Mingoola humanity

Community generosity cultivates new wave of rural multi-culturalism


New to Mingoola: Pius Nyamwera is an emerging leader of his tiny community in the Mole River valley.

New to Mingoola: Pius Nyamwera is an emerging leader of his tiny community in the Mole River valley.

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A new wave of central African immigrants has a home in the Mole River valley, west of Tenterfield, thanks to the generosity of a rural community.

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Downstream from where the Mole and Dumeresq join at Mingoola there are narrow river flats that have provided a home, and a stepping stone, to a diversity of immigrants.

In the past those new families relied on an annual tobacco harvest. Today the industry is gone; only occasional lines of tall drying barns give a clue to that past.

The Spanish toiled hardest of them all, recalled Mingoola grower Bob South. Those men demanded 100 hours a week and if it rained they weren't happy.

Italians worked creatively and evidence of their architecture is everywhere – from tobacco barns to houses like that belonging to John Claydon, ‘Springfield’ with external and internal walls elegantly formed from concrete. There were Greeks, as well, and Yugoslavs. The tobacco industry died at Mingoola in the mid ‘90s and the place slowed down.

Today it is too quiet, say members of the Mingoola Progress Association who banded together after the disastrous 2011 flood – an event completely overshadowed by Grantham and the Lockyer Valley.

A campaign spearheaded by Julia and Phillip Harpham, ‘Moorabinda’, called on government to find willing refugee families of any ethnic origin to relocate to the land of potential: Mingoola.

Meanwhile a Rwandan Immigrant, Emmanuel Musoni, who works as an advocate for his people on the central coast, pounded the tiles of government houses trying to get support to relocate families who were desperate to escape the confines of a designated city life.

In the end a meeting between Barnaby Joyce staffer Simon Chamberlain and his counterpart from Concetta Favierati Wells office, Isobel Brown can be credited for pairing the two communities.

Emmanuel calls the encounter a ‘magic moment’ and Julia Harpham concurs.

Next month it will be a year since the first Burundi family came to Mingoola and just six months since Isaac Icimpaye, the pastor, came to the valley. His daughter, Ruth is a teenager and admits to missing the vibrancy of Wollongong – their city home for six years, where unemployment frustrated the adults. 

To be truthful Ruth is not really interested in the excellent agriculture program at Tenterfield High. It seems the aim of this fine student and her close family is to go to university and study maths and science. Who knows. Maybe one will return to Mingoola as an agronomist?

Julia and Phillip Harpham opened their doors to the new immigrants. Only last week Julia won NSW Regional Woman of the year for her efforts.

Julia and Phillip Harpham opened their doors to the new immigrants. Only last week Julia won NSW Regional Woman of the year for her efforts.

This growing of minds, not necessarily crops, is clearly appreciated by Julia and Peter Harpham who both come from a long line of educated parents. Julia’s mother graduated with honours in pure maths and could solve complex problems until the day she died, though she had trouble remembering where she was.

The couple began married life at Camooweal where Phillip, a veterinarian, doubled as overseer on Rocklands Station. Julia instructed Year 1 –  something of a come down from teaching high school English. But she soon came to love the place. They boarded four aboriginal students, whose parents were out in the stock camp, and relished the experience. 

Later, they lived in the Solomons where Phillip worked again as a vet and Julia recalled with fondness the crazy social clamour of village life and how trusting she was of the people. Fast forward to Mingoola today, where a dozen Central African school children roam through the Harpham’s homestead at Moorabinda – on motorbikes across paddocks, playing tennis on the trapsoil court or preparing for lessons at Tenterfield High from quiet corners in the high ceilinged rooms of the old house.

“This girl gives me lovely cheek,” says Phillip of Jonothan Kanani’s daughter Eliada who is prepared to study hard, and to question’s Phillip’s often broad ranging statements on life.

Meanwhile there is an earnest trial underway, with a quarter hectare ploughed and prepared on a small flat by the banks of Reedy Creek where a winter crop of garlic will be transplanted into trap soil alluvium enhanced by the donation of 12 tonnes of naturally high water holding palagonite with high cation exchange from Mount Sylvia Soil Conditioners in the Lockyer Valley and manure compost from Vital Soil. Spokesman Martin I’Ons says the mix will create humus more quickly with the potential to produce greater yield. In the meantime home gardens of the African families are burgeoning with a variety of food crops.

Jonathon Kanani and Fainess Kabura, both from Burundi, in their garden at Mingoola. Disused tobacco drying barns stand in the distance.

Jonathon Kanani and Fainess Kabura, both from Burundi, in their garden at Mingoola. Disused tobacco drying barns stand in the distance.

The summer has been very hard on these immigrants who are in the process of figuring out what works where and when. But peanuts, corn grown in conjunction with beans, tomatoes and eggplant have produced well. The splash of rain, 70mm in early March, certainly would have made a difference if it came earlier.

While it is tempting to plant other crops as a commercial trial Mr South is advising them to keep it simple. “It’s important that we focus on the single crop of Garlic at this time,” he advised.

Julia, meanwhile, is furiously busy writing grant proposals that will help fund this ‘Mingoola Model’, and people in high places are watching. After all, the local school newsletter regularly finds its way to Sydney and Canberra. 

In fact the school has become something of local legend, having gone into recess ahead of imminent closure before the central African children gave cause to keep its doors open. Already Mingoola is rising.

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