Sikhism in Australia

From SikhiWiki
Jump to navigationJump to search

The earliest recorded Sikh in Australia dates back to 1844 (Dabee Singh), who used to live in Brisbane. It is believed that Sikhs have been coming to Australia since the early 1800s, however larger waves of men started after 1880. The SIkh population of Australia was quite small compared to Canada, UK, and USA until of recent times. In 2006 the population was at roughly 26,000 however shot up to 125,000 by 2016. Majority of Australia's Sikh population constitutes of 'students' and their families that have been sponsored.


According to Sikhs in Australia and also according to Racism No Way. "It is said that the first Indians had come to Australia as part of Captain Cook's ship, the first settlers in Australia. Before roads and road transport was developed, many Indians had come to Australia to run Camel trains. These brave Indians were called Afghans and kept the communication and supply line open between Melbourne and the center of Australia. They would transport goods and mail over Camel backs in the desert. There is no descendent of these Afghans that I could get in touch with. Many Punjabis took part in the rush for gold on the Victorian fields while numbers of Muslims from North Western Punjab region worked as camel drivers in the Central Australian desert.

As India and Australia were both British colonies, the citizens of these countries were free to roam to other British countries, which is why you see Sikhs in Malaysia, Fiji, Burma, Hong Kong etc. The Sikhs in Punjab and from sources in the South East Asian countries (Malaya, Burma, Hong Kong etc.) heard that Australia or "TELIA" as they used to call it - was 'open' and there was work readily available on farms. Thus, men in the hundreds started coming out to Australia from 1880 onwards.

These men used to come in large groups often from the same village, or surrounding villages via ship predominantly from the Doaba region of Punjab. The reason being in Doaba, since it is binded by two rivers - there was often shortages of land as it was divided between the succeeding generations, hence many turned to other sources of income; which included joining the Army, buying land in Pakistan (when new colonies were established by the British to till the land), or many chose the courageous venture of seeking opportunities abroad. The money they used to earn overseas, was used to increase landholdings back in the Punjab and also boosted the status (izzat) of the family in the village (pind), with the family often building solid brick (pakka) homes instead of the conventional mud-brick.

These early pioneers worked on Sugar Cane Plantations in North Queensland (Cairns, Atherton), and the Northern Rivers districts of New South Wales (Grafton, Harwood, Ballina, Murwillumbah), often moving between the two regions according to seasonal work. They also worked on banana plantations, husked corn, sold vegetables, and in between some would even work as hawkers. They were itinerate labourers. Apart from New South Wales, and Queensland - Sikhs were spread across the whole of Australia including Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, again working as either farm labourers or hawkers. These hawkers often held very close and respectable relationships with the families they frequently sold goods too throughout the remote regions and cities. You can go to any country town and ask an elder, and they will have either know an old Sikh Hawker that used to work in the area 100 years ago, or they will tell you stories about them passed down by their parents who had contact with these great men.

The farm labourers used to live and work together in "GANGS," often sleeping in barns form farm to farm. “Ganger” is a term used to describe the head of a sugar cane cutting gang. A team of cane cutters came together at the beginning of the season and they were usually assembled by a recognised leader known as the “Ganger,” on the understanding that the team would stay together for the seven-month season. The team usually consisted of eight or nine men, often young, fit single males. After motorised vehicles were introduced they travelled by truck from cane farm to cane farm, cutting the harvest by hand and at piece-work rates or for an agreed sum of money for the whole crop. The success of a full season depended upon very the success and organisational ability of the Ganger. He had to fulfil many functions:

1. To be able to bargain with the cane farmers on the team’s behalf.
2. To make sure that the pay and working conditions were satisfactory.
3. Make sure that the barracks supplied for the living quarters were of reasonable standard.
4. On the team level, he would need to ensure the team was well-fed and on most occasions a cook usually travelled as a member of the team so that they were kept as fit and well as possible, and that the morale of the team wasn’t undermined by the loneliness and circumstances of their nomadic life. Once a leader was known for these qualities, he would be classed as a top Ganger.

Some of the earliest arrivals in Australia, whose families / offspring continue to live in Australia. They have reached their 4th-5th generation now in Australia.

