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Australians won't forget them

Len Kenna at Indian hawker Pohla Singh's grave Source: AIHS Inc

The Australian men found the Indian hawkers strong, women appreciated their respectful manners, and children loved their stories.

The Indian community has a long and rich history in Australia.

Indian immigration began quite early to colonial Australia under the British Raj.

The earliest Indians came as servants of British officers.

Later, many more arrived searching for work as plantation workers, hawkers and cameleers.

In the late 19th to early 20th centuries, many Indian immigrants sought employment in rural as hawkers.

These hawkers toured rural parts of Australia on foot and in their wagons.

The hawkers sold a diverse range of products, including food products, books, jewellery, silks, and spices.

These hawkers were a lifeline to the rural Australian towns and people living on isolated farms.

According to Len Kenna and Crystal Jordan, there was always a great sense of excitement when the Indian hawkers came to town bearing new and exotic merchandise.

People till now remember the visits of an Indian hawker to their parents’ and grandparents’ farm.

Museum Victoria, National Library of Australia, National Archives of Australia and the Public Record Office Victoria have a number of images of Indian hawkers in its various collections that show these hawkers, some with their distinctive wagons, immigration papers, hawkers’ licences, and letters.

In addition, surprisingly these Indian hawkers also feature in private photograph albums of local people.

According to Lena and Crystal, these hawkers were respected for their integrity and culture.

The Australian men found them strong, women appreciated their respectful manners, and children loved their stories.

Len and Crystal have recently located and purchased a 19th Century, very rare, original museum piece Indian Hawker’s Wagon, which is in a state of disrepair. But Len is confident that he, with the help of his friends would be able to restore the wagon to its original condition.

For more information regarding the life and times of Indian hawkers in Australia, listen to Amit Sarwal’s conversation with Len Kenna and Crystal Jordan of the Australian Indian Historical Society Inc.