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Sikh community and Dongara locals come together to celebrate once-forgotten history

Jamie ThannooMidwest Times
Sojan Singh (right) with daughters Marie (right) and Estelle (left) with Sojan's brother Pola.
Camera IconSojan Singh (right) with daughters Marie (right) and Estelle (left) with Sojan's brother Pola. Credit: Supplied

A group of almost 200 Sikh visitors toured Dongara to learn about the town’s unique and forgotten Sikh heritage.

The Sikh Association of WA (SAWA) and the Irwin Districts Historical Society held a Sikh History Open Day on October 1, inviting Sikhs and local people to tour local sites and celebrate Sikh culture.

Around 180 Sikhs and 70 Dongara locals toured old shops, markets, homes and cremation sites belonging to Sikhs from the early 20th century.

The day was accompanied by Punjabi food, music and dancing.

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Volunteer SAWA historian Tarun Preet Singh said learning about this history meant a lot to Australian Sikhs.

“It helps us feel at home, and gives us a stronger sense of connectedness to Australia,” Mr Singh said.

Dongara historian Bruce Baskerville said the day had likewise helped the people of Dongara learn more about their town’s history.

“It was very significant because neither of us really knew about it, but it gives us a common history that we can share and explore together in the future,” he said.

Between the 1890s and 1949, a community of Sikhs lived in Dongara, many of whom ran shops or farms.

According to a 1920 census, 20 Sikhs lived in Dongara, making up two per cent of the population.

As the Sikh community left, its legacy became a forgotten part of Dongara’s history until recently.

SAWA recently helped local historians translate a 100-year-old ledger written in Gurmukhi, the script of the Punjabi language.

The ledger sparked a huge amount interest with SAWA and the Australian Sikh community, who were completely unaware of Dongara’s Sikh connection, and the Sikh History Open Day was soon planned.

Mr Singh said SAWA hoped to work with the Shire of Irwin to organise creating a plaque to commemorate Dongara’s Sikh legacy, and to make an annual event to celebrate the connection between the two communities.

Mr Singh thanked the people of Dongara on behalf of SAWA.

“It was even better than we expected, and the reception from the mayor, the council, the staff, the historical society museum volunteers, that was amazing,” he said.

“We do not have appropriate words to say thanks to them.”

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