 1. 1885 - Surjan Singh Johal (Jandiala Manjki, Jalandhar)
 2. 1885 - Mahan Singh Grewal (Dhaliwal, Jalandhar)
 3. 1889 - Baba Ram Singh Rai (Bhulla Rai, near Phagwara)
 4. 1890 - Pal Singh Pooni (Muthada Kalan, Jalandhar)
 5. 1890 - Oudham Singh Arkan (Malpur Arkan, Nawanshahr)
 6. 1893 - Mangal Singh Bains (Bilga, Jalandhar)
 7. 1894 - Bhatti (Sahlon, Nawanshahr)
 8. 1895 - Beer Singh Johal (Jandiala Manjki, Jalandhar)
 9. 1895 - Prem Singh Majhel (Bhalojala, Amritsar)
10. 1895 - Bella Singh Bhangal (Amargarh, Nawanshahr)
11. 1895 - Inder Singh Arkan (Malpur Arkan, Nawanshahr)
12. 1896 - Jualla (Jolla) Singh Sohal (Atta, Jalandhar)
13. 1896 - Santa Singh Atwal (Bara Pind, Jalandhar)
14. 1896 - Massa Singh Chahal (Kaleke, Amritsar)
15. 1896 - Narain Singh Hayer (Heran, Jalandhar)
16. 1897 - Jawala Singh Lalli (Lallian, Hoshiarpur)
17. 1897 - Inder Singh Bagri (Chak Kalan, Jalandhar) 
18. 1898 - Waryam Singh Sidhu (Mansurpur, Jalandhar)
19. 1899 - Genda Singh Atwal (Rasulpur, Nawanshahr)
20. 1899 - Karam Singh (Boparai Kalan, Jalandhar)
21. 1900 - Gunda Singh Bains (Bains, Jalandhar)
22. 1900 - Hukam Singh Sahota (Bara Pind, Jalandhar)
23. 1901 - Basawa Singh Bassi (Bundala, Jalandhar)
24. 1901 - Kishan Singh Chohan (Chohan Nagar, Jalandhar)
25. 1901 - Thakur Singh More (Sadhpur, Nawanshahr)
26. 1901 - Inder Singh Dhadlie (Golewal, Nawanshahr)
27. 1901 - Inder Singh Thandi (Thandian, Nawanshahr)
28. 1902 - Moti Singh Benning (Kishanpura, Nawanshahr)
29. 1910 - Bakhtawar (Buck) Singh Samrai (Samrai, Jalandhar)
30. 1913 - Munsha Singh Toor (Dhaliwal, Jalandhar)
31. 1914 - Khem Singh Bhatty (Sahlon, Nawanshahr)
32. 1919 - Gharne Singh Mullee (Chugha Kalan, Moga)
33. 1880~1901 - Sarna Singh Dhesi (Sang Dhesian, Jalandhar)
34. 1880~1901 - Sewa Singh Dhesi (Kahna Dhesian, Jalandhar)
35. 1880~1901 - Arjan Singh Sandhar (Nawan Pind, Jalandhar)
36. 1880~1901 - Bhulla Singh Sodhi (Mehmoodpur, Nawanshahr)
37. 1880~1901 - Ganga Singh Gosal (Ratainda, Nawanshahr)
38. 1880~1901 - Gurbhan Singh (Bilga, Jalandhar)
39. 1880~1901 - Karam Chand (Bilga, Jalandhar)
40. 1880~1901 - Gurdit Singh (Bara Pind, Jalandhar)
41. 1880~1901 - Jewan Singh (Chak, Jalandhar)
42. 1880~1901 - Dalip Singh (Dhuleta, Jalandhar)
43. 1880~1901 - Ram Singh (Bilga, Jalandhar)
44. 1880~1901 - Booja Singh (Chak, Jalandhar)
45. 1880~1901 - Nanak Chand (Bilga, Jalandhar)
46. 1880~1901 - Bishan Das (Dhaliwal, Jalandhar)

There are many other families that descend from early pioneers that are not mentioned here.

