When HMAS Adelaide sailed into Tongan waters on Australia Day, it was something of a homecoming for four Australian Defence Force personnel on board.
Among the 630 ship’s company and other embarked ADF personnel on board, there were three Navy sailors and one Army soldier of Tongan heritage.
All four are proud to return as part of the Australian Government response to assist Tonga recover from a volcanic eruption and tsunami on January 15.
For HMAS Adelaide's chaplain, returning to his birthplace as part of Operation Tonga Assist 2022 holds special significance.
“This is an unimaginable opportunity for me,” said Chaplain Simote Finau, who also participated in Operation Fiji Assist a year ago.
“I never expected to have the opportunity to help the people of Tonga, who are also part of my heritage.”
When he met his Tongan compatriots on board HMAS Adelaide, he said they all formed an instant bond.
“It seems to others who see us together that we met long ago, but that’s just the spirit of Tongans,” he said.
For Navy sailor Leading Seaman Christine Fine, whose Tongan parents immigrated to Australia in the 1980s, she feels privileged to be an Australian giving something back to her homeland.
“I just feel super blessed and lucky to be part of a dynamic and larger nation that can offer support to my island home,” she said.
Australian Army soldier Sergeant Alefosio Kakala was born in Tonga, but he attended primary school in Australia before returning to Tonga to attend high school. His extended family continue to live on the eastern part of the main island.
“I have a lot of aunties, uncles and cousins still in Tonga, as you can imagine,” Sergeant Kakala said.
“So being part of the Australian Defence Force on this unique opportunity to help Tonga is very emotional.
“My family, both back at home and around the globe, they all know I’m on this mission helping Tonga and they’re all very proud of me. Hopefully, I can represent them well.”
Being part of HMAS Adelaide’s crew on this humanitarian mission is particularly significant for Navy sailor Able Seaman Jimmy Hokafonu.
“Being able to go home is a great experience,” Able Seaman Hokafonu said.
“My parents were born back in Tonga, before coming to Australia. I still have family there to this day.
“To be able to help my people, my homeland, especially in a Navy uniform, is amazing. It’s going to be a great feeling.”
HMAS Adelaide arrived in Tonga to deliver more than 250 pallets of humanitarian stores, including water testing kits, tarpaulins, shelters, dignity and hygiene kits, and kitchen kits, as part of the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade-led mission.