Woolgoolga oasis of Indian culture
FAMED for its Sikh Indian community, Woolgoolga is said to be a true microcosm of today’s multicultural Australia.
Regarded as an oasis of Indian culture and for its Temple on the Hill, Woolgoolga is known among local Sikhs as ‘The Missing Piece of Paradise’.
Making up half of the town’s population, Sikh farming families control 90 per cent of the banana plantations in the area.
Their history in Woolgoolga began during the 1940s when immigrants from the Punjab came to Australia to work on local farms.
The first to arrive were adventurist sojoumers who left their families to make their fortune.
Some of these early immigrants eventually returned to India, but the majority stayed, developing a love and attachment to this country.
They settled in Woolgoolga during World War II, because of labour shortages.
After the war they were able to acquire leases and freeholds on banana plantations. Word soon spread that there was a good living to be made farming and more Sikh migrants followed.
A short time later, the nation’s first Gurdwara, the Sikh Temple Woolgoolga, was built in Hastings Street.
Then after decades of prospering from their hard work, the Sikh community funded the construction of the famed Guru Nanak Gurdwarra ‘The Temple on the Hill’.
Some of the earliest Sikhs to arrive in Woolgoolga were Joginder Singh, Ralla Singh, Ganda Singh and Rap Chand.
The first permanent resident was Labu Singh from Belga and Booja Singh from Malpar Arkan – the first Indian to purchase a banana plantation in Hollaways Road.
Over the past 70 years, the community has flourished, with families integrating into the community.
At last count there were 2500 Sikhs in the Coffs Harbour City Council area, while 21 per cent of the 450 students enrolled at Woolgoolga Public School are of Indian ancestry.
Woolgoolga Sikh leaders say the town’s Indian heritage would not have been possible without the welcome, tolerance and encouragement of the host community.
“We are also grateful to our forefathers who chose to make their home in this country where there is personal, political, religious freedom, social and cultural equality.
“We are proud and honoured to be Australians. We are thankful for the privileges that we have enjoyed and we will fulfil our obligations with great enthusiasm.
“We will endeavour to make this community a paragon of multicultural Australia,” Woolgoolga Sikh leaders said in a statement.
By maintaining their culture, religion and heritage, the Sikhs have contributed to the ethnic and cultural diversity of the town, thereby giving Woolgoolga it’s unique and distinctive character.
Pal Singh, his wife Kulwinder Kaur and their two sons say relocating to the Coffs Coast from India is the best decision they’ve ever made.
Mr Singh first arrived in Woolgoolga 15 years ago working hard to make a living from a banana and blueberry plantation at Upper Corindi.
Five years ago his family joined him from India, settling into the coastal community.
Sabi Sandhu and Jaskaran Singh say the best part of the move to Australia has been living in close quarters with their extended family.
“It’s just like at home, having so many of our cousins living near us, but Woolgoolga is a more beautiful place,” Jaskaran said.
The family hails from the Punjab town of Sandhwan.
Coming from a long line of farmers, the Singh’s link to the town came after their aunt Jaswinder married into the Woolgoolga Indian community.
WOOLGOOLGA’S SIKH INDIANS
The Sikh meeting and greeting phrase holds great significance – much more than a simple hello or goodbye.
Sat Shri Akal Ji, literally means truth, reverence, everlasting and etiquette
When spoken it translates to mean may this meeting be truthful and real, and let us pay respect.
The phrase is commonly heard when local Sikh Indians congregate at the Woolgoolga temples.
Many Sikh Indians take on the surname Singh, as the religion does not believe in India’s caste system, which determines someone’s social class by their surname.
Woolgoolga is one of the only towns in Australia where Smith is not the most common surname.
There are 50 listings for Singh in the local telephone directory.