Today a large number of Sikhs live in the town of Woolgoolga (roughly half way between Sydney and Brisbane on the highway. These people have their own Banana Farms and are quite rich. Their riches have come by hard work. There are two Sikh temples in Woolgoolga. One of them even has a Museum on Sikhism. A large number of British and Anglo Indians who were born in India migrated to Australia after 1947. These British citizens decided to settle in Australia in large numbers but are still counted as 'Indian' Nationals in the Census. You will be surprised to find that a full blooded Australian looking old man will whisper to you in Hindi or Urdu. The third wave of Indians came about 25 years ago, just after Australia abandoned its Whites Only policy in 1973. Yes, this is a little known fact that Australia until recently was a whites only country. This policy was abolished in 1973 and many Teachers and Doctors came to settle in Australia. Another big influx began with the silicon chi revolution. Large number of Indian Computer Software professional started arriving in Australia from 1973 onwards. Today it is hard to go to an IT shop and not find a few Indians working there.

Certificate of Exemption to the Dictation Test – CEDT

Many of the early Sikh pioneers obtained Certificates exempting them from a dictation test, that non-whites had to undergo if they wanted to enter Australia after 1901. However, it is not known how the Sikhs that entered for the first time after 1901 continued to or were permitted to reside and work in Australia.

There is an apparent lack of understanding about the roll that the Certificate of Exemption to the Dictation Test (CEDT) played during the period that the “Immigration Restriction Act 1901” known as the “White Australia Policy” was operating.

The Dictation Test was a written test in any European language chosen at random by the Migration Officers. It was primarily designed to keep non-white people from entering Australia. However, any Indian or other non-white person who was resident in Australia before 1900, could, if they chose to leave Australia, leave after applying for the CEDT, which would ensure that they could return to Australia at a time of their choosing and not undergo a Dictation Test.

Many people of all nationalities left Australia and re-entered Australia and experienced little difficulty re-entering Australia.

An example is Braham Singh who was a hawker in the Warrnambool District, Victoria and after being a resident in Australia for 29 years in 1928 (i.e. came to Australia in 1899) applied for, and obtained a CEDT and then travelled to India initially for 3 years but extended this period to 10 years and returned to Australia in 1938, without any problems.

CREDIT to "Australian Indian History" (Len Kenna & Crystal Jordan) for this clarification.

The Struggle

Template:Crystal The current wave of Indian migration is that of Engineers, tool makers from India, Gujrati business families from Africa and second level relatives of settled Indians. Most Gujrati families go into business. Engineers and Tool Makers, most of them, find a dead end of job. Being as enterprising as many Indians are, they either go back to College and study programming to land a decent and stable job. Others are venturing into their own businesses. September,98 A new wave of Indian immigrants has hit Australia. Starved of government funding, Australian education institutes are desperately recruiting full fee paying overseas students. Many universities have permanent representatives stationed in India and other Asian countries. Their efforts have been rewarded and a new influx of Indian students is entering Australia. It is estimated that Canberra University which is one of about two dozen universities is recruiting about 500 students every year for last four years. Many regional universities like University of Ballarratt have opened campus in Sydney to cater to these foreign students. Many of these students have paid large sums of fees and are looking for work to support themselves. This has started the transformation the working class. In 1986 a flux of non-skilled Indian immigrants meant that you could see white Australians being replaced by Indians in cleaning jobs.

In 1998 we have started seeing the replacement of counter staff and chefs at McDonalds and other places by young, bright and attentive Indian students. I guess the plight of Indian students in Australia is that of Indian student migration to USA during the 1970s. We will see many of these young boys becoming future millionaires in Australia in the year 2010 and beyond.

However, there are also many thousands of Punjabi-speaking students studying in Australia at any given time, who have come from India and Pakistan for higher education. The Punjabi community living in Australia is mostly a young and self-supporting community.

The Success

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 87% of Punjabis residing in Australia are aged under 50 and over 83% of the population are proficient in English.

As well as Sikhs, the community includes many Muslims, Hindus and a small number of Christians.

One of the more famous communities is the one located at Woolgoolga, on the north coast of New South Wales, which is made up of descendants of early Sikh pioneers of North Queensland and Northern New South Wales.

