Cassandra & Leigh Tama, Denison - APRIL 2022 Calendar
by Gippsland Jersey
Cassandra and Leigh work on a farm in Denison. When they began in 2016, they were totally new to the dairy industry, neither having stepped foot in a dairy shed before. In fact, it was then that Cassandra learned that the ‘little, brown cows’ are called Jerseys and don’t actually produce chocolate milk as she was led to believe as a child. She can laugh at this now, looking back with pride at just how far their determination and resilience have allowed their family to come.
Cassandra and Leigh were both born in New Zealand. Their lives were interwoven with gangs, violence, alcohol and toxic familial and cultural cycles. Leigh’s father was president of one of these gangs and Leigh knew that it would be his role to step into his father’s shoes eventually. On the eve of Leigh’s initiation into gang life Cassandra gave him an ultimatum; either come to Australia with her and their young family to start a new life on a dairy farm or stay in New Zealand, in a cycle of poverty, drugs and violence. The next day they packed one bag of clothes each, bought one way tickets to Australia with the little bit of money they had and left their New Zealand way of life behind forever.
Leigh had difficulty adjusting when he first arrived. On his second day he was asked to bring the cows in, a whole new experience for him and he wondered, ‘what have we got ourselves into?'. The sudden shock of such the life change, a new country and learning how to operate a farm over long days saw exhaustion creep in and he slipped into depression. The guilt of leaving his extended family behind also weighted heavily on him and there were days when he was unable to leave the couch. His father had stopped talking to him and his mother sadly passed away. Leigh says that he overcame this depression when he came to the realisation that he did what he had to do for his children and his family to have a better life.
Cassandra says the most difficult thing about life on the land is the early mornings. She doesn’t think she will ever get used to waking up early after settling a small baby through the night and riding out in the dark to do the milking, often three kids in tow. At times they have been so close to giving up and going home but Cassandra believes good things take time. She knows that if they give up, they will fall victim to the same cycle they were determined to break. The lifestyle they have created over the past few years and the way their two boys have opened up and blossomed on the farm outweighs any struggles. Cassandra and Leigh can see that their brave decision to move overseas has caused others in their families to find the strength to break the cycle of poverty in their own lives also. Now surrounded by family here in Australia they are happier than they have ever been and, Leigh, once again, has a close relationship with his father.