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ONE of the challenges for new migrants to overcome is a feeling of lost identity as they struggle to fi nd their place within a new community.
Feeling disregarded for lacking “local understanding and knowledge”, it takes tenacity to earn recognition for who they really are and what they can achieve.
Sally Dilton-Hill overcame that sense of loss by simply doing what came as second nature to her.
Once known as Zimbabwe's “Dr Dolittle” because of her knack with animals, Sally was also recognised as the first known person in the world to break in, saddle and ride a zebra.
She now lives on a farm outside Mount Gambier where she - along with daughter Nicola Scrivener - volunteers her special talents with animals as a horse riding coach for Riding for the Disabled.
Both Sally and Nicola lost their farms in Zimbabwe in 2006 when land was forcefully taken by the government and burned.
“They first terrorise you to make you want to leave your farm - a group of men attacked me in my house at 2am, gagged me, tied me up, tortured me and left with whatever items in the house they wanted,” Sally said.
“Then the government lists your farm in a notice in the newspaper and they give you a certain amount of time to leave, but if you don't, soldiers come and take you away.”
Sally joined her daughter when she and her family fled the country to travel to Australia, ending up in Mount Gambier.
Until recently, Sally still woke up every night at 2am in a cold sweat, fearing another brutal attack.
But despite the horror, the memories of good times on the farm remained with her.
It was on the once lush piece of land outside Mutare near Zimbabwe's eastern border that the Dr Dolittle of Zimbabwe loved her animals and “talked” to them.
As a young girl she trained rabbits to jump over small hurdles and took them for walks on leads, but her talent soon extended to teaching her pet frog to scratch on the door if he wanted to go outside the house and an owl that used to nod off on her bed with his head on her pillow.
When her first donkey was given to her on her 11th birthday, Sally taught him to count to 20 by scratching with his front leg on the ground.
She also taught him to nod his head for “yes” or shake his head for “no” - a skill that came in handy on Sally's wedding day when the donkey was offered a glass of wine and sensibly shook its head in refusal.
Later, a wild native kudu antelope became a pet after he was abandoned by his mother.
The kudu was later lured away by a male, but returned to the farm in the mornings for breakfast eaten from Sally's hand and later to introduce her baby to Sally.
Sally's zebra was a gift from someone who knew she was probably the only person in Zimbabwe to rear the abandoned calf successfully.
But Sally did more than just raising the zebra - she tamed the wild animal, notoriously known for being temperamental and for biting and kicking at the slightest provocation, and rode it.
“Nicola learned to walk by holding onto the zebra's tail,” Sally said.
Sally went to great measures to rescue her beloved horses and other animals from the farm before it was destroyed and transport them across the border to South Africa.
Content with her new life in Mount Gambier, where she also continues her love for art by painting African animals on canvas, Sally has overcome the horrors of the past.
“Thanks to Australia, I have put the bad memories behind me,” she said.
“To me, this is now my home.”