Meet Pia

News story
Pia is a Project Officer at the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Pia stands in the ocean with a horse

Pia contributes to a fair, just and safe community for all Western Australians by helping people register births and apply for and obtain birth certificates.

Pia's working life involves attention to detail. Even a small misspelling in someone's name or a different birth date on a certificate results in confusion for the person named and for different agencies – such as Centrelink, the Department of Transport and Medicare – dealing with the person.

It's not a surprise that when she's not at work, Pia's favourite pastime is as free of detail as possible: she rides her pony Clancy without a saddle or stirrups, using only a bitless bridle and her legs to control him.

Pia's favourite aspect of work is attending the Department's Open Days, run by the Aboriginal Justice Program (AJP). These are held in remote communities State-wide every few weeks and in the past 12 months, Pia has been to eight of them: in the Goldfields, Kimberley and Pilbara.

"Open Days are one-stop shops which support community members by enabling Aboriginal people to get birth certificates, make arrangements to resolve outstanding fines, ask about getting drivers licences, undertake theory and practical driving tests and access other agencies such as financial and legal services," she said.

"The Days also help people become more job-ready. The AJP brings together representatives from the Department of Transport, Centrelink and the Sheriff's Office which helps people with queries about fines and time-to-pay arrangements."

Born in Sweden to Finnish parents, Pia came to Australia with her family when she was six years old, returning to Finland for a while before returning to Australia in 1981 and working as an electronics technician, fixing computers and printers.

But in 2008 she asked herself "Do I really want to be pulling apart laser printers in my sixties?" and when she realised she didn't, she applied to join the Department.

Pia said she loved her job because it involved helping people. "It's awesome seeing the smiles on people's faces when you can solve a problem for them. It's also great to see the Top End of WA.

"One of our furthest Open Days is in Balgo: we fly to Kununurra and then drive over 600km. We stay overnight in what is called the 'Balgo Hilton', a six-bedroom house. We try to shop local to support the communities and we cook a meal for ourselves there."   

During a recent Open Day Pia said she saw around 20 people. One request was from a woman born in 1946 who had never had a birth certificate.

"She knew her mother's and father's names and her brothers and sisters. I was able to find a record of a brother who was born in 1942 and who had registered his own birth in 1993," Pia said. "Once I get confirmation of her birth from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs I'll be able to register her and issue a birth certificate.

"You can't do anything any more without a birth certificate. You can't get a drivers licence, open a bank account or get your super. When I can finally give someone the birth certificate they've requested they sometimes say 'I exist!'.

"For some, it can be a shock. They might have been registered with a different name and date of birth, so they suddenly realise they've been called the wrong name all their lives and celebrating their birthday on the wrong day.

"This happened to a gentleman at Noonkanbah who'd unsuccessfully applied for his birth certificate several times. He was in his forties and it all started because he needed a driver's licence. There isn't any public transport up there and it's not easy getting to places without a vehicle so some people drive without a licence and then get fined.

 "After extensive investigation I was able to find his original birth information paper from when he was registered in 1974 in which the only correct information was his mother's given name and the year of birth. Everything else was wrong even his own name! The paper showed his siblings' names and father so I was able to confidently link it to this gentleman. It's like doing a jigsaw puzzle – and I love jigsaw puzzles!"

Pia said she also helped people with change-of-name applications: "Pre 1990s, if the birth of a child was registered without the father's signature, the child was given the mother's surname. But sometimes people aren't told this and they use the father's surname and then want to have it formally recorded that this is the name they use.

"The people I work with are awesome. They have a great sense of humour and they're all willing to help. We work as a team with the Sheriff's Office, the remote licencing people and Centrelink, sharing information and helping each other so we can help the people who come to us on Open Days."

Pia has four children and, besides Clancy, another pony, Toby, her daughter's first pony. She was surprised when she brought Clancy home for the first time and realised from the animals' joyous reaction to seeing each other that the two had been stable-mates a long time ago. Without equine identity documents she'd had no idea that they were long-lost buddies.

Page reviewed 13 February 2020