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The pioneer Sikhs of Western Australia, 1886-1950: Immigration, discrimination, occupations and cremations

Hewins, Jonathon (2021) The pioneer Sikhs of Western Australia, 1886-1950: Immigration, discrimination, occupations and cremations. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

The British annexation of Punjab in 1849 marked the end of the sovereign Sikh Empire and the beginning of a global Sikh diaspora. Many Sikhs left Punjab to find opportunities abroad and Australia promised wealth and prosperity within the Empire. In Australia, however, the Sikhs found life difficult. The combination of social opposition from the dominant white population, and the discriminatory legislation that followed, meant Sikhs had to adapt and form a resilient community. Despite the detailed scholarly research on the Sikh community in Australia from a national scope, little is known about the pioneer Sikhs who ventured to the Western Australian colony from the mid-1880s. This thesis uncovers their story.

I analyse the economic and political circumstances that forced Sikhs to depart from Punjab and migrate to Australia. I also show how Australia was not the panacea they imagined, but presented them with a new set of social, economic and political challenges to navigate. In Western Australia the need for labour in remote inland areas, meant Sikhs could find a level of acceptance in the community by filling vital roles as cameleers and hawkers and contributed significantly to the development of infrastructure. Despite anti-Asian messaging in the Press, the Sikhs enlisted in the First World War and petitioned for their own cremation site in Canning. The resilient community lasted until 1950 and prefigured the now thriving contemporary Sikh community.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Social Sciences and Arts
Supervisor(s): Aszkielowicz, Dean
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/65543
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