You can’t help but love Francis Nona – just ask anyone in UQ’s School of Public Health. Everything about him is inspirational. His depth of talent, dedication, compassion, generosity and big heart all make Francis the kind of man any mother would be extremely proud of.
Francis has had a tough upbringing, and yet he can still beam a smile that warms like sunshine, spreading joy to all who encounter him.
“By the time I was 12 years old, I’d been to 13 different schools, and at times my family was homeless,” Francis recalls.
“I used to think about people who lived in stable homes with enough food to eat, and I said to myself, ‘this is what I want to achieve when I grow up’.”
Fortunately, Francis had a lot of teachers and supporters along the way who taught him that ‘education is the key to success’.
“My mother was an amazing, strong woman. She taught me strong values, and she always helped others, even though she had so little herself,” Francis remembers fondly.
“My mother also knew the importance of maintaining culture and gave me the privilege of returning to my ancestral homelands so that I could be fully initiated as a Torres Strait Islander man.
“Not many people know I can speak my native language, Kalaw Kawaw Ya,” Francis reveals.
Life was hard for Francis as a young boy growing up on the streets of Brisbane.
“Yes, but the experience gave me a unique perspective on how the social determinants of health can affect individuals and communities,” Francis explains.
“I got my first job when I was 17 years old. I used to ride a $10 bike 22 kilometres every day, just so I could work in a factory and support myself. That’s how I developed resilience and self-reliance.
“By day, I worked full-time in the factory, and by night I went to school, until I became the first person in my family to finish high school and achieve a tertiary qualification,” Francis says proudly.
“Later, I became a nurse, inspired by the wonderful nurses who provided palliative care to my mother during the end of her life.
“In this International Year of the Nurse, I really want others to know how special it is to be a nurse and support people and their loved ones through the most difficult times of their lives. It truly is a great honour,” Francis says humbly.
So, what is Francis doing now?
“Well, right now, I’m working on the Vice-Chancellor’s Graduate Program at The University of Queensland, and I’m very excited to be studying a Master of Public Health at UQ too.
“One of the things I really love about this role is that it allows me to tailor the program to my career aspirations. I’ve co-developed curricula, co-supervised Honours students, co-delivered a masters course in the Master of Public Health and co-facilitated lectures. I’ve also had the opportunity to be a guest lecturer in a number of different faculties across UQ and do a Professional Certificate in Indigenous Research at the University of Melbourne,” Francis explains.
But life isn’t just about work for Francis these days.
“I’m a single father, so now I have to think about someone else too.
“When I accepted my UQ position, my son was finishing his final year of primary school at Oakey on the Queensland Darling Downs. He’d also been selected to represent the region in rugby league and shotput. I didn’t want to disrupt him, so for 10 months, I commuted more than five hours a day just so I could get to work and back home again every night,” Francis recounts.
“We’ve now relocated to Brisbane, where my son will soon start high school. We both really enjoy fishing, which is so much easier to do now that we’re living closer to the coast,” Francis says smiling.
And, what about his hopes for the future? Well, Francis knows exactly which road he’ll be travelling down next.
“My goal is to complete my Master of Public Health and then do a PhD.
“I really want to be a future leader in academic curricula and policy development so that one day I can help improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.”
And, that’s why Francis is not just a man that any mother could love, but one that the whole of UQ’s School of Public Health also adores.