting to school each day involved waiting for the school ferry at the beach, then walking out into the water, climbing a ladder and catching the school ferry to Thursday Island.

As the daughter of a Crayfisherman, I spent a lot of my school holidays camping while my dad worked.  When I was old enough, I helped him with his work and learnt a lot about the seafood industry. This taught me the meaning of hard work from a very young age.

Please tell us a little bit about your career and achievements …

In 2008, I graduated as School Dux at Thursday Island State High School. Shortly after, I moved to Brisbane to study a Bachelor of Mass Communication at the Queensland University of Technology.

My partner Corey Ward (who is now my fiancé) moved to Brisbane with me and supported me through university – working full time, while I held part-time work and studied.

It wasn’t until we were 22 years of age that our ‘life’ really ‘started.’ At this time, Corey started a mature-aged traineeship with the National Australia Bank (NAB) and I had finished university. I started working in marketing for the finance, property and investment sectors while freelancing, offering marketing services to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Corey and I were sponges, we soaked up everything we could learn and combining our finance and property knowledge and by 23 years of age we purchased our first property. Fast-forward to 2021 and we are now owners of six investment properties across Queensland.

In 2017, Corey was offered the opportunity to return home to the Torres Strait and become the Branch Manager of the only NAB branch in the region. So, after 10-years of living in Brisbane, we decided to accept the offer and move home.

On returning to the Torres Strait, I continued freelancing and soon recognised the need for a removals service in the region. That’s when we started Strait Removals – a 100% Indigenous owned and operated relocation business. The business quickly gained exposure and a client base that predominately serviced government.

At the time, I didn’t see myself as being a ‘business owner’ but rather, as an opportunist – someone who saw a gap in the market and filled it. Strait Removals employed local people, which for me, was more rewarding than having a thriving business.

Through Strait Removals, I developed relationships with services like the IBA, Advance Queensland and NIAA and discovered business support I never knew existed.

In 2019, I travelled to Vancouver to attend the World Indigenous Business Forum and participated in a number of IBA workshops for entrepreneurs and young aspiring business owners. I also became a member of the Advance Queensland Business and Innovation Reference Group (BIRG) – all while still running a business, working full-time and freelancing.

These new experiences were intriguing and opened my eyes to the business world. It also made me realise, I couldn’t continue to sustain a full-time job, freelance and run a business all at once. In 2020, I decided to sell Strait Removals to an amazing young Torres Strait Islander. To this day Strait Removals continues to operate and grow and I love seeing it flourish and expand.

With an ever-growing client base and requests for my freelance marketing services, I decided to focus on launching and operating my own boutique marketing agency. In 2019, I launched Lola Digital and we work primarily with community-minded organisations and not-for-profits. It provides clients with support across traditional and digital marketing including website development, social media management, graphic design, videography and photography, event management and strategic/marketing planning.

My passion for supporting my people to develop their businesses is why I chose to come on board as a trainer for the Advance Queensland One Business program. As a One Business trainer, I have the opportunity to pursue my passion and focus on helping my people and empowering them with knowledge to start and pursue their business dreams.

With a love for travel and travel photography, Corey and I also share travel and landscape photography captured in our free time. This has led to an incredible opportunity for me to produce works for the Queensland Museum as part of the Island Futures exhibition which opened in June 2021. Our photography showcases the beauty of Zenadth Kes and highlights our lifestyle.

Since returning home, Corey and I have been on a mission to recreate the adventures we remember as children.

What progress are you most personally proud of in relation your work?

Since turning 23 years of age, I have been ‘on the go’. Corey and I have worked hard to build our careers, build businesses, invest in property and attain financial freedom. I haven’t really had the chance to stop, take a breath and look back on my achievements. But if I could put down one thing, I’d say I’m most proud of being back home in a position where I’m able to share my knowledge and skills with my people and inspire others to chase their dreams, start businesses, invest and reach their goals.

Why did you become an Advance Queensland Business and Innovation Reference Group (BIRG) member? 

I’m the youngest member of the BIRG and when I was first appointed, I wasn’t sure if I could add any value. However, I am so passionate about developing the Torres Strait region’s business sector, our remoteness creates so many barriers and we face more challenges than business that operate on the mainland. I knew that the appointment would come with responsibility to my people and to my region and I make every effort to ensure the Torres Strait and NPA regions (and our challenges) are always considered in Indigenous business discussions.

Why is it important for programs such as Advance Queensland to play an active role in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander innovators, businesses, and more broadly, communities?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already face challenges like systemic racism and stereotyping. It’s crucial that Advance Queensland and other similar programs support our people, so they have an equal chance at succeeding in business. I don’t see these programs as a ‘hand-out’ or ‘leg up’. Rather, they simply help level the playing field, they give us a voice and a ‘fair go’ in an environment where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses are potentially overlooked, misjudged and undervalued.

What does NAIDOC Week mean to you?

NAIDOC Week is a chance to celebrate the achievements and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Why is it important for Queenslanders to celebrate NAIDOC Week? 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders only represent about 2% of the country’s population. Therefore, NAIDOC week is one of the many opportunities presented to non-Indigenous Australians to learn about our cultures, accept our shared histories and join us in a non-confrontational way. It creates an opportunity for Queenslander’s and Australia to understand us, support us and celebrate our rich cultures. NAIDOC week should be celebrated by every organisation and business in Australia, regardless if they employ Indigenous peoples.