Reading Time: 6 minutesAn in-depth look at the India-born Punjabi speaking community in Australia
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is the main statistical agency in Australia and has been conducting a Census of Population and Housing once every five years since 1961. The most recent Census was conducted by the ABS in 2011.
The 2011 Census data published by the ABS contains information relating to the language spoken at home by country of birth. The ‘language spoken at home’ question records the main language other than English spoken at home. A peek into the demographic characteristics of Indian-born people in Australia who indicated Punjabi to be the language spoken at home reveals some interesting trends.
According to the ABS, on 9 August 2011 (i.e. Census night), there were around 57,000 India-born people in Australia who indicated that they mainly speak Punjabi at home. A major proportion of this population arrived in Australia in or after the year 2007. The reasons given for immigration are wide and varied, including for higher studies, better career prospects, to join family members or a combination thereof.
Sanjona Thakkar, of Melbourne, hails from Punjab and is a recent immigrant to Australia. “I came to Melbourne with my spouse in 2013 and am currently working towards meeting the requirements to work as a dentist in Australia,” she said.
Some historical documents indicate that the first Sikhs, a vast majority of whom can be assumed to be from Punjab, arrived in Australia around the mid-1800s. The early migrants came from an agrarian background in India and engaged in agricultural and livestock production related activities. With the passage of time and towards the beginning of the 20th century, a large proportion of Sikhs in Australia were working as hawkers in regional Australia. Hawking in those times typically required travelling from one town to another on horse driven carts and selling goods of interest to farmers and their families. These goods ranged from work wear to fashionable clothing. The Sikh hawkers of that time are a testament to the industrious and dynamic nature of the community.
The changing socio-political climate of early to middle 20th century led Sikhs to many other places in Australia and various occupations. Notable amongst these are the Sikh settlements in NSW’s mid north coast town of Woolgoolga. Many Sikhs settled in Woolgoolga around the middle of the 20th century and helped fill in the war time shortages of labour in the banana industry which is prominent in this region. Woolgoolga now has one of the largest Sikh populations in regional Australia and a vast majority of the banana farms in the region are owned by Sikhs.
The metropolitan region spread of the Punjabi community in Australia today indicates that more than 50% of this population resides in Greater Melbourne (48%) and Greater Sydney (27%) combined. The balance population is located in Greater Brisbane (9%), Greater Adelaide (7%), Greater Perth (7%) and other regions of Australia. A vast majority of this population indicated an affiliation with Sikhism. The population is well represented across different income groups, and the estimated average individual income is circa $30,000 per annum. Both Melbourne and Sydney host a number of Gurdwaras and Punjabi associations. Gurdwaras are Sikh places of worship. Some of the Punjabi and Sikh associations in Melbourne and Sydney include the Victorian Sikh Association, Australian Punjabi Association Melbourne, and the Australian Sikh Association. Such associations serve the Punjabi and Sikh community in Australia and its specific regions. They also contribute to the wider Australian society by way of charitable activities and by actively engaging in the development of a more multicultural Australia.
Jagtar Singh is affiliated with the Australia Sikh Association Inc. in Sydney. “The Australian Sikh Association actively engages in many community events including fund raising for people affected by natural disasters and other similar events. We helped raise funds for the people affected by the recent bush fires in Victoria and New South Wales, and the Queensland floods,” he said.
The growing number of people in this community has led to the celebration of Punjabi festivals in major metropolitan cities of Australia on a fairly large scale. The community celebrates a range of Punjabi festivals including Lodhi, Teeyan, Makar Sankrant and Holi. Paramjit Kaur Dosanjh is a member of the Teeyan festivity organising committee in Melbourne. “Teeyan is characterised by newly married and young unmarried women coming together to celebrate the beginning of the rainy season. Traditionally, married women used to visit their parental home to celebrate Teeyan. In 2014, the Teeyan celebrations in Melbourne attracted in excess of 700 people from the Punjabi community,” she said.
A major proportion of this population is associated with the 20-34 year age cohort (70%), and the estimated average age of this population is approximately 31 years. The proportion of males (61%) in this community far outnumbers the females (39%). A vast majority of this population over the age of 15 years are married (65%), and this is followed by people who have never married (26%). These statistics indicate that this community is characterised by being a predominantly young demographic group. Education and sports are encouraged for the young within the community. Punjabi language schools conduct classes in major Australian capital cities for those interested in learning the language. Some of these include the Khalsa Punjabi School in Melbourne, Sikh Gurudwara Perth Punjabi School, and the Punjabi School in Adelaide.
Punjabi landmarks such as Baisakhi are now increasingly celebrated in State parliaments.
In many Australian cities, Sikh ex-servicemen participate proudly in the annual Anzac Day parades, in a tribute to their Anzac forebears.
“It is a solemn ceremony of remembrance to show our gratitude for the bravery and heroism of our ancestors,” says Bawa Jagdev of the Sikh Council of Australia, and a regular Sydney parade participant.
One of the important events in the community’s social calendar is the Australian Sikh Games. These are held once every year in a new city or town every subsequent time and are a representation of the Sikh community’s competitive spirit. These games commenced in 1988 and the 27th Annual Australian Sikh games recently concluded in Perth. There are unconfirmed reports that the 2015 Sikh games will be held in Coffs Harbour in NSW.
Furthermore, an increasing number of the athletes from the Punjabi community are beginning to make a mark at the national and international level. Rupinder Kaur is a wrestler who represented Australia at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games this year; Sandeep Kumar represented Australia in freestyle wrestling at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing; and Gurinder Singh Sandhu is an Australian cricketer who played for the Australia Under-19 cricket team in the 2012 ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup.
The Punjabi community in Australia is a significant element of the larger Australian fabric, and continues to make positive contributions to the Australia community.