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Matriarch a survivor

Joginder Kaur Arkan has travelled a long road in 70 years from Jullandar to Woolgoolga. She has returned to India several times
Joginder Kaur Arkan has travelled a long road in 70 years from Jullandar to Woolgoolga. She has returned to India several times

By BELINDA SCOTT

JOGINDER Kaur Arkan is a matriarch who embodies the resilience of the Coffs Coast community.

When she snips the ribbon to open the new Coles supermarket in Moonee's new shopping centre this week, it will be recognition of another step in a long journey.

One of the first Indian women to make their home in Woolgoolga, Mrs Arkan and her family have been among those consulted by Coles management about grocery lines needed or wanted by the Indian community, one of the region's largest groups of migrants.

Her eldest daughter, Sarto Nachatter, said her mother was 'tickled pink' by the invitation.

"She's never done anything like that before," Ms Nachatter said.

The dignified 70-year-old grandmother has survived physical and financial hardship, cultural dislocation and isolation, family tragedy and political upheavals.

Born in Jullandar in the Punjab in 1935, Joginder Kaur Arkan left a rural village in India to move to Coffs Harbour with her Australian-born husband and baby daughter in 1958. She spoke no English when she arrived in the region, but taught her Korora neighbours Punjabi while they taught her English, until both were fluent.

She lived in a banana packing shed without electricity, hot water or an indoor toilet and made all her family's clothes by hand.

A return trip to India ended abruptly when the family had to flee border violence between India and Pakistan, returning to Australia with only the clothes they were wearing.

After her husband died tragically in a 1970 car accident, Mrs Arkan raised a family of six children on a single mother's pension. The accident, on the Pacific Highway near Avocado Heights, also seriously injured two of her young sons.

As a result of her grim struggle to survive financially, she became a trail blazer for women in Woolgoolga's Indian community.

"You girls are not going into the bananas and getting married early," she told her three daughters, pushing them to finish school, go to university and have independent careers.

For 11 years she worked in banana packing sheds, eventually managing to buy two properties, even though she could read and write only her own name. She now lives in her own house in a street named after her family.

Friendly and outgoing and a talented cook and needleworker, Mrs Arkan today is actively involved in multicultural education. She loves children, and travels to schools from Iluka and Yamba to Macksville, giving hands-on lessons in Punjabi culture to primary and secondary school children, as well as hosting her own grandchildren.

Today her three sons and three daughters have families of their own and are involved in business and the professions on the Coffs Coast.



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