Studying Goan migration… Down Under

Studying Goan migration… Down Under

In today’s globalised world, distance seems to
matter less than every before. Economic
opportunity, access for jobs or cultural openness
can make Sydney, Doha or Perth seem like a suburb
of Mapusa or Margao. A book one recently received
and called ‘Goenkars in Western Australia’ only
further underlines such possibilities.

This book “recounts the voices of Goan migrants in Western
Australia and retraces their experiences as they came to this
land in pursuit of their aspirations and hopes of building
new lives.” A back-cover blurb also tells us, “the Goans are
often described as an exemplar minority migrant community in
multicultural Australia.”

So that makes you curious: why examplar? And how do they make
their impact felt? Goans in Australia, we’re told, have
multiple attachments to both Australia and Goa. They are
seen as a “multicultural success story”. Besides, they show
“high levels of integration and (a) successful impact on
Australian professional life.” And, who doesn’t want to hear
also that “they have successfully contributed to the creation
of multicultural Australia in multiple ways”?

This book flows out of a collaborative project
between the Goan Overseas Association (WA) Inc.
and Dr Jaya Earnest at Curtin University (email
contacts below), courtesy whom I managed to get a
copy. Its subtitle is “Voices and Images of a
Vibrant Goan Community”. Incidentally, the Goan
Overseas Association (WA) Inc is a 400-member
strong not-for-profit community.

This large-sized book throws up some interesting facts. For
instance:

* Only in 1966 did the Liberal-Country Party Government begin
dismantling the White Australia policy, and this meant
allowing “distinguished” non-Europeans in. Until the late
1960s, the contentious principle of “assimilation” was the
basis of admitting migrants.

* Goans began to migrate out of Africa in the late 1960s,
when British colonialism ended and the practice of
“Africanisation” became widespread in former British
colonies or protectorates. They began to look for a new
beginning, and Australia was among the countries sought for
resettlement.

* Opportunities for Goan migrants in the Middle East began to
decline during the mid-1990s, as local citizens acquired
new skills too. The Kuwait-Iraq crisis was a significant
event. Goans who migrated to Western Australia from the
Middle East arrived as recently as the late 1980s and
1990s. Their primary reason for migration (besides the
Iraq-Kuwait conflict) was a better future for their
children, and a lack of avenues for permanent settlement in
the Middle East.

* Australia is a preferred country for migration because
Goans feel it offers a way of life and culture more suited
to their upbringing and interests. Most Catholic Goans in
India receive an English education. The temperate climate
and proximity of Perth to India were other attractions.

In its various chapters, this book pieces the mosaic of Goan
migration Down Under. For instance, Goans made first contact
with the shores of Australia in the middle of the 19th
century, when they landed as crew members of sailing ships
from “British India” and called into ports such as Albany,
Fremantle and Bunbury in Western Australia.

We’re told: “Sailing on towards the seaports of Adelaide and
Sydney alongside Afghans, camels and other goods, Goans
helped open up the rugged and unexplored interior of the
continent. However, it was not until the late 1950s and
early 1960s that the first significant wave of Goan migration
occurred.”

Goans came from Uganda, Malawi and later Kenya and
Tanzania. By the mid-1970s, many more Goans got
visas through the newly-introduced points system.
Goans were able to qualify for immigration on
grounds of family reunion, professional skills or
the business criteria.

Apart from East Africa, Goan migrants also came from
Southeast Asia, the Middle East, India and the UK. In the
early 1970s, couples and families began to reach out to each
other. They did so via New Year’s Eve parties, burning the
old man, St Francis Xavier Feasts, and celebrations over the
Immaculate Conception and Mae de Deus feasts.

Apart from the brief historical overview, there are many
images, names and details about the experiences of Goans in
migration. Art-logos of the GOA over the years, youth
activities, and even the story of the live radio programme
“Goans on Air” (95.3 FM 6EBA World Radio, in 2006) are
detailed in the book. This, we are told, was the first and
only live Goan radio show hosted by the Goan community in
Australia. The book suggests it is still available from 7 to
8 am on EBA 95.3FM World Radio on each Friday morning.

There are discussions over the future of the
diasporic initiative GOA. “Beyond socialising, can
we do more?” asks one section of the book. A
crucial concern indeed. Issues of social justice,
creating space for families, and the elderly, are
raised.

Another section of the book focuses on “Goan Voices” and
covers narratives of Goans in Western Australia. Talking to
Goan expats Down Under, the book asks many why they shifted
to Australia.

Some complain about Africanisation, others about the
uncertainties of Gulf employment. There are issues about
having to learn Marathi and Hindi while speaking English at
home. A lady identified as Ruth is quoted saying: “My
husband knew about eight foreign languages, but he didn’t
know Hindi. His educational background was Portuguese and
French, so he found that getting jobs was very difficult, and
we decided to migrate here as teachers. He knew Italian and
French, and he immigrated as an Italian and French teacher.”

Also looked at is the first impressions of new migrants into
Australia, and how they managed to cope. Some found the
skies a deeper hue of blue, the cities “so clean after coming
from Bombay” and yet were shocked that everything closed at 5
pm. Employment and racism are other issues touched on here,
as is the lack of recognition for qualifications and previous
experience gained by the migrants prior to arriving in
Australia.

Acculturation, integration, settling-in,
contribution to the wider community, and a pride in
their Goan identity and values — all these themes
get touched upon. There is a section for youth
voices too, and another of photographs at the end.
One section is devoted to giving a history of Goa,
migration, celebration, song and food.

Tiny Goa has a big stake in migration. Yet, till now, it has
mostly been treated as a necessary evil at best, not as the
opportunity it could be strategically converted into. Or, it
is seen as something which should be conveniently ignored.
Yet, for many Goans, migration remains an important issue.

In the fallout of the recent election result, the NRI
Commission has been rendered headless. In the past too, it
did not always have at its helm individuals who have empathy
towards the many migrants and their valid concerns. One can
only wait and watch to see if Goa’s attitude towards her
not-so prodigal sons and daughters changes for the better.

Goenkars in Western Australia
Voices and Images of a Vibrant Goan Community
Jaya Earnest J.Earnest@curtin.edu.au
GOA (WA) Inc-Black Swan Press, Perth
97809 80631333 (pb) Pp 258

First published in Gomantak Times, April 9, 2012.

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