Students

Starry, starry life

Jack Tougen

For IT student Jack Tougen, childhood was spent far, far from a computer screen. There’s not even electricity where he comes from.

Paama

Paama is one of 85 islands in Vanuatu and has 1600 residents.

Until the age of 12, Jack lived with his grandfather on the tiny island of Paama in Vanuatu, completely off grid. His village had no power, and the only mod con in the house was a battery-operated radio, broadcasting the mainland’s news at 7am each day.

“I knew nothing pretty much about the outside world,” Jack says. “Childhood was spent hunting, fishing, swimming in the ocean and helping my grandpa in the garden.”

He says with no employment, villagers survive through subsistence farming. They speak their own language (one of 116 languages in Vanuatu), and move to their own island time.

Now, the boy who learnt via pencil and paper, is studying cutting edge technology in Bendigo. It’s a long way from home, in every sense.

“I’ve gone from a very basic life to a fast life – I have both kinds of worlds in my head now,” Jack says. “At some point growing up I felt like I’d been left behind from the rest of the world, but I do appreciate those days of living with nature.”

When Jack turned 12 he moved to Efate Island to attend a boarding secondary school, where he studied for six years.

After high school he started playing soccer for the national league. “In Vanuatu soccer is very big, and the teams organise jobs for their players,” he says.

Jack found himself working for a five-star hotel in Port Vila, first as a gardener, then a porter, then a night auditor. “That’s when I met this family from Bendigo. They had come over for a holiday. They had a problem with their room and I helped them out.”

Jack took the family under his wing, taking them to the local hot spots. They, in turn, sponsored him to come to Australia. “I’d never heard of Bendigo before, but I think this place is just magic,” he says. “There’s friendly, beautiful people, it’s a beautiful place.”

Jack’s found the sky’s the limit for him here. He’s in the Bendigo Astronomical Society, and gained his pilot’s licence with the Bendigo Flying Club. (In Vanuatu he also flew seaplanes.) Although it hasn’t all been smooth flying. Six years ago, on a routine joy flight around central Victoria, he experienced engine failure over Rochester.

“I panicked,” he says. “Then I glided the plane down in a paddock, 10 miles south west of Echuca. I just missed the powerlines. Cattle went running out of my way. That was on the 26h of February in 2010. I have a drink each year on that day to celebrate that I’m still living on this earth.”

Still working at local producers B&B Basil, still playing soccer for Golden City, still doing the odd modelling job, still studying, flying and star gazing.

“That’s one thing that’s similar to my home village,” he says. “The sky here is beautiful. So clear, just perfect.”

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