Punjabi generosity etched in gold in Australia

  • Manpreet K Singh, Hindustan Times, Melbourne
  • Updated: Nov 05, 2014 17:23 IST

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares for his maiden visit to Australia for the G-20 summit this month, a simple plaque ceremony at Camden, New South Wales, has prepared the goodwill ground on a foundation laid more than a century ago.

In a small yet symbolic ceremony, Camden District Hospital on Friday reinstated a plaque in its new building to honour Bud Singh, who had migrated to Australia from Punjab in 1899, as one of its earliest benefactors.

“We acknowledge the contributions made by Bud Singh to our entire community in the early 1900s,” said local parliamentarian Chris Patterson. “He was an Indian migrant who called Australia home a century ago and his generosity shines a light on the multicultural roots of Australia,” said mayor Lara Symkowiak.

Bud (probably Budh) Singh worked as a hawker in country towns around NSW, at first walking on foot and hauling goods on his head, and then saving enough money to open a general store in the small town of Yerranderie, employ many local Australians, invest in a tin mine, and become one of the town’s elite in the days when the White Australia policy was well enforced.

He also made regular donations to the charities and Camden District Hospital specifically, which made him a life member of the hospital board back then, as stated on the wooden sign that adorns the new hospital building. And that’s what makes Bud unique.

Even though a majority of the Indian hawkers who migrated to Australia in the late 19th and early 20th century donated generously to their local institutions, almost none was recognized formally for any contribution. On the other hand, Bud’s name is printed in gold, alongside 102 other life-members that the NSW hospital has had since inception.

The plaque may be tiny but its symbolism transcends generations. This ceremony of honouring Bud on October 31, 2014, nearly a century after he left Australia, was the dream of Sydney-based Baljinder Singh, who calls self Bud's grandson and came to Australia about 30 years ago in search of his actual grandfather, Mehnga Singh, another Punjabi emigrant from the early 20th century.

After two decades, he found “Charles Mehnga Singh” buried alongside a white Australian man in Liverpool, NSW. It is he who came upon Bud’s story while searching for own grandfather, and lobbied for reinstating the plaque in the hospital’s new building. He is grateful to the NSW health department for according Bud a Singh his rightful place in history, and says jokingly: “I had come to Australia looking for one grandfather.

Instead, I found three—my real grandfather, Mehnga Singh; Edward James White, who is buried alongside him; and Bud Singh!”

As for Bud’s descendants, it is hoped that someone in India recognises his picture and claims him as own, just like the Australians have.

Click on http://read.ht/kjZ to view more pictures.

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