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How a small Indian community is thriving 'in the middle of nowhere' in Australia

Kranthi Chintapula moved to Katherine last year. Source: Supplied by Kranthi Chintapula/AAP DEFENCE PR/

The town of Katherine in the Northern Territory is home to a small Indian community, where the nearest Indian store is 320 kilometres away in Darwin.

Highlights:

  • Katherine is home to a small Indian community.
  • The third-largest town of NT has a population of over 6,000 people.
  • An Indo-Nepalese community of a few hundred people is thriving in this little town.

Listen to the chat with Kranthi Chintapula:

How a small Indian community is thriving 'in the middle of nowhere' in Australia
00:00 00:00

Kranthi Chintapula knew nothing about Katherine until June last year when he moved there for work.

"To be honest I had no idea about this place until I located here for a job around June last year," says Mr Chintapula, who works for a major bank.

The entrance of Katherine, NT
The entrance of Katherine, NT.
Supplied by Kranthi Chintapula

'In the middle of nowhere'

Katherine is a town, in Kranthi's words: in the 'middle of nowhere'. Situated on the Katherine River, this town has a population of over 6,000 people, which he says can rise to 15,000 in the peak tourist season.

The Northern Territory's third-largest town is also home to a small Indian community.

"There are some 800 Indians. Well, not on the weekends. Many of them go to Darwin on the weekends. So I would say there are around 500 people of Indian origin. And Nepalese too. Yes, it's an Indo-Nepalese community," explains Mr Chintapula.

Katherine
Supplied by Kranthi Chintapula

Katherine is 320 kilometres southeast of Darwin, the nearest city which also has the nearest Indian store and restaurants.

"Anyone who goes to Darwin always gets a list from people saying 'Bring me this', like a shopping list for Indian stores. There are no Indian restaurants here and no Indian stores. What you get in the Woollies Indian section is all you can get," says Mr Chintapula who misses Indian food.

Katherine
Supplied by Kranthi Chintapula

And the weather is another challenge. It can be sweltering.

"Sometimes the weather could be like 40-43 degrees," he said.

"The heat gets here a little. But, you expect it in NT. You know it