”˜Successful stories of Indo-Australians’: interesting tales of Indians past and present

Harmohan Walia and his wife Manbeen Walia at the book launch with Consul General Manish Gupta, Geoff Lee MP, NSW Opposition Leader Ms. Jody McKay, and Dave Passi

A Review by Neena Badhwar

Harmohan Walia’s coffee table book ”˜Successful stories of 50 Indo-Australians’ is making waves in Australia. Walia has been able to gather stories and struggles of Indians, their trials and triumphs, the accounts by the fifty select group that include some who have charted inspiring journey of migration to the land down under with forefathers of some who came over a 100 years ago to other arrivals as recent as the ones who came in this 21st century.

Yet the common element in all their accounts is one of a curiosity laden adventurous spirit to go see foreign shores, with an ambition and a drive to make a success, thus a transition in their life to succeed financially as well as help settle as a family while contributing their youth to the new land, imparting their value system through food, language and culture.

In the olden days men came first leaving their wives and children back in India. Whereas hundred years hence when Australia opened its doors to Asian migration, families landed lock, stock and barrel, with spouse, children all coming together, some even with jobs already on offer.

Baljinder Singh looked for his grandfather him having come to Australia in 1920. Baljinder after a long and painful search found an unmarked grave in Liverpool of his granddad Mehnga Singh and installed a plaque in his memory there.

Story of Baljinder Singh is quite heartrending account how he came and went looking for his grandfather Mehnga Singh who had come here in 1920 having left his grandma behind who stayed true to her husband never seeing him and died waiting. Ultimately Baljinder came armed with his grandfather’s letters that he had written to his grandma, finally him finding his grandfather’s unmarked grave in Liverpool.  Then there are others who just came and struggled to get their qualifications recognised and found it hard to adjust with no Aussie job experience and learnt the ropes as they proceeded. Some changed their career all together.

I remember a friend who was teaching at an Indian university English, switched to teaching Maths when he arrived here, only because we Indians are quite good at it, he used to say, “Angrezan nu me ki angrezi padani ye.” He went on to write over thirty books on the subject of Maths from year 6 to year 12 NSW students. Stories of first gurdwara, first temple, how the pioneering Indians acquired by collecting funds from their petty salaries, cooking themselves holding social parties and dinners, picnics and holding festival celebrations. These are the services which we take for granted in the current Australia of hundreds of Indian restaurants, spice shops, dress and jewellery shops that dot the place with little Indias cropping up in Harris park, Liverpool, Blacktown, St. Mary’s and many other places.

Indians, wherever we go, we work hard, have strong family values and contribute through sincere commitment to work ethics and try to help ourselves prosper as a family unit with second generation who is well integrated in terms of education, careers having made inroads into the mainstream society. An Indian’s proud moment is when they glowingly and proudly talk about their children of how well settled they are, job, career and finance wise.

Walia’s picks include, in this first effort, he says, “Already there is great interest for a second volume. Also these fifty are not just the only ones among many hundreds who have led inspiring and successful life and career.” He recently launched this glossy 180-page hardbound colourful book in NSW Parliament house, a function that was attended by politicians, leading members of the society as well as some who are the select fifty in the book.

Hon. Jody McKay, Opposition Leader NSW, congratulated Harmohan Walia when she said,  “These are extraordinary and amazing stories of achievements and struggles and a direction for the future generations of the growing Indian community in Australia. I know most of these people featured in the book”.

Hon. Geoff Lee MP said at the launch, “Australia India relations are very strong. Australia is the best place for multicultural communities. The book showcases the pioneering nature of people from the Indian community which is inspirational. The Indian community is quite strong in Parramatta and contributing to multiculturism in New South Wales. I congratulate Mr Walia for this huge effort”.

Mr Manish Gupta, Consul General of India said, “Mr. Harmohan Walia is a friend of many friends, always cheerful and a torchbearer of community spirit.”

In the book, the story tellers have related their accounts of their lives here, which give the readers an insight into their struggles of all kinds, for example where they found a spice shop which could sell them spices, rice and flour, their struggles in finding a relevant job suited to their qualifications or if not, then how they went about volunteering for jobs just to get local experience. Names such as Moses Spice Centre in Bondi keeps on cropping up, here and there, also of the one and lonely Indian restaurant in those early days, of the Indo-Australian cultural Society, of recession of the nineteen nineties and scarcity of jobs, or how the cane cutters used sign language to communicate while cutting cane seven days a week, as they made life-long friends with their Aussie employers who acted as their guardians even.

Mangal Singh Bains came in 1893, recounts his great grandson Gian Singh Bains
Molly Johal (in red dress), a fourth generation Indian , and a successful farmer herself, her great grandfather Sardar Gurbachan Singh Sanghera came in 1890

Stories of Bains and Johal family are quite inspiring and depict an era of Australia hundred years ago, then stories of some who came under the Colombo Study Plan in the 1950s who contributed through their academic skills such as of Dr. Sidhu, a scientist whose work centred on Sea Food processing, Prevention of Milk Oxidation, Lowering cholesterol absorption and much more.

Dr Gurbachan singh Sidhu with his wife
Pallavi Sinha, young and upcoming successful lawyer from second generation of Indo-Australians when her parents Dr.Prabhat and Neena Sinha came in the 1970s

Banana farmers, teachers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, managers, IT professionals, businessmen, property developers and other varied professions, they all make up an inspiring yet a formidable bunch. Sheba Nankeolyar running an advertising agency, Mala Mehta and her work with Hindi education, businessmen in Chandru Tolani and Raman Pillay are a good read among artists, writers and doctors, of course.

Neville Roach AO with previous Consul General to Sydney Vanlal Vawna garlanding Gandhi’s bust at NSW university

Neville Roach, AO who helped in his hey days on formatting multicultural policy for the government of those days which, of course, has helped Australia into a successful multicultural and a harmonised society living peacefully with people from over 130 nations who made Australia their home. Indians surely have played a big part, are a growing population with close to sixty gurdwaras and 75 temples. They top the skilled migration list of people arriving in Australia with Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and Tamil languages also growing in number along with them.

Community with NSW Premier Ms.Gladys Berejiklian
Satinder Chawla, an actor and and a director of seven feature films, with wife Jaswinder Kaur and sons Manan and Aman Chawla make a modern successful Punjabi family in Australia

Stories are interspersed with vignettes devoted to the vibrant Indian society made up of artists, well known people, cultural groups, sports personalities, Indian consular services with a table on bilateral trade between India and Australia and much more.

The fifty of Walia’s successful stories are a window to many more hundreds and thousands who struggled in the community who came here in the last 125 years as Australia is still a desired country for many an Indians who wish to make this place their second home. For all those who plan to come this book is a good guide of what to expect if and when they arrive here.

There are typos here and there with some accounts and choice of people which seems a bit preferential but then as Walia puts it, “I did contact many and worked on it for a year, obviously deadline had to be set somewhere.” Pictures of people with their family and friends could carry captions along with their stories too. Also there are some who have been given six pages of their account while others got just one page.

Book Title: Success Stories of Indo-Australians: 50 Inspirational stories of trials and triumphs

Publisher: Harmohan Singh Walia, 0402 842 375

Printer: Guangzhou Co-Dream Printing

PP: 180

Short URL: https://indiandownunder.com.au/?p=16098