Four women at the Seniors Festival at the Immigration Museum, 2004. Two women are from the Sikh Welfare Council.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: Are there many Sikhs in Victoria?
Answer: Sikhism is one of the world’s largest formalised religions, and traces its origins to Guru Nanak who lived in India in the 15th century. Many of the world’s Sikhs live in the Punjab region of India; however, there are large communities in other countries, including Australia. At the time of the 2006 census, Victoria was home to around a third of Australia’s 26,429 Sikhs.
The history of Sikh immigration to Australia reflects larger trends of South Asian migration. In the 19th century, there were Sikhs from Punjab working as cameleers in central Australia. Later, many Sikhs worked as hawkers, travelling between towns to sell their wares. Some of these hawkers went on to establish more permanent businesses and shops. In 1914, several Sikhs joined the Australian military contingent to World War I.
The 1901 Immigration Restriction Act limited migration from across the Asia but from the 1970s the Sikh population grew quickly. It almost doubled in the decade between 1996 and 2006, with large communities being consolidated in Sydney and Melbourne. Many recent arrivals are tertiary students, some of whom remain in Australia after their studies are complete.
Sikhs come to Australia from a range of countries. Once here, they enjoy strong communal ties that are expressed in such events as the Australian Sikh Games, held annually since 1988. In Melbourne there are Sikh places of worship called gurdwaras in Blackburn, Preston and Craigieburn. This vibrant and growing faith community plays an active role in cultural exchange and interfaith dialogue, and is supported by a range of local organisations.