Fijian Ferrari celebrates winning bid to stay here
FOR THE second time this year Nemani Valekapa has been named a Queensland resident, but this time his family is along for the ride.
One of the stars of the Ipswich Jets rugby league team, the 'Fijian Ferrari' found out this week his long-term fight for Australian residency was finally over.
Even though he was named in the Queensland Residents representative team this year, the day-time labourer has had the threat of deportation hanging over his head since his sports visa ran out in August last year.
It took the support of Brisbane Broncos 'supercoach' Wayne Bennett to save Valekapa's wife and two young children from leaving their dream life in Ipswich forever.
"It's a wonderful feeling," Valekapa said. "My wife and I have been fighting so hard for this for our kids.
"We have had some low times and tears over the uncertainty of not knowing and I'm just so thankful that I came to the right place, the right people and the right community.
"When we opened the letter on Monday my wife was shaking. Now I can work and it's like losing this heavy thing I have been carrying all this time."
Bennett was instrumental in the application going through. He helped garner the support of NRL boss Todd Greenberg who was concerned that the Fijian winger had played the majority of his football in 'park football' with Fassifern.
Along with letters of support from Mayor Paul Pisasale and Blair MP Shayne Neumann, the Valekapa's were given the final tick of approval by Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton.
Looking back on the long journey since first arriving in Australia with the Fijian national team in 2008, the Jets centre said he couldn't believe how much rugby league had changed his life.
"Just from football I got this opportunity," he said. "When I first came over I played with the Fassifern Bombers and I wanted to push myself just a little bit more for them.
"Then I went to the Jets and I wanted to push myself a little harder again. That's when I made my mind up that I wanted to stay here for my family and see my kids go to a good school and have this life.
"It was hard but I just tried to do my best every day to put a smile on my face when I came to training and always think positive for my family. It was pretty special for us to find out and we are not forgetting the Ipswich community for their support."
For Nemani's wife Va, the long fight to remain in Australia has only made the family stronger. Celebrating their seventh anniversary this month, the couple couldn't have asked for a better present.
"We have learnt to be strong and just work hard," she said. "We had to work our butts off for this and when you get it, it's a different feeling than being having it handed to you.
"So many people have helped us but I'd like to thank the Fassifern Christian Church, Kalbar State School and the Fassifern Bombers club for their support."
With Nemani Jnr and Sereana enrolled at Kalbar State School, the two future Australians have a head start on learning the family's new national anthem.
"I still only know Aussie, Aussie, Aussie," Valekapa admitted. "The boys all started singing the Australian anthem when I told them the news at training. Now I will have to learn the words properly."