Diasporic Sikhs in Woolgoolga, NSW: A Test for Multiculturalism in Regional Australia

March 1, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

In the closing years of the 19th century, ancestors of today’s Woolgoolga Sikh population began migrating to Australia from Punjab, in northwest India, with the hope of improving their lot.. In 1901, Australia’s newly formed government passed the Immigration Act, known as the “White Australia” policy, which restricted immigration for non-British, non-English speaking peoples. Now, over 100 years later, “White Australia” has given way to “Multiculturalism in Australia,” and Woolgoolga now hosts an annual festival celebrating the presence of a large Indian population. Through an analysis of this festival, I will argue that multiculturalism as a mindset has not taken root in rural Australia. Australian Sikh and White populations live side by side, but have very little interaction or understanding of each other. The festival, which celebrates Indian food, culture and dance, does not bring the two communities together, but rather exacerbates difference, highlighting the degree to which national policy experiences slow adoption on the ground as cultural attitude. By examining this gap between policy and practice, I will argue that the CurryFest acts as a touchstone of difference, indicative of the underlying tensions that still shape debates about who is an Australian, and who is not.

Location and Address

3106 WWPH Anthropology Lounge