News from Downunda

BY JILL BAKER And so they came - not knowing quite what to expect - the anxiety of months and years of disruption etched on their faces, their children expectant, fractious or excited. The event - another Zimbabwe Connection workshop in Australia. 115 people - most of them farming families wh

o had lost everything in their native land – now relocated to the farming areas of South Australia and Victoria.

We hired the Uniting Church school campsite “Tarooki” in the resort area of Robe -10 bunks to a room and minimal comfort, but great atmosphere! Rosters went up for everything from catering and baby sitting to the men doing the washing up – a registration desk was put in place, bunches of proteas livened the place up and all the wives from the nearby area of Kingston had pre-cooked meals enough for the next three days.

Daylight saving meant the sun didn’t go down till 8 p.m. and what could be more appropriate than a braai to kick off, with sadza (albeit yellow!) and boeries.

We introduced a wonderful Aussie Ken Grundy, who, as things started to deteriorate in Zim wrote to everyone associated with agriculture in this area asking them to consider employing a Zimbabwean farmer. “Australia has been great farming country – it is not what it once was – we’d like you to help us make it great again &” was Ken’s challenge.

Next day, things became more focussed. We left the kids in the capable hands of an Outward Bound adventure company and headed off to the Robe Footy Club. After a short welcome from Jill Lambert, the first speech came from the South Australian Minister for Agriculture Rory McEwen. He set the tone for the weekend – humorous, compassionate and full of useful information.

We had workshops from the Skilled Migration Department as well as the Chief Executive of the local Regional Development Board. This was followed by a Zimbabwean and an Australian farmer who have gone into a joint venture together growing lemons and cherries. It was heart-warming to hear the respect in which each held the other, through the difficulties they had, the problems they were still overcoming and the positive outlook they had for the future. One urged us not to allow ourselves to become time-poor’ in wasting time on anything but moving our families and lives forward and the Zimbabwean stated very clearly that you could not stand with a foot in both camps – i.e. one still in Zimbabwe and one in Australia – as you could not possibly move forward. Make a choice, and having made that choice, move both feet there boots and all to re-create the life you want to lead in future.

It is sometimes difficult to realise that you are not letting down’ Zimbabwe by saying you enjoy Australia & and we can all just be grateful that we have been fortunate enough to live in two great continents.

One man told the story of the appalling start he had had interstate before being rescued to a good position with a great employer in that particular area. He was not prepared for the request to speak & and it was difficult for him to do so.

Then we had an address from the person the Department of Immigration calls the “pit bull with lipstick” – Migration Agent Tracey Mays! She let us know in no uncertain terms about breaking of contracts and the difficulties in bringing out parents. A Bulawayo girl, Tracey has always gone above and beyond in her determination to help Zimbabweans get in to Aus. Seemingly impossible double exception cases somehow get the OK when the pit bull comes to grips with them.

The final session was practical and down to earth – from the business advisory section of the Limestone Coast Regional Development Board – outlining the services they provide at no charge to someone wishing to set up their own businesses. If became more apparent than ever that if we apply the same strategies to establishing a business, that we did in Zim, we would go under. Simple. And not worth it. Too many have done so already.

What a time it was! Everyone finished the workshop greatly motivated, enthused and having had a great time! We enjoyed our reminiscences and empathised with others in their struggles to settle, but it was all done within a practical and positive group. An important stepping stone in getting re-orientated into a new world – and finding there are plenty of people only too keen to help – if you are willing to learn.

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