Dabawenyos Down Under

In 2005 at the height of the nursing boom in the Philippines, Ateneo de Davao University delivered its first batch of graduates from its College of Nursing. In that pioneering batch were bossom friends Nicel, Laura, Paula, Glady and Meng.

Like most of fresh nursing graduates of that period, they shared the same dream of landing a job overseas. After completing the required work experience in the country, Nicel (Fe Jonicel Tiu) and Paula (Jean Paula Pang) took the uncommon route to employment in Australia in 2008 by getting themselves short-term business visa before taking a bridging course that lasted three months before getting their working visa and landing a job in Perth, Western Australia.

Laura (Laura May Salvio) followed suit entering by way of West Australia and landed a job in the mining mecca of Kalgoorlie. Meng (Mae Cathleen Sia) then landed a job in Sydney and Glady (Gladiola Perez) in New Zealand then later moved to Sydney.


The five Ateneo pioneering nurses are but some of the many Filipino professionals from Davao who now make Australia their home. Today, the standards for overseas-born nurses working in Australia have become stringent and the number of entries dwindling with the new regulations.

“We were perhaps lucky to have made it here when the demand was high and the regulations not too strict,” said Tiu (now Mrs. Caralos), married to a Dabawenyo doctor and permanently settled in Perth with two kids Gavin and Riley. She works at Fremantle Hospital.

“Australia is a perfect fit for me, most specifically Perth where the pace is not as crazy as it could be in bigger cities around the world. The cost of living as well is not too high,” added Pang (now Mrs. Bravo), who has found a home in Perth with her Dabawenyo husband and three-year old son Magnus. Like Nicel, she works at Fremantle Hospital.

Nicel, Paula, Laura (now married to Vietnamese nurse Tony Bui and living in Brisbane), Meng and Glady are among

2.4 million Filipinos working in the land Down Under, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

These Australia-based OFWs account for 2.2 percent of the country’s foreign remittances.

Australia, given its vast opportunities, lively cities and amazing landscapes, is among the top preferred destinations for Filipinos seeking new horizons.

Recent records show 10 percent of OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) have headed to Australia, and that number has been growing despite the dip in the demand for nurses. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2017, the number of overseas-born Filipinos had risen from 171,233 in 2011 to 232,386 in 2016.


Another Davao-born nurse practicing his profession in Australia is Danny Nagayo in Melbourne. Danny also took the three-month bridging course before landing a job in Melbourne. Today, Danny works part-time nurse and part-time businessman. His two children Ella and Daniel also got golf scholarships in Melbourne primary schools and are making waves in the Victoria junior golf circuit.

Danny’s wife, former Davao City councilor lawyer Rachel Zozobrado-Nagayo was recently appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as Labor Attache for Australia at the Philippine Embassy in Canberra.

For Danny, anyone can succeed in Australia with determination and good work ethic.

But not all those who come to Australia hold professional degrees back home. There are also those who are skilled.


Amado Lapaz was a machine operator in Davao City before he took his skills overseas. First in the Middle East, then in Australia.

Lapaz, a native of Mati in Davao Oriental, was one of several skilled Filipinos who came Down Under and made it good. He works for a major industrial firm Austal and based in Western Australia.

Lapaz went through several tradie jobs in Perth from operating boom cranes to forklifts and maintaining hydraulic machine components.

“Walay ko’y pili pag-abot diri, basta kaya trabahoon, sukol lang (I wasn’t fussy about work. For as long as I can do it, I took it),” Lapaz told Edge Davao in an interview.


Roy Ruales Castro, a former government employee of the Province of Davao del Norte, got his trade certificate for butchery from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) which he used as ticket to a job in Australia. He works as butcher in Queensland.

The history of Filipinos working in Australia dates back to the first migrant Filipino workers and they are pearl divers who worked for the Broome pearling industry, arriving as early as 1872, according to the Australia Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Today, the Filipino community is one of the fastest-growing in Australia, and includes more than 10,000 Filipino students enrolled in Australian universities. According to the 2016 census, New South Wales is home to the biggest number of Filipinos – in 2011, 70,388 Filipinos lived there. Victoria was home to 38,002 Filipinos in 2011, while 29,462 lived in Queensland, 17,231 in Western Australia, 8,858 in South Australia, 3,587 in the Northern Territory, 1,268 in the ACT and 1,268 in Tasmania.

Filipinos in Australia accounted for 2.2% of all remittances amounting to P29.9 billion based on records in 2016.