A group of Tongan-Australians have banded together to break the cycle of over-eating in their community.
- Brumby Fitness started with a small group of Tongan-Australians training together to improve their health
- The group now has more than 50 members and the model is being expanded interstate and overseas
- It aims to combat the culture of over-eating and improve connections in the Pacific Island community
After a serious health scare earlier this year, Toni Tu’ulakitau knew he had to change his life.
Recovering from surgery and with a young family, the Canberra lawyer decided to prioritise his wellbeing.
So he started training with a group of friends at 4:00am.
“Some of the blokes were weighing in at 160kg and I was recovering,” Mr Tu’ulakitau said.
Word soon got out and more people came along to train – three months later and the group has grown to more than 50 active members – from teenagers to the elderly.
They train six days a week, starting in the early hours of the morning, and have expanded the workout program to include cardio and fitness classes like Zumba, yoga, and Boxfit.
“It happened by accident, we sort of decided to expand the message about looking after your health and driving positive health in our Pacific community, but more importantly our own community, the Tongan community,” he said.
The expansion has seen the group name itself Brumby Fitness: Kalapu Kau Vaivai, which means Club of the Weak or Elderly and it has also set up a leadership committee.
“If you have a look at the dictionary [Brumby] means unbroken horse, we are unbroken people, spiritually and in every way,” Brumby Fitness committee president Fihi Kivalu said.
“But we all love to eat … we wanted to counter that.”
Group acts as circuit breaker to over-eating culture
Members of the group said weight-related health issues were a big challenge facing the Pacific Island diaspora in Australia.
High rates of obesity put the community at high risk of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, kidney and heart disease.
The group hopes Brumby Fitness will help act as a preventative health platform.
Richard Taumoepeau is a third-year medical student and the group’s medical adviser.
Each week, he weighs and measures the members to help track their progress.
He also gives basic diet and health advice while urging members to visit their GPs for ongoing issues.
“Just little things, to encourage them, little small changes, something that can be sustainable,” he said.
“I encourage them: ‘Don’t get bogged down with the scales’, [focus] on the other improvements like finding more energy during the day, feeling a lot better.”
Mr Taumoepeau said it had been satisfying to see success across the generations.
“Then they will start working on their diet because we’re monitoring their weekly weight and then they start seeing the correlation between tweaking their diet and the changes on the scale and their waistline.”
Forging stronger community connections
The group is not just about physical fitness.
It is also about building a community and improving mental health through social engagement.
“There is a big barricade in our culture where a lot of the oldies and women are left behind.
“This platform here allows them to come here and express themselves, to come here to exercise, to come here to do training, but also to mingle with other people in the community – that is important.”
Expanding the model interstate and overseas
Brumby Fitness has also made waves on social media.
The group has followers across Australia and overseas in New Zealand and the United States.
It is working with groups in Sydney and Melbourne to set up similar programs in those cities.
“This is an opportunity for Brumby Fitness to excel, not only in exercising but also to reach out to the Pacific, the whole community,” Mr Kivalu said.
“We will continue to push, to do everything we can to assist and make sure that they can help the community and reach out to them.
“It’s about helping others, and that there’s nothing else besides getting healthy, staying healthy and living a healthy lifestyle.”
Gym welcomes group with open arms
Gym Club Lime added 5:00am classes to its timetable to accommodate the Brumby Fitness group in recognition of its success.
“Normally I put on a class, check the numbers, work with time slots that normally work,” Club Lime Woden manager Diane Patch said.
“But when you’ve already got a group of 30 people who want to do a class, I was quite happy to find an instructor and make it work for them.”
Ms Patch even became a member of the group herself after coming in early to help with memberships.
“Once I was here at 5:30am, saw the energy of the group, I just thought: ‘There’s a bit of weekday motivation in there for me to just come along and join in,” she said.
She said she had seen communities develop in gyms before, but never this quickly.
“Usually it takes time, consistency, but this group has just grown really fast and it’s actually going really well,” she said.
“Definitely huge satisfaction, seeing that happening on such a large scale in a gym that was empty at 4:00am before.”