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Gemma Wakeford

Gemma Wakeford reflects back on her visit to Ameva in 1990 she writes:

I was 9 years old when my family left England to stay at Ameva for 6 months. When I think back, I have extremely fond memories of the people and my time spent there.

As we settled into our new routine our weekday mornings were spent home-schooling, but the afternoon afforded me and my older sister the opportunity to play with the other children there and freely roam some of the farm.

On one such afternoon I was playing with some of the Valentine’s children near the huge rock in the back garden of the Valentine’s home. We were making a makeshift tent out of Celia’s clothes airer and a bed sheet. At some point one of the boys became angry during our play and went up onto the top of the rock and threw a stone at our tent in frustration. Unfortunately, I was sitting in the tent with only a cotton sheet to protect me. The rock hit me on the head and split my head open making a very bloody mess! Luckily it was just a dramatic bleed and I remember my mum’s relief that we didn’t need to drive to the hospital for stitches.

Another incident involving narrowly missing a trip to the hospital was when we were running late and were all rushing to get into the pickup truck. Me and my sister were told to jump into the open back of the truck. My sister however was having a strop because she didn’t want to go and in throwing herself into the truck caught her leg on something and split it open. She got her wish not to go out!

That huge rock out the back of the Valentine’s home came in handy one day when us children all stood on it to watch a bushfire near the compound. I remember the feelings of awe and fear all mixed together. Sensing the adults' worry we stayed on that rock for a long time. Looking back now at the image in my mind of us children sitting on this rock, what a wonderful illustration of ‘God our rock’, our protector and firm foundation.

The farm was full of the sound of singing. The ladies under the thatched shelter would sing as they sat and crocheted. The sound of the children in the primary school singing would travel up to the farm. The Bible college students would sing, and the Sunday church meetings were full of the wonderful sound of praise and worship. I will always remember John Valentine’s booming singing voice ‘Let God arise and His enemies be scattered’ and the dancing in those meetings was so captivating to a young girl’s eyes!

I have a very vivid memory of sitting with a friend, a young African boy outside my home singing. We sang the same song over and over again, ‘Joy, joy, my heart is full of joy’. I remember it sounding so beautiful and never wanting to stop.

Being on a farm, animals were a huge part of life. Spiders with bodies the size of the palm of my hand were everywhere! There was one in our lounge one day and I remember it going under the sofa. I did not sit on that sofa for about a week! Another time I remember Andrew Watson babysitting for me and my sister whilst my parents went out and there being a spider in our bedroom when it was time to go to bed. Poor Andrew! I think I refused to sleep in the room and eventually ended up in my parent’s bed until they got home. I remember waking up the next morning in MY bed. I don’t think I have ever got out of bed so fast in my life!

On the farm they had a pen full of goats. There was one goat that had been rejected by its mother, so I adopted it and called it Simon. I helped to feed Simon his milk and he thought that I was his mother and proceeded to follow me everywhere, even into my house much to my mum’s delight! I was devastated to be leaving him behind when it was time for us to leave Ameva and my parents wisely kept the fact that the male goats were raised to be sold or eaten from me. I’m so glad they did. It was already heart-breaking to leave Africa without knowing my goat was possibly going to be eaten.

One weekday we were peacefully home-schooling around the kitchen table when my mum, who was at the sink screamed and dropped whatever she had in her hands into the sink. She had seen two little beady eyes staring up at her from the plug hole. Chaos ensued. Thinking it was a snake, people rushed in and began pouring boiling water down the sink and then began pulling the pipes apart only to find it was a harmless, poor, now boiled frog.

Walking around the farm at night we had to have a torch to ward off any snakes or to be able to see them on the path in front of us. Oscar, the Valentine’s dog, was our protector from snakes and I can remember having to de-tick him whenever we found a blood sucker on him.

What an absolute adventure Ameva was for me and how it has shaped some of who I am today - I love singing, I love animals and I hate tents!

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