Perth: The cream of the Indian community in Western Australia, prominent local politicians, cricketer Adam Gilchrist and, well, the richest Australian – all of them turned out here Sunday evening to felicitate visiting Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari.
Over 500 members of an estimated 45,000-strong community in the state, Mayor of Perth Lisa Scaffidi, several ministers of the state government, Gina Rinehart, the heiress of Hancock Prospecting, Gilchrist, who is very popular in India, applauded heartily as Ansari spoke of his long association with Perth and growing India-Australia ties.
Ansari was Indian High Commissioner to Australia 1985-89.
The Vice President traced the early links between India and Australia to the 1800s, when camel riders from Bombay came here to help Australians explore their outback. The legend of the cameleers, mistakenly called Afghans here, survives in the name of the great Ghan Train that travels from Adelaide in the south to Alice Springs in the north.
Ansari, who led the Indian delegation to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), recalled how Indians and Australians had fought shoulder-to-shoulder in two World Wars, and how the relations have evolved into strong political ties, scientific links and, now, investments by Indian companies in Australia and Australian firms in India.
Rinehart, worth $10.3 billion according to Forbes, is doing her bit to deepen financial ties, having recently inked a $1.26 billion deal with GVK of Hyderabad that will see the Indian firm take up majority stake in thermal coal assets in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.
“That’s my India connection,” a smiling Rinehart said when asked how she had turned up for an encounter with the Indian Vice President, who was accompanied by his wife Salma.
The celebrities apart, for most Indians gathered at the event, it was just an opportunity to celebrate their Indianness – and have their photos taken with the Vice President.
Anil Jain, a certified financial planner and president of the Indian Society of Western Australia who managed to have himself photographed with Ansari, said people of Indian origin like to get together whenever an Indian opportunity presents itself.
“We have been celebrating Holi, Diwali, Independence Day and Republic Day with events. In fact, this Diwali, there was a gathering of 20,000 people and a big fireworks show,” said Jain, who arrived here 15 years back. The Indian Republic Day, incidentally, coincides with Australia Day, and is a holiday.
Jain and his organisation are now working towards setting up a community centre-a kind of ‘India House’-in Perth that will serve as a meeting point for the community.
The society, an umbrella organisation for over 40 smaller Indian groups in Western Australia, also has plans to set up an old age home for Indians. It already steps in with financial aid when community members are in need and actively works with new migrants to help them find their feet in the country.
“There is a strong sense of community here,” said Ajay Doshi, president of the Gujarati Samaj of Western Australia, one of the organisations affiliated to the Indian Society. Doshi runs a business in plumbing and irrigation products that he sources from India.
Retired naval officer, Capt. Rajesh Mittal and his wife Praveena, who have been in Australia for almost a decade, briefly narrated the community’s history here.
The first wave of migrants came soon after independence, when Anglo Indians came in waves to Australia. This was the time immigration was religion-based, allowing the community easy access.
The next big wave, the Mittals said, came in the 1970s and 1980s, when many professionals came to Australia. These hard working immigrants are now respected members of the larger Australian community.
The upswing in migration of students over the past five years or so and the subsequent racial tensions that have emerged has worried the community. But as Jain’s organisation shows, the existing community can do its bit to smoothen the passage.
Ansari returned to India on Monday.