It’s home, sweet home af­ter flee­ing home­land

The Riverine Herald - - NEWS - By Ivy Jensen

TONGALA has be­come a wel­come home to a cou­ple who fled Zim­babwe dur­ing the vi­o­lent farm in­va­sions of 2000.

In two decades, they have lived in four dif­fer­ent coun­tries — so life for Jenna Lil­ford and Colin Web­ster has been any­thing but set­tled.

But all that has changed — with the birth of their first ‘Aus­tralian’ child, Joe, last week.

‘‘We have put hav­ing a fam­ily on hold for so long, so it’s re­ally good to be able to have a home af­ter so many years of be­ing un­set­tled,’’ Jenna said.

Al­though the cou­ple did not know each other then, they both fled to the UK when they were teenagers af­ter Zim­babwe em­barked on a vi­o­lent land re­form pro­gram in 2000, tak­ing over white-owned farms to re­set­tle land­less blacks.

Thou­sands of white farm­ers were forced off their land by mobs or evicted, with sev­eral farm­ers and farm work­ers killed and many oth­ers in­jured.

Jenna’s fam­ily was one of the first to lose their farm.

They owned a crop­ping farm in north­ern Zim­babwe, while the Web­ster fam­ily had a dairy farm in the south-east.

‘‘Farm­ers, in­clud­ing my fa­ther, were threat­ened with vi­o­lence,’’ Jenna said.

‘‘My fa­ther de­cided it had be­come too dan­ger­ous to stay on the farm, and didn’t want to risk keep­ing the fam­ily on the farm.

‘‘I was 16 and at board­ing school at the time, so when I fin­ished the term we went to New Zealand for two years.’’

Jenna did her last two years of high school in New Zealand be­fore the fam­ily, who had Bri­tish an­ces­try, moved to Lon­don in 2004.

Colin ar­rived in Lon­don the same year, af­ter be­ing forced off the fam­ily farm he was man­ag­ing on his own at the age of 18.

‘‘The vi­o­lence was es­ca­lat­ing and peo­ple were com­ing to his farm ev­ery day threat­en­ing him to leave, so his par­ents thought it was best he go over­seas,’’ Jenna said.

Jenna and Colin both worked in var­i­ous dif­fer­ent jobs in Lon­don be­fore meet­ing in 2006.

‘‘We ac­tu­ally met flat­mate,’’ Jenna said.

The cou­ple worked and stud­ied — Colin in agri­cul­ture and Jenna in project man­age­ment — in Lon­don for the next seven years be­fore want­ing a change of scenery.

‘‘We wanted a new ex­pe­ri­ence so we de­cided to take a two-year work­ing hol­i­day in Aus­tralia,’’ Jenna said. ‘‘We went to Perth ini­tially as Colin’s brother lives there but we had to do through a re­gional work, so we found out, through one of my con­tacts, there was a new farm in Tongala look­ing for re­gional work­ers.’’

In 2013, they made the 3326km drive from Perth to Tongala.

‘‘It was a new ex­pe­ri­ence for us and a challenge,’’ Jenna said.

‘‘We liked the gen­eral feel of the place and the laid back na­ture. Plus we liked the sim­i­lar­ity of a small farm­ing agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity. ‘‘We felt com­fort­able here.’’ Colin spent 15 months on the farm while Jenna, ini­tially work­ing for five months on the farm, worked as a mar­ket­ing co-or­di­na­tor for a lo­cal firm.

They knew they had found their home so the cou­ple ap­plied for per­ma­nent res­i­dency.

How­ever, to do that they had to leave the coun­try, so they spent the next 14 months in New Zealand wait­ing for their Visa to come through.

In June 2016, they came back as res­i­dents — Colin now man­ag­ing a dairy farm in Tongala and Jenna con­tin­u­ing her ca­reer as a mar­ket­ing co-or­di­na­tor for a lo­cal firm.

And their dream of own­ing their own home be­came a re­al­ity at the end of last year.

‘‘We bought a hobby-scale prop­erty,’’ Jenna said. ‘‘It feels so good to have our own place.’’

Around the same time, the cou­ple found out they were ex­pect­ing.

Their son Joe was born on July 3 in Echuca hos­pi­tal.

‘‘It’s lovely to have our first child born in Aus­tralia,’’ Jenna said.

‘‘We’re get­ting used to be­ing par­ents and have had a few late nights since he was born. But it’s been won­der­ful.’’

And if a baby wasn’t enough of a cel­e­bra­tion, they have more to look for­ward to — they are get­ting mar­ried in Oc­to­ber.

‘‘The wed­ding will be prop­erty,’’ Jenna said.

‘‘It will be a small gath­er­ing with just close fam­ily and friends but they will be com­ing from all over the world, from Zim­babwe, England and New Zealand.

‘‘We are ex­pect­ing it to be a nice, ca­sual re­laxed day.’’

And it will be the first time Jenna and Colin’s par­ents, who live in the UK and Zim­babwe re­spec­tively, will meet their new grand­son.

‘‘It’s go­ing to be very spe­cial,’’ Jenna said. ‘‘I’m also look­ing for­ward to show­ing them where we live. Tongala has been very wel­com­ing to us.

‘‘We have re­ally fit­ted into this Aussie lifestyle and are look­ing for­ward to get­ting to know more peo­ple.’’

My fa­ther de­cided it had be­come too dan­ger­ous to stay on the farm, and didn’t want farm. ’ to risk keep­ing the fam­ily on the

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