It’s home, sweet home after fleeing homeland

By Riverine Herald

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 through a 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 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 at our 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.’’