Bypass threat to local Sikjs' way of life
By DAVID MOASE
TO Kashmir Singh Gill, the Roads and Traffic Authority's preference for a Pacific Highway bypass to the west of Woolgoolga is more than an unwanted new roadway ? it is a threat to the future of the whole Punjabi community.
The area's Sikh population was stunned late last year when it learned the RTA's Option E route would bulldoze its way through many of their farms.
If the road goes ahead as planned, it will cut large chunks out of the land where they grow bananas, blueberries, stone fruit, vegetables and flowers, as well as where they live and work with their extended families.
It also threatens to tear apart the fabric that binds those families that have been an integral part of the Woolgoolga community for more than 50 years.
"People don't know what they would do if they were to lose their farms, and that's
scaring the community," Mr Gill said this week.
"I guess we are hoping for some miracle."
While they continue to hope, Mr Gill and the rest of the community are working to put pressure on the RTA to change its plans.
They have started lobbying politicians and working with other community groups with concerns about the plans for the highway, including the Woolgoolga Area Residents (WAR) group and the Bypass Action Network (BAN).
Stepan Kerkyasharian, the chair of the Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW, will meet the Punjabi community in Coffs Harbour on September 13 and the NSW Regional Communities Consultative Council is also lobbying on their behalf.
Woolgoolga Neighbourhood Centre co-ordinator Rashmere Bhatti is quick to point out that Option E would have a number of devastating effects on the Punjabis if it goes ahead.
"Agriculture is at the core of the community's lives," she said.
"These are farms that were established by the grandfathers of the present owners and are home to extended families.
"While Option E may go through about 16 properties, there may be up to four generations living together there and other relatives would work on the farm.
"If these farms are no longer viable and the families are forced to move away, they don't have the skills for anything else.
"Who, then, would look after the older generations?"
Jaswinder Singh is a third generation farmer who has thought about the prospect of losing his land and does not like the idea.
"We would have to go to the city or something," he said.
"I'm middle-aged now and know nothing else. "What would I do?"