image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE

South Australian Sikh Communities and Gurdwaras

A question of passing on Sikh religio-cultural heritage


Some years ago, I wrote about the Glen Osmond Gurdwara, Adelaide, South Australia (see link at footnote*). In addition to Sikhs, other communities including Hindus and Muslims and politicians come to this iconic Gurdwara located at the entrance to the city on the highway from Melbourne. Earlier this year, Russell Wortley, Member Legislative Council (ex-President of the Legislative Council) and his wife Dana Wortley MP, were there. This was the second time I met the couple at the Gurdwara in recent years during a family visit.

Early Sikh settlers in South Australia came either from India and started family fruit farms in Riverland, a renowned farmland area on River Murray, about 200 kilometres northwest of Adelaide, or they were doctors, teachers, businessmen etc mostly from Malaysia who settled in and around the city of Adelaide. The communities remain in touch with each other during functions, but have developed in different ways regarding gurdwara practice (ਮਰਿਯਾਦਾ) and religio-cultural (ਕੌਮੀ) identity aspects. Generally, Riverland community is more traditional and remains in touch with Panjab.

I wrote in 2011: Quite significantly, this &ldquomodern&rdquo []]Glen Osmond} gurdwara is located at a cross roads junction which reminds one of where Sikhi tradition stands today! It is a typical example of the trend in the Sikh diaspora to seek own local solutions to the current and future spiritual and socio-cultural needs. This is one consequence of the loss of credibility in the office holders at the central Sikh institutions of the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and Sri Akal Takh Sahib&hellip.. many Gurdwaras feel no longer bound to seek central direction&hellip. Where this decentralization of interpretation of Gurmat and Sikh reht maryada by default, would lead the global Sikh community, remains to be seen. In fact, the community leaders seem to be content with their isolation which allows them certain freedom. Interfaith marriages are quite common in Adelaide and the rest of Australia.

These two main communities grew in numbers, set up other gurdwaras and became influential in their localities, albeit, in their own ways. The Riverland community continues to have strong links with Panjab and there is an inflow of young Sikh boys and girls through marriage. Many Panjabi immigrants have settled in Adelaide also.

So, what sort of legacy would these Sikh communities leave for next generations? Riverland community builders like Darshan Singh and family, Saroop Singh Johal JP, brother Baldev Singh Dhaliwal JP from UK (also first Sikh Riverland Councillor), are around but next generations have taken over to some extent. So, there is likely to be continuity regarding community relio-cultural identity.

Adelaide Glen Osmond Gurdwara is the vision of a neuro-surgeon, Dr Swaran Singh Khera from Malaysia and his well-educated colleagues. This is a 21st century gurdwara complete with modern facilities run mainly by ladies. The Punjabi school and Gurbani discussion classes started by late Master Joginder Singh and retired teacher Ajmer Singh Randha and others are still running. President Balwant Singh is a dedicated sevadar. There are some new families. Children are learning kirtan from a visiting Bibian da Jatha from Patti (Punjab). However, only time will settle the question of Sikh heritage (ਵਿਰਸਾ) succession in a mixed society.

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Gurmukh Singh OBE