When Tin Hta Nu was on the run from the Government in Myanmar, previously known as Burma, she never thought she would end up marrying an Australian farmer teaching people how to grow their own food.
A lecturer in economics at Rangoon University she was a key figure in the university-led resistance against the Myanmar socialist Government in the late 1980s.
“We were young and not afraid. Our only motivation was to get democratic freedom for Burma,” she said.
Forced to flee from the military, Ms Hta Nu took refuge at a Buddhist nunnery before she secured a position in Australia at the University of New England.
For Ms Hta Nu, the move to Australia was not easy.
She was lonely after her first husband was imprisoned and their marriage broke down.
“There are a lot of circumstances in life you cannot control,” she said.
She also was not used to the Australian education system, with student evaluations and a different learning culture to adjust to.
“In Asian countries teachers transfer knowledge to students and they absorb it, it was very different in Australia,” she said.
Tin Hta Nu and her husband Ian Oxenford with their children Min Maw Thant, Sean and Samala Oxenford. (Supplied: Tin Hte Nu)
A turning point was meeting her husband Ian Oxenford, an agricultural scientist turned farmer, while presenting a paper at a conference at the Australian National University.
“I liked her energetic approach, her outspoken views and unique way of including Burmese sayings in a colourful way,” Mr Oxenford said.
In 2000, the couple bought a farm in the small rural town of Kendall on the mid-north coast of New South Wales.
They try to be self-sufficient growing a range of fruit and vegetables on their farm as well as recycling as many nutrients as possible.
“You can always get fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetable as long as you put in effort with the soil and land,” Mr Oxenford said.
Tin Hta Nu with her husband Ian Oxenford on their farm in Kendall, NSW. (ABC News: Carla Mascarenhas)
Teaching people where food comes from
When the couple decided to retire, Ms Hta Nu was determined to give back to the country that gave her refuge.
“Australia had saved my life so I tried to give everything I can back to the country,” she said.
In 2005, she set up a community cafe and people began asking her about the ingredients in her Asian recipes so she decided to build a community garden.
“I wanted to show people what bok choy is, what kan kong is,” she said.
The community garden has become a hit with the community.
“It’s not just the sharing of random produce, it is the sharing of hints, passion, and community wellbeing,” said a Kendall resident, Meg.
The Kendall community garden, which Tin Hte Nu developed, has fruit and vegetable plants from around the world. (Supplied: Tin Hte Nu)
Volunteer Margaret Wallin said Ms Hta Nu’s energy and generosity was inspiring.
“Learning how to grow your own plants and cook great dishes with the fresh produce is really useful.
“Tin makes it look so easy and willingly shares her knowledge,” Ms Wallin said.
She sells the harvest from the garden at the Kendall markets and sends the money back to the orphanage run by the nunnery in Myanmar where she took refuge.
Tin’s choko & spicy chicken recipe
1 kilogram chicken, diced into 1 centimetre cubes
1 tablespoon 5 spice powder
1 tablespoon ginger powder
1 tablespoon kecap manis (thick soy sauce)
1 tablespoon hoi sin sauce
1 chicken stock cube
5 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 chokos, peeled and cubed
2 red onions, sliced
Szechuan powder to taste
2–3 chillies, seeded and sliced
1/4 cup water
Additional 1/2 cup water mixed with 2 tablespoons corn flour
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
Handful garlic chives, cut into small pieces
1 extra chilli, sliced or chilli powder (optional)
- Marinate chicken with 5 spice, ginger, kecap manis, hoi sin sauce and chicken stock for at least half an hour.
- In a wok or frying pan heat 3 tablespoons of oil. Add garlic and fry until brown and fragrant, then fry the chokos and half the onions for two minutes. Remove from wok and set aside.
- Heat the remaining oil and fry the remaining onion along with the chicken, Szechuan powder, chillies, and 1/4 cup water. Cook for 3–4 minutes.
- Add the cooked chokos and mix thoroughly.
- Add the corn flour and water mixture and stir until a gravy forms.
- Fold in oyster sauce and garlic chives before serving.
- For a spicy effect serve with 1–2 teaspoons chilli powder or remaining chilli sprinkled on top.