Migrant Voices – Evangelina Lennie

Cattle at Saleyard

Evangelina Lennie (Vangie) travelled from the Philippines to a dairy farm in Kyabram. After settling in and learning how to cook Australian cuisine, Vangie went on to found the Australian - Filipino Community.

Love has a sometimes funny and strange way of happening, once asked by her 17 year old daughter Tara "how did you and dad meet?" Evangelina or 'Vangie' (as friends knew her) replied, "Well we met by accident, but it has worked out for us".

As it happened, Ian was actually writing to "her" thinking he was writing to her sister Flor. This went on for a while. Ian began to ring her asking to speak to Flor so Vangie would get on the line to keep up the charade until one day when he rang and was speaking to Vangie (aka Flor) he popped the question and asked her to marry him. Thinking that he was only fooling around with what he just said, Vangie replied jokingly, "Yes of course". That was enough for Ian, he told her then and there that he was flying to meet her and her family, as soon as possible and that they would be getting married in the Philippines.

Suddenly a wave of guilt came over Vangie she couldn't keep up this deception any longer. Now that he had asked for her hand, she had to come clean with Ian telling him the whole story. Thinking that he would be angry Vangie feared the worst but her fears where soon put to rest as he told her that he had grown very fond of her and also she of him. The engagement was still on, but to a new love it wasn't long before Ian set off to the Philippines to meet his new bride to be.

Upon arrival in the Philippines on October 2nd, 1980, Ian was overwhelmed at the sight of the young woman who had captured his heart through posing as her sister. Ian was welcomed with open arms by her family and gained the approval of her nephews, much to her relief. They were both wed in the Methodist Cathedral Church, Manila on October 18, 1980.

Vangie came to Australia on March 16th 1981 at the age of 28 to join and live with her husband Ian Lennie.

Arriving at her new home, Ian's dairy property just outside of Kyabram, she began the "early to bed and early to rise" life of a farmer's wife.

Coming from a non-farming background Vangie found the day-to-day work on the farm confusing and at times exhausting. Not knowing how any of the farm machinery worked it was up to Ian to come to her rescue and show her the ropes. Now armed with the knowledge of operating the farm's many vehicles Vangie soon became confident in assisting Ian with the work such as slashing, carting hay and bringing in the cows for milking.

A funny incident occurred once with Vangie crossing a wet paddock that she thought looked safe to fetch the cows, but little did she know the motorbike would get bogged deep in the mud and end up having to get Ian to come dig her out.

Another challenge of living in Australia that faced Vangie was that of the food, being accustomed to a diet that mostly consisted of rice, soup, vegetables, meat and fish. The local cuisine was not only a mystery but also at times nerve-wracking; "What do Australian's eat?" How do I cook it? And what do I buy? Her first shopping experience resulted in a loaf of bread, a 1kg bag of rice and some floor wax, much to her brother and sister-in-law's confused looks.

At one time Ian's children came home for Sunday dinner and she was told that there was a whole chicken in the freezer that could be cooked for dinner and was totally gob smacked to learn that she had to boil it instead of frying it, this was all very different to the way she knew in the Philippines.

Thanks to the guidance of Ian's mum, by observing her Vangie learnt how to cook mashed potato with steamed vegies and grilled meat, etc. Her new family also made the adjustment of having traditional Filipino meals cooked by her.

Vangie was welcomed into her new family although Ian's daughter took time to observe and adjust, but this soon changed as time passed as she was only looking out for dad. With a whole new community to get to know, Vangie found it hard to be accepted. Her weekly trips into the township, to pay bills and do the grocery shopping were met with stares and disapproving looks from the townsfolk. Even to this day she still feels discriminated against.

Walking into a store to buy a simple item incurred an arrogant reply from the shop owner because he could not understand what she was saying even though her English was relatively good.

The language barrier was made even more difficult for Vangie by not being able to comprehend the many phrases and slang terms we use in our day-to-day life. Having a United States Navy retired father she learnt to speak English the American way, many of our terms and phrases are either non-existent or have a totally different context in translation.

Being one of the first 3 Filipina in the area of Kyabram at the time Vangie was looked upon as somewhat of an oddity in the community. With her brown skin and oriental features she felt so alone in a big, strange and often scary new land, which she now called home. Sure, she had her husband and family, but Vangie craved the companionship of her fellow Filipinas, who were familiar to her, who she could turn to for support and the occasional meeting for lunch and a friendly chat.

Through this feeling of isolation and despair, the Filipino Australian Friends Association (FAFA) was formed in 1982. With Vangie serving a year long term as the Vice President, then becoming the Secretary until another organisation was formed in 1986 called the Australian - Filipino Community Inc. (AFC) in which she became the Secretary until 2002 and Treasurer in 2003 finally becoming President in 2004/2005. With this organisation being formed they began to provide support and resources for the Filipino men, women and families that have migrated to Australia, covering areas such as Northern Victoria and the Southern Riverina of New South Wales. Her husband Ian also lent a supportive hand becoming a Migration Agent with Faram Ritchie Davies, barristers of Shepparton offering immigration assistance to the Filipino community and other countries.

Struggling to make ends meet with the farm's income slowly declining, Vangie needed to supplement the family's income, so after 6 years of milking cows she looked for any work she could find. But that was easier said than done, as her qualifications as an accountant were not recognised in Australia. Employment in a position she knew so well was never an option.

She managed to get some work at the Ardmona Cannery where she worked for 19 years. Now Vangie is a translator working with Centerlink to interpret for the many Filipino families that have settled in the Goulburn Valley and the Riverina since her arrival. The only use she gets now of her accounting skills is doing the books for the family business.

Now, 25 years later when asked does she have any regrets about coming to Australia? Vangie replies, "I have none at all, I followed my heart and where that took me is where I am happy. I've made a life for myself in a new land and have a beautiful loving family. Sure it was hard at the beginning but I'm tough and I persevered and came out on top".

Source: Suitcase Full of Dreams (Reproduced with permission)

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


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