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A Century Of Sikh History In Australia:
And The Australian Sikh Heritage Trail





Contrary to general perception, Sikhs have a more than a century old history in Australia. Not many are aware that turbaned, bearded soldiers died fighting on the shores of this continent during World War II.

But long before this, among the first settlers in Australia, before roads and road transport were laid, were Sikhs who ran camel trains. They kept the communication and supply line open between Melbourne and the central Australia.

The Australian Sikh Heritage Association, which launched a Sikh trail at Adenia Park this March, aims to document the turbaned outback men. The trail also includes the Western Australia State Heritage listed Sikh cremation site. This is a significant heritage site for Australia's Sikh and Australian communities.

It comprises the 500 mile physical Australian Sikh Heritage Trail and the virtual trail that will document and allow visitors to explore the Australian Sikh Heritage trail sites (hundreds across Australia) through an application.

Already over $100,000 has been spent on the project. The association has also secured a government grant of $150,000 to develop an interpretive panel along the physical trail which should see a public launch by March 2017.

The trail date was particularly selected to pay homage to the first Sikh aviator Flying Officer Manmohan Singh's role in a WW-II battle on West Australian soil. This Air Force officer was on board his flying boat moored on Roebuck Bay on March 3, 1942, when nine Japanese Zeroes fitted with detachable, long-distance fuel tanks strafed his plane along with 22 others that day. He was among the 88 personnel who died that day in Broome, West Australia.


Harjit Singh from the Australian Sikh Heritage Association says, "Our aim is to promote Sikh heritage findings among the wider Sikh-Australian community . Everyone who came to the event was involved in the activities as an expression of solidarity with the wider Sikh-Australian community.

“Phase 1 of the trail saw massive support and huge success.

“For Phase 2 of the trail, we sent an application to the Western Australian government seeking a grant of $ 150,000 for capital works. The grant has been approved and we have begun our work. Phase 2 will be about interpretative signages along the pathway and Phase 3 will be about digital application.

“Response from the Sikh community on this has been excellent. We are currently in the process of inculcating this in school books and syllabus. History teachers seem very excited about it."


Tarunpreet Singh from the same organization says, "In 2009 I found this brass plaque in the Canningvale gurdwara. I learnt about the former Sikh Cemetery in Adenia Park in Riverton suburb and about John Parker of Canning Districts Historical Society. On meeting him, I was overwhelmed to learn that Parker had hand-crafted it. He gathered all this information and made this plaque in 1992 by melting 20 kilos of brass.

He made two plaques in case one is lost or misplaced. I thus learnt from him about Sikhs being an integral part of Australia for more than 100 years. This made me more curious to learn more about the history of Sikh migration to Australia.


This site is listed on the Western Australia State Heritage Register as one with significant historic value associated with the State Cremation Act of 1929 and undertaking of cremation. It also has great social value as it reminds the various ethnic groups trying to maintain their tradition, customs and rituals.

The site and the Cremation Act represent the rare phenomenon in recognition of the history and cultural heritage of Australia of various minority religious groups. Recognition of the religious needs of the small Sikh community resulted in the gazettal of a separate Sikh cremation place in 1932.


On October 16, volunteers from the association will hold an exhibition about Sikh History in Western Australia and Sikh contribution in World War I and World War II at the Perth Heritage Days 2016 program. There will also be a turban tying event at the venue for all visitors in order to understand the significance of the turban to the Sikh community.

[Courtesy: Times of India. Edited for]
October 11, 2016

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