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
"That's my India connection," a smiling Rinehart said when asked
by IANS 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
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
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
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 Monday.