South Africans in Oz: Belinda Tilley
by Guest Author
Zimbabwean Belinda Tilley misses the memories of life on a misunderstood continent, according to an article by Anelia Blackie published in Mount Gambiers The Border Watch newspaper.
In particular, its the memories of small children with runny noses playing carefree in dusty, remote African villages and the hospitality of people living in dire poverty who scatter to find the best chair for an unexpected visitor to their village.
As film maker in Zimbabwe, Belinda had many opportunities to capture the lives of people in villages on the African continent with her camera, their struggle to find food and their battle with AIDS.
We once travelled through Zimbabwe and to Kenya and Uganda to film a movie on people dying of AIDS for the US medical profession, Belinda said.
It gave me many opportunities to capture moments, but is also touched me deeply. I will never forget how the film crew and I carried a man who died of AIDS through his village to be buried. What a privilege it was to have the approval of his family to do that.But, it was also Belindas devotion as a Christian which opened more doors for other touching photo opportunities.
When the Zimbabwean government banned the distribution of food to its people, Belinda and fellow Christians from her church heard of desperately hungry people who became sick from eating grass and of a man who died after eating a lizard.
We decided to collect food, hide it in the back of trucks and take it to these people, she said.
We had to be so careful because the black boots (police) and army were everywhere looking for people who distributed food to arrest and jail; we had a few close shaves when they nearly caught us.Belindas underground operations as food distributor were not the only thing that endangered her life as she had to also work underground as film maker when President Robert Mugabe took control of the media in 2000.
Every photographer and journalist had to register with the government so that news about events in the country could not be distributed to the outside world.
I refused to register and we were forced to shoot films in secret across the country, while always on the lookout for the army and police, she said.
But strangely her career as photographer then really started to bloom as she put the skills she learned on her travels to use in exhibitions of her work.
It was at one of these exhibitions that a well known, retiring Zimbabwean photographer saw her work and gifted all his cameras and equipment to her.
But, their underground operations finally caught up with them when one of the film crewmembers was arrested and deported to the United Kingdom and others homes were ransacked.
A few fled for their lives and remained in hiding for months and Belinda avoided possible arrest by coming to Australia on a backpacking trip for a few months.
I did not consider migrating to Australia at the time, but I left my resume at a few places on the way through Australia, she said.
On return to Zimbabwe, an offer to work as chief executive officer of South East Christian broadcaster Rhema 104.9FM and the associated bookshop On Track, brought her to Mount Gambier more than four years ago.
Her husband, Wayne, whom she married shortly before they arrived, and his two children from a previous marriage joined her.