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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Woolgoolga, New South Wales

In the 1940's, a number of Punjabi migrants, working in the Queensland canefields decided to move down the coast to Woolgoolga. Today, it's a peaceful beachside village, surrounded by banana plantations. They were the ancestors of the town's Sikh community and represent about a quarter of the total population of around 5,000 people today.

Every year in April the Sikhs of Woolgoolga stage a colourful celebration of culture and cuisine - the Woolgoolga Curryfest. Fifty vendors provide a wide variety of curry dishes and there are cooking demonstrations, music and dance.


The Sikhs came over as free settlers before Federation in 1901 when our strict White Australia Policy was put into place and continued until 1973. The men came on their own, leaving their families at home in India, hoping to make their fortune in Australia. After years of hardship and hard work, they now own the majority of the banana plantations around Woolgoolga.

The most noticeable thing about Sikhs is their distinctive appearance, especially because of a turban and long beard. The 5 K's of the religion are five articles of faith that all baptised Sikhs are obliged (but not forced) to wear at all times.

Kesh - uncut hair and beard as given by God to sustain him or her in higher consciousness, and a turban, the crown of spirituality.

Kangha - a wooden comb to properly groom the hair as a symbol of cleanliness.

Katchera - specially made cotton underwear as a reminder of the commitment to purity.

Kara - a steel circle, worn on the wrist, signifying bondage to Truth and freedom from every other entanglement.

Kirpan - the sword with which the Khalsa is commited to righteously defend the fine line of the Truth.

Khalsa also vows to refrain from any sexual relationships outside of marriage and to refrain from taking meat, tobacco or alcohol.

Today, Kesh, the most important of all Sikh traditions, is not popular with the younger generation, about 80% of Sikh youths cut their hair. Obvious reasons include discrimination in employment and the natural desire to 'fit in'.

Sikhs were recruited by the British Army as part of the Sikh Regiment and became the most decorated regiment in the British Empire. They fought side by side with the ANZAC's at Gallipoli and were highly respected by Australian soldiers.

In April 2009

Another interesting thing about Woolgoolga is their old shipwreck. One hundred and sixteen years ago a 310 ton 39m timber ship (Barquentine) called the Buster arrived at Woolgoolga to load timber for shipment to New Zealand. She was built in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1884. She put down 2 anchors and ran a cable to a buoy near the Woolgoolga jetty but when a storm blew up, both anchor cables snapped, leaving the Buster held by one single buoy. After nine hours of huge seas and gale-force winds, the cable snapped and she beached stern-first not far from the jetty.

And today

Normally, you can't see any sign of the Buster but in April this year, after the foods, the sand was flushed away and you could see her quite clearly sticking out of the sand, the first time in 15 years. Today, she is barely visible at all.

Tidal lake

Of all the towns we've visited, and the 102 caravan parks we've stayed at in almost 12 months, Woolgoolga is my pick of them all.

We have a large, grassy beach-front site and there is a peaceful walk along the lake that eventually runs out into the sea.

Looking from Woolgoolga to Coffs Harbour

The muffled sound of waves breaking on the beach is very relaxing and I think I've captured a glimpse of the 'serenity' Michael Caton talked about. The town is too small for a multi-storey mall, so the shopping presinct is small and friendly. No McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken, no Coles or Woolworths and no traffic lights. I think I could stay here forever.