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Arts/Society All’s Well Down Under


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Nanda Das visits a photographic exhibition, Indian Aussies, that celebrates the presence of the Indian community in Australia

Most Indians feel Aussies are like the Australian cricket team but that’s not the case,” says photographer Michel Lawrence who has clicked over 85 Indians who have made Australia their home. By depicting a vibrant, harmonious and prosperous Indian community Down Under, the lensman wants to clear the notion housed in Indian minds that Australians are rude and the country is a hub for racial discrimination.

Exhibited at an ongoing photography exhibition titled Indian Aussies at the Australian High Commission, the idea evolved after Lawrence’s last exhibition All of Us, a multicultural installation at Federation Square in Melbourne in January 2008. “When the Indian High Commissioner in Australia visited my exhibition, he requested me to work in a similar way with Indians living in Australia. I was impressed by his idea and started working on the project the same year. I searched through databases of Victorian multicultural commission about Indians and found out about Indians living in Australia,” he says.

So the project took off with the CEO of an Australia-based mobile company, Ravi Bhatia and then the word spread through word of mouth across the Indian communities in Melbourne, Sydney and Woolgoolga. Lawrence admits getting bowled over in the manner he was greeted at most Indian homes. “To begin with, I was quite apprehensive, especially after the incidents involving Indians. But everyone welcomed me with open arms when I told them about my exhibition. In fact, all of them said they are an inseparable part of Australia and an intricate part of its culture,” shares the 60-year-old photographer.

It was in the 1800s that Indians started migrating to Australia, many arriving to supply the much-needed agricultural labour or to work in the goldfields there while some worked on camel trains that transported goods and mail across the vast desert. In the first half of the 20th century, enterprising Sikhs came to work in the agricultural fields including banana plantations. “Today, a large number of their descendants live in the town of Woolgoolga in northern New South Wales and own banana farms. In fact, the Sikh settlement remains one of the largest Indian rural communities in Australia, with two Sikh temples and a museum on Sikhism,” says Lawrence.

Within a month, Lawrence was a regular at gurdwaras, mosques, temples and churches in Australia. Sharing an interesting experience during this photographic venture, he says, “I met a guy, John Arkan, in one of the gurdwaras in Woolgoolga. We became friends in no time and he took me to his home, a kilometre away. He introduced me to his family and took me around his banana fields. But what influenced me the most was when I met his 85-year-old mother and how, she single-handedly, after the death of her husband, managed to run her family without knowing English or the place. It was indeed commendable.”

The project comprises a series of larger-than-life photographs of Indians in Australia, from a cabbie to a corporate. Lawrence has also captured two roommates of Nitin Garg, the student who lost his life during 2007-2008 assaults in Melbourne and Shiamak Davar troupe in Australia. He says, “The early 1980s saw an increase in the number of Indians arriving Down Under, many of them professionals like doctors, teachers, engineers and IT specialists. Today, the Australian-Indian community numbers over three lakh and plays an important economic role in the cultural diversity of our nation. This number includes more than 90,000 students studying in various Australian universities, colleges and training centres. The exhibition, on till December 31 at the Australian High Commission in Chanakyapuri, a public art display viewable from the window of a taxi or an autorickshaw, will travel to other parts of the country as well.

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