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The Goan expat community thrives in their new home in Australia
For a Goan like me who made Australia his home six years ago, it’s a matter of pride to see the Goan diaspora here doing what they do best – maintaining their love for the Konkani language, holding the patron saint Francis Xavier with much reverence, even though they are thousands of miles away from their homeland, and of course, always being hospitable and welcoming.
From the Northern Territory to South Australia and from Western Australia to Queensland, Goans – even though small in numbers – have made their presence felt Down Under. Goans have traditionally known to migrate to countries to better their lives. Australia has long been a much preferred destination for Goans looking to move overseas.
Indeed, our Portuguese ancestors may even have been the first outsiders to visit this island continent.
While the real question remains as to who discovered Australia – whether English explorer Captain James Cook, who landed at Botany Bay in 1770 as told by Australian history books, or the Portuguese explorer Captain Cristovao Mendonca – the original inhabitants, the Aborigines, will always contest the claim.
Australian author and historian Peter Trickett chanced upon some documents in a Canberra bookshop that include maps copied from Portuguese sources that are an accurate depiction of all the headlands and bays along the east coast of Australia. This shows that Mendonca navigated the area in the 1520s, some 250 years before Cook arrived. However, this has not impressed the experts, and the debate continues.
Coming back to the Goans who made Australia home hundreds of years later, a recently-released book tells us more about this community of warm-hearted, food and music-loving descendants of the Portuguese.
Dr Jaya Earnest recounts the voices of Goan migrants in in her book Goenkars in Western Australia: Voices and Images of a Vibrant Goan Community. An Associate Professor at Curtin University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, Earnest retraces the experiences of her compatriots as they came to this land in pursuit of their aspirations and hopes of building new lives in the 19 century.
She notes, “Sailing on towards the seaports of Adelaide and Sydney alongside Afghans, camels and other goods, Goans helped open up the rugged and unexplored interior of the continent. However, it was not until the late 1950s and early 1960s that the first significant wave of Goan migration occurred when seafarers landed as crew members of sailing ships from British India and called into ports such as Albany, Fremantle and Bunbury in Western Australia. This was followed by Goans from Uganda, Malawi and later Kenya and Tanzania in the mid-1970s. In the mid-1980s, Goans came in from the Middle East, primarily due to the lack of avenues for permanent settlement there.”
Goans and hospitality, it is said, go hand in hand. Young families arriving from overseas have been welcomed by the more established community members with arms open wide. Take, for example, Agnelo and Angela Pereira who moved to Perth from Dubai some eight years ago and have opened the doors to their home to newly arrived families, helping them settle in a new country.
The amazing culture of brotherhood was also evident when a young student from Vasco was provided assistance in settling into the Australian way of life by another couple from Brisbane. There has never been a dearth of Goan hospitality from the Goans settled here.
Revering St Francis
Even as they settle into their new lives here, the reverence to St Francis Xavier continues unabated. Goans in Australia have been able to keep their strong ties with our Goencho Saib, St Francis Xavier. Goans in Adelaide worship at the St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in the city at Victoria Square. Melbourne has the oldest St. Francis Catholic Church on its original site, the St Francis’ Church. There is also the Catholic Parish of St Francis Xavier at St Clare Box Hill. In Wollongong NSW, the Cathedral Saint Francis Xavier welcomes members of the community. In Queensland, Brisbane has St Francis Xavier Church in Goodna and St Francis Xavier Church in Dayboro. In Western Australia there is the St. Francis Xavier Church in Hilbert and the St Francis Xavier Cathedral at Geraldton. In the Northern Territory, the St Francis Xavier Church is in Nauiyu.
St Patricks College in Shorncliffe Brisbane has a school house named after St Francis Xavier. The saint’s life is actively discussed by the students who are asked to live by his principles.
However, for young couple Hefner Nazareth and his wife Michelle who moved from Adelaide to Perth a couple of years ago, St. Francis Xavier shares a very special place in their lives. They began their marital journey on the feast day of St. Francis Xavier in Goa. They currently are residents of the St. Francis Xavier Parish in Hilbert and are active members in the community.
In Brisbane the feast of St. Francis Xavier is celebrated with much fervour by the Club de Goa which, besides having a Goan priest celebrate the feast mass, also hosts the annual dine-and-dance. This mega event, which is now frequented by many members of the mainstream, was launched in 1984 by Alzira and John D’Souza who arrived here from Africa.
Occasions like these give Goan settlers an opportunity to interact with others and share stories of their experiences in Australia, as well as catch up with what is happening back home in the motherland. The food is traditionally Goan, the games are some that many of us played growing up, and the cultural programmes ensure that the rich Goan tradition is kept alive in Australia.
Promoting Konkani language
Mario Carvalho and his wife Cherylanne (Chinky) Carvalho, from Madel Pequeno in Margao, established the Konkanni Cultural & Heritage Inc. (KCHI) in Melbourne. They have been instrumental in organising the Goan Carnival in Melbourne which brings together the Goan community from every corner of Victoria. The KCHI organises regular events such as inviting Goan music artists to perform in Australia.
They recently gave the Goan community a taste of a Konkani tiatr Bhogsonnem, thanks to elite theatre group Uzvadd Goencho.
Today, even traditional Goan sausages are available in Australia making sure Goans never miss their quota of authentic cuisine. And of course, Australians at large are fond of the Beef Vindaloo, a popular item from Goan cuisine.