Dr Peshotan Katrak ”“ Rehab Physician and head priest ”“ receives Australia Day honours

By Kersi Meher-Homji

Having known Ervad Dr Peshotan Katrak for 43 years, it was a thrill to learn that he was awarded the AM (Member of the Order of Australia) in the 2018 Australia Day Honours List. He is honoured for his significant service to rehabilitation medicine, to medical education and to the Zoroastrian community in Sydney as their high priest.

Born in Mumbai in 1944, he received his MD from Mumbai University, MRCP in London and then completed training in the speciality of Rehabilitation Medicine (FAAPMR) from California, USA. He migrated to Australia in 1975 with post-graduate qualifications from three continents.

Dr Peshotan Katrak as President of AFRM RACP (Australasian Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, Royal Australasian College of Physicians)

It was the fourth continent ”“ Australia ”“ which brought him greatest satisfaction in personal and professional circles. Married to Shernaz he is the father of two sons, Sohrab and Arash.

Peshotan was among the pioneers of Rehabilitation Medicine in Australia. “At that time there were only a handful of fully qualified specialists as there was no program for young doctors in this field in Australia”, he said.

In 1981 he helped to set up a training program and establish a national medical college for doctors to have a training program and establish a national medical college for doctors to become specialists in Rehabilitation Medicine in Australia and New Zealand.

He was awarded Foundation Fellowship of the Australasian College of Rehabilitation Medicine and its subsequent incarnation, the Australasian Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine (Royal Australasian College of Physicians).

“I served as Honorary Secretary to the Board of Censors of the new Australasian College of Rehabilitation Medicine for the first 13 years. Also I was intimately involved in setting up and reviewing a post-graduate training program in Rehabilitation Medicine and conducting examinations for Fellowship candidates,” Peshotan added.

He was elected to the office of President of the Australasian Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine from 1995 to 1997. This is the peak academic body of specialists in this field in Australia and New Zealand.

He has worked as a Rehab Physician at the University of NSW teaching hospitals since 1977 being actively involved in training more than one hundred Registrars in Rehabilitation Medicine and in teaching undergraduate medical students for nearly 40 years.

Now to the other facet of Ervad Dr Peshotan Katrak’s achievements, as the high priest of the Australian Zoroastrian Association (AZA) of New South Wales.

He started to perform religious ceremonies for Zoroastrians in Sydney after arriving in Australia as there were no other practising mobeds [priests] in the community here and some families were finding it difficult to go back to India for Navjote, a ceremony in which an individual usually under nine years in age is inducted into the Zoroastrian religion.

He performed the first Navjote and the first mobed-led Jashan in Sydney (probably the first in Australia) in 1977. He has been leading prayers at the Association’s Annual Jashans ever since as also for many Jashans each year for individual families. [Jashan is a religious thanksgiving ceremony performed by two or more mobeds.]

Apart from religious ceremonies Peshotan has served on the Management Committee of the Australian Zoroastrian Association of NSW in various capacities including Committee member from 1976 to 1982 and as President of AZA in 1981-82. He was also on the Foundation (Building Fund) Committee from its inception in 1978 till 1986, being its Chairman when AZA purchased its five acre property in December 1985.

He has also been a Trustee of AZA several times.

He was involved in starting the AZA Sunday School in 1977 and has conducted prayer classes at the monthly Sunday School over the last 40 years for which he received Appreciation Award from AZA on its 25th anniversary in 2002 and on its 40th anniversary in 2017.

He was presented with a shawl for honorary services to the community as a priest in 1987 and was honoured as the Zoroastrian of the Year. His other achievements have been:

  • Involved in drafting the AZA Constitution in 1984 and being on subsequent constitution review committees.
  • Principal author of Basic Information Guide for Zoroastrian Funeral Arrangements published by AZA in 2005.
  • Lifetime Achievement Award for Volunteers from NSW Government, Multi-cultural Affairs Department in 2009.
  • Help other volunteers during the monthly ”˜working bee’ to maintain AZA House and the grounds in good order.

All monies he has received for prayers since 1977 have been donated to AZA. Many other mobeds in Sydney have continued to follow this practice.

It was pleasant having a chat with Peshotan recently. To my question about the highlights of the Zoroastrian community in Australia, he replied, “Sydney has the largest Zoroastrian community in Australia. When I arrived in Sydney in 1975, the relatively small numbers of Zoroastrians had formed the Australian Zoroastrian Association of NSW and had regular social get-togethers.

“For the first seven or eight years I was the sole practicing mobed in Sydney but fortunately other mobeds came in and life became much easier. Now we have over ten mobeds who perform religious ceremonies from time to time. Amongst these are a number of young men from the Sunday School who have had their nawar (initiation into priesthood) ceremony performed in India. Parsi and Irani Zoroastrians have always had a very cordial relationship here.

“In 1978 we decided to start a Building Fund to acquire ”˜A Place to call our own’. After many years of painstakingly slow progress, the Ostowari family who were amongst the early settlers in Sydney gave us a boost with a $60,000 donation and we purchased a five acre property on the north-western outskirts of Sydney in December 1985 with funds gathered entirely from our members.

“Some years later we received a substantial donation from the Guiv Foundation and the Zarthoshti Brothers that helped to erect a new building on the Association’s property. As per the terms of this donation the building is named the Arbab Rostam and Morvarid Guiv Darbe Meher but is still commonly referred to as AZA House. This property has fulfilled our original dream of having ”˜A Place to call our own’.

Ervad Peshotan Katrak with Pope Benedict XVI at the Interfaith Meeting held on 18 July 2008 during the Pope’s visit to Sydney for the World Youth Day.

“Under our Constitution the non- Zoroastrian spouse of a Zoroastrian member and their children are considered full members of the Association. Consequently non- Zoroastrian spouses are welcome at all our functions and prayer ceremonies; and in fact many of them are often involved in the Association’s activities and have served in executive roles on our management committees.

“The future for the Australian Zoroastrian Association as I see it is quite bright. We have a solid foundation for the organisation with many good traditions that our younger generations have grown up with. Several pupils from our Sunday School of early 1980’s have returned to join me in teaching the newer generations and we have an active ”˜youth group’ that is involved in the Association’s activities.

“Overall although time consuming, being a Zoroastrian priest ”˜down under’ has been a very rewarding experience and I feel fortunate in having been able to play a small part in the establishment of our Zoroastrian community here and in helping to preserve some of our religious traditions.”

Peshotan’s hobbies

“I love tennis, painting and sculpture. I made a Faroher in clay (1.5 meter wide) for the entrance of our Darbe Meher and a meter high ”˜flame’ in fibreglass for a Pergola on the AZA property. Recently I have booked to learn stained glass picture making on my last visit to Mumbai!”

Is there anything our head priest Pesho cannot do?

In February 2007 he painted a portrait of the famous Australian cricketer Dennis Lillee on mine and my wife Villie’s 40th wedding anniversary. A few years later I had it autographed by the great Lillee, a priceless possession!

It has been a pleasure and privilege knowing Ervad Dr Peshotan Katrak AM as a friend, one of the founders of AZA, its high priest and as one of the pioneers of rehabilitation medicine in Australia.

Peshotan Katrak (sitting in the middle, in white shirt) felicitated by friends at the AZA Arbab Rostam and Morvarid Guiv Darbe Meher soon after he received the Australia Day honours for AM.


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