Land of five rivers called Punjaub, in Australia!
There is a place called Punjaub in Australia. Sprawled on the border of Queensland and Northern Territory, this place was given its name in 1880 because it was home to five rivers –Logan, Albert, Pimpania, Coomera and Nerang.
Sharing this nugget with the author, Australian Sikh Heritage Association’s Tarunpreet Singh gushed, “There is a Punjab right here in Australia, which you can visit without boarding a ship or taking your passport along. This is probably the best new year gift for our community, to feel proud that Sikh history has documented evidence of its presence and influence in Australia since the 1880s.”
Singh said this was probably the only Punjab outside India. Several newspaper items preserved in Australia’s national archives show that the area was formally named Punjaub in 1880, and it was specifically given this name because five rivers flowed through it.
Domiciled in the district of Burke and containing a landmass of 446 sq miles, Punjaub cattle station was sold to Messrs Travers and Gibson for £2000, as reported in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin of Saturday, 7 August 1880. It was sold by SG Watson, Esq of Melbourne. “It had a homestead, which was probably used for commercial purposes, and people would stay there for holidays,” says Singh.
There is at least one reference of a couple heading to Punjaub for their honeymoon.
The Punjaub homestead in Queensland
Apart from being known as a major cattle station in the area, Punjaub boasts a very fertile land, with orchards of fruits, including orange, lemon, mandarin, comquat, guava, mango, mulberry, banana and fig.
Singh said it is clear there was Sikh presence in Queensland and adjoining areas in the mid to late 1800s. “We know that out of the 19 members in the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860–61, there were four Afghans. It started from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The expedition had a massive camel called Golah Singh, which suggests that there could be a Sikh cameleer among these Afghans.”
Experts say this cameleer may have inspired the name Punjaub.
“I’m currently trying to get in touch with one Mr Kennedy, the present owner of the property, to see if he can tell us more about how the name came about,” said Singh.
Singh said many people in the indigenous community of Mt Isa, also go by the surname of Punjaub, much like villagers in the Indian Punjaub, who usually take the name of their village as their surname.
A report published in the North West Star shows a picture of some indigenous children of Mt Isa, with the surname Punjaub. Some Mt Isa children featured in a newspaper article, who have the surname Punjaub.
There are more articles, including one by the ABC, which features children from Mt Isa with the surname Punjaub.
Interestingly, the adjoining estate is named ‘Almora’, which further deepens the connection of the Australian Punjaub with the Indian Punjab. Both are named so because they are the land of five rivers, and both have an adjoining land called “Almora”.
Singh is exploring further avenues to find out how the Australian Punjaub got its name, and to unearth another chapter of the Sikh heritage in Australia. “The more we know about our history in Australia, the more at home we’ll feel, and of course, we will be able to celebrate our rich heritage in Australia.”
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(Manpreet K Singh is the executive director of Melbourne-based SBS Radio)