Sikhism in Australia

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Sikhs are in Australia since the 1890s. Last few year there have been many Punjabi Sikh immigrants in Australia. This is mostly due to the educational visas. Sikh population in Australia is estimated at 50,000.


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. Some of the earliest Punjabi arrivals in Australia included Sardar Beer Singh, Johal who came in 1895 and Sardar Narain Singh Hayer, who arrived in 1898. 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.

Sikh labor workers

More Indians came to Australia more than fifty years ago while both Australia and India were British colonies. These enterprising Sikhs came to work on the Banana Plantations in Southern Queensland. Today a large number of them live in the town of Wolgoolga (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 Wolgoolga. One of them even has a Museum on Sikhism. A large number of British and Anglo Indians who 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. Yes, this is a little known fact that Australia until recently was a whites only country. This policy was abolished 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 1976 onwards. Today it is hard to go to an IT shop and not find a few Indians working there. When a military coupe took place in Fiji almost a decade ago and

Today there is a large Fiji Indian population in Australia who call Australia there home. These Fiji Indians have changed the face of Indian Australia. While most earlier Indian migration was that of educated professionals, these new Fiji Indians were more dynamic and business going. Their arrival has increased the services enjoyed by all Indians. [1]

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 Sikh plantation workers.

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 1890 Baba Ram Singh and Otim (Uttam) Singh arrived and in 1907 established "The People Stores". Baba Ram Singh lived to be 106. He is thought to have brought the first Guru Granth Sahib to Australia in the early 1920s. As their families were not allowed to join these early pioneers many travelled back and forth finally returning to their original homeland to retire.

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. Later some Sikhs moved south to the New South Wales north coast, continued farming, established communities and built Australia's first purpose-built gurdwara in Woolgoolga.

From 1901 until the 1970s 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 1970 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.

Although there are no sectarian divisions with Sikhism in Australia, there is a slight polarisation of the community over the political importance of the Punjabi struggle for independence, about which Malaysian Sikhs do not have the same cultural investment as Indian Sikhs.

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. 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.

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