This is Australia’s fastest-growing migrant community

Australia has become a magnet for people from one unexpected South Asian country – and the new community has brought some unique traditions with it.

Hundreds of people in Australia will be worshipping their dogs by adorning them with flower garlands and putting red tika on their heads on Monday.

The tradition is part of the Nepali version of Diwali, called Tihar, which features activities to celebrate the five-day festival of light.

And the celebration is set to get even more popular in Australia as the number of people from Nepal – the country’s fastest-growing migrant community, according to the latest Census – continues to grow.

SBS Nepali executive producer Abhas Parajuli said Tihar is celebrated differently to Diwali, and that includes certain animals being worshipped on different days of the five-day festival. On the second day, for example, people worship dogs, which represent all four-legged animals.

Due to lunar calendar discrepancies this year, some Nepali people will celebrate this on Monday, while others may choose Tuesday.

The other days are used to worship other creatures, such as crows, which represent all birds, as well as cows. Another day is reserved to worship the goddess of wealth and prosperity. The final day is devoted to brothers and sisters, who vow to protect each other and prepare food, or buy clothes and cash to give to each other as gifts.
Australia’s fastest-growing migrant community
When Parajuli arrived in Australia in the mid-2000s it was rare to see even an Indian person in the streets of Melbourne, where he still lives, he said. The Nepali community is now the fastest-growing migrant community in Australia, and it has brought many new traditions, perspectives and expertise.

“We have a saying in Nepal, that we have 365 days in a year and we celebrate 364 days,” he said.

“It’s a very celebratory community, our culture is every day you celebrate something or other, and very quirky things too from an Australian perspective, like worshipping a crow, a cow, a dog, during Tihar.”

The number of Nepal-born people living in Australia has increased by 67,752 people since 2016, an increase of 124 per cent, the highest rate of growth of any migrant community. The community also recorded the second-largest increase in overall numbers, second only to the extra 217,963 people born in India who are now living in Australia.

Around 48 per cent of the community live in Sydney, 15 per cent in Melbourne, six per cent in Adelaide, five per cent in Brisbane and Canberra, and three per cent in Perth and Hobart. Another two per cent live in Darwin and one per cent live in Launceston. There are also small communities, consisting of hundreds of people, living in regional areas such as Newcastle, Toowoomba, Dubbo, Cairns and Bowral.

Prayas Karki and Gita Chhetri moved to Australia in 2015. Like many people from Nepal, Gita wanted to further her education. They visited Tasmania for a holiday and fell in love with it because of its similarities with their homeland.

“We have got three geographic areas in our country: The Himalayas, the hilly area, and the plains,” Prayas told SBS News at the weekend in Launceston.

The couple wants to make sure their children grow up knowing about Nepal and its cultural traditions. Festivals like Tihar are an important opportunity for everyone to get together, Gita said.

“We are far from our home country, but we still try to manage our time, taking a day of annual leave off work so we can spend time together with family and friends, eating, playing cards and enjoying the moment.”

Demographer Dr Liz Allen from the Australian National University said that historically there had only been a small number of Nepali people in Australia and this made the growth seem more substantial.

“The rate of growth can look quite high – because it’s coming from a low number,” she said.

“But there’s undeniably a trend towards increased intake of people from Nepal.”

Parajuli came to Australia to study and ended up staying for more than 17 years.

He said young Nepali people had tended to go to the United States or Europe after finishing high school to further their education but he believes Australia has become a more popular destination in the past 10 years or so because of the easier path to permanent residency, work opportunities and the laid back lifestyle.

Parajuli said Australia’s skilled migration program had also meant a lot of highly qualified engineers, doctors and nurses had chosen to settle here.

He believes the civil war in Nepal between 1996 and 2006 played a part in increasing migration because many Nepali people who had previously lived in remote villages in the mountains were driven into urban centres like Kathmandu, and realised there were other opportunities they could pursue.

“They obviously went overseas, earned money, and that kind of started this whole thing,” he said.

States including Tasmania have become popular thanks to the state-sponsored visa programs for skilled migrants, the fact that it’s cheaper to study there and there’s less competition for places compared to bigger cities like Sydney and Melbourne, Parajuli said.

He said another reason why Tasmania has edged out areas like Darwin, which offers similar opportunities, is that the weather is also very similar to Nepal’s, and it’s a smaller community.

Parajuli said people also tended to go where they had friends or family. He said Nepali people in Melbourne tended to be from midwestern Nepal, and in Sydney, there are a lot of people from Kathmandu. Tasmania has a mix of people from many different areas.

The Nepali Society of Northern Tasmania (NSNT) established the Bhashalaya language school a few years ago to give a new generation of Nepali children born and raised in Australia the opportunity to learn about their language and culture.

Sandesh Shrestha is the President of the NSNT, and said before the school was established, children and grandparents in the community were struggling to communicate with each other.

“Now, [thanks to the school] we can see lots of children, they are talking to their grandparents in the Nepali language,” he said.

Another popular festival for the Nepali community is Teej, which was celebrated earlier this year and is traditionally a day for married women to gather and fast for their husband’s good health, and for unmarried women to fast for a good future partner.

“It’s kind of like a free pass for the ladies, but then they don’t eat anything and a lot of people don’t drink anything, but they still dance and enjoy the day,” Parajuli said.

But as attitudes have changed over time, Parajuli said the festival has evolved to become a festival of women, with women meeting up with female friends, sisters, mothers and other important women in their lives for separate events featuring dancing and food. Some men now even participate in the fasting.

Recent weekend Teej events held in Sydney were sold out for weeks, Parajuli said.

“Because in Australia you don’t get a day off for celebrating Teej, so you find these community events on the weekends to go and enjoy, just be with your girlfriends, just be with your sisters,” he said.

“You dress up in really regal clothes, you put on all the jewellery that you have, and then you show off with your friends and families, and you just enjoy dancing, and eat.”

News source: SBS News

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