Punjabis have a vibrant culture, elements of which are infiltrating contemporary western music. The pulsating Bhangra music, once restricted to celebrate the harvest throughout Northern India, is now making its presence felt in dance clubs around the world. Bhangra music frequently tops the charts in the United Kingdom, Canada and the South East Asia. More recently, it has started."

"Today Sikhism is the world's 5th largest religion with a following of over 20 million. Most Sikhs live in the Punjab and neighboring Indian states but there are about 400,000 in the UK, 350,000 in the United States, 300,00 in Canada and smaller communities in Europe, Africa, South East Asia and Australia.

It is difficult to separate the history of early Sikh arrivals in Australia from that of others from South Asia. It appears that the first Sikhs came sometime after the 1830s to work as shepherds and farm labourers. In the 1860s cameleers commonly called 'Ghans' (short for Afghans) were brought to Australia. Amongst them were many Sikhs. They worked as camel-drivers taking part in exploration of the interior or set up camel-breeding stations or caravanserais. Other Sikhs arrived as free settlers and worked as hawkers and were joined by some of the earlier cameleers. Some hawkers became so successful they had their own stores. In 1889 Baba Ram Singh arrived and is thought to have brought the first Guru Granth Sahib to Australia in the early 1920s. Baba Ram Singh lived to be 106. Otim (Uttam) Singh arrived in 1890 and in 1907 established "The People Stores".

In the 1890s nearly 250 Sikhs worked on the sugar cane fields in Queensland. Others worked clearing bushland and establishing pastures for sheep and cattle. There were also Sikhs on the New South Wales north coast, who established communities and built Australia's first purpose-built gurdwara in Woolgoolga in 1968 with Australia's second built in 1970 in Woolgoolga as well.

From 1901 until 1973 Government policy made immigration for Sikhs difficult and there were few new arrivals. However since then Sikh settlers mainly from India and Sri Lanka but also from other countries including Malaysia, Singapore, Fiji, Kenya, Uganda and the United Kingdom have come to Australia."

After a period of dormancy during the white Australia immigration policy, demand appeared for the first Sikh temple to be built in Sydney in 1978 and two further temples were built in Melbourne soon after. Although most Sikhs have come to Australia from India, there has also been some significant recent Sikh emigration from Malaysia. In the 1996 census, 12,017 Australians identified their religion as Sikh, with roughly half residing in Sydney at the time.

Sikhs and Woolgoolga

Permanent European settlement occurred in the 1870s. Prior to this, the area was inhabited by the Gumbaingirr Aboriginal tribe. It is believed that the name of the town derives from the word "Weelgoolga", which was used by the local Aborigines to describe the area, and the lilly-pilly trees that grew there. The name "Woogoolga" was gazetted in 1888, and changed to the current name of Woolgoolga in 1966.

Woolgoolga was an early centre of Sikh migration to Australia, in the region of Coffs Harbour, which was formerly known as Australia's banana capital. Sikhs had migrated to New South Wales and Queensland prior to the imposition of the prohibition of non-European migration under the White Australia Policy in 1901 and many of them then led a marginalised life on the North Coast of New South Wales and in southeastern Queensland. Some Sikhs began to settle in Woolgoolga during World War II, because war-time labour shortages led to a relaxation of the previous prohibition of non-European labour in the banana industry. After the war they were able to acquire leasehold and freehold banana plantations. Woolgoolga has the largest regional Sikh/Punjabi population in Australia, and they are now said to own 90% of the banana farms. These Sikhs in Woolgoolga since the turn of the 21st century have transitioned to Blueberries, as North Queensland started mass producing bananas, which increased the competition in Australia. Since then, many Sikh families have made fortunes from Blueberry farming, as they did earlier with Bananas.

Woolgoolga has two Gurdwaras (Sikh temples):

  • The Sikh Temple Woolgoolga (the first purpose built Gurdwara in Australia)
  • The Guru Nanak Gurdwara ('The Temple on the Hill')

See Also: Australian Gurdwaras


Recently many youth from rural and urban Punjab are easily migrating to Australia in last few years, more particulary to Melbourne. This is mainly on study bases.

See also


External links