Gunnedah farmers hope royal visit will ease labor shortages

In what is believed to be an Australian first, a community in north-west New South Wales welcomed royalty with a visit from a Tongan princess.

Residents, farmers and council members of Gunnedah welcomed Princess Angelika Lātūfuipeka Tukuʻaho who signed a twinning agreement between the town and central Tonga suburb Kolomotu’a.

The Gunnedah Shire Council is believed to be the first Australian council to have such a relationship with Tonga, which was first approved last year.

The Princess said the occasion was significant for both cities.

“It’s a very historic day for both Kolomotu’a and Gunnedah and because of the opportunities for people to come and help in different sectors and areas,” she said.

A man and women are sitting at a table and signing a document.
Gunnedah Mayor Jamie Chaffey and Princess Angelika Lātūfuipeka Tukuʻaho sign the twinning agreement.(ABC New England North West: Lani Oataway)

Skills and Workforce Building

As a crowd gathered to witness the signing, Mayor Jamie Chaffey said the bond would help address Gunnedah’s labor shortages.

“There are a lot of different aspects to this relationship that [provide] a benefit to our community in the future,” he said.

“We have already seen the fruits of our labor with more people from Tonga filling some of the vacancies in Gunnedah County, mainly in agriculture.

“Going forward, there is a plan for Tonga to get the skills and qualifications they need to help us fill those positions as well.”

Four Tongan men stand in red shirts.
Tongan seasonal workers liked to see the princess.(ABC New England North West: Lani Oataway)

Citrus grower Robert Hoddle has employed Tongan workers for many years.

“From an agriculture perspective, this will hopefully provide an avenue for people to come and work here,” he said.

“Part of what we also do is train people to come here and get skills, or the training will be in Tonga before they leave for particular jobs.”

A canola crop with mountains in the background, August 2020.
Gunnedah is heavily dependent on Tonga for its agricultural labor.(ABC: Jennifer Ingall)

William Koloamatangi was one of the seasonal present for the signing.

He worked in a slaughterhouse in Tamworth and made the hour-long trip to see the Princess and witness a milestone for his country.

A Tongan man stands in a red shirt.
Mr. Koloamatangi hopes the new agreement will provide plenty of work for Tongans in the future.(ABC New England North West: Lani Oataway)

“To be honest, I’m speechless, really happy because this is a big milestone, not only for us who are already on the programs, but for those who are about to come in the future,” said Mr. Koloamatangi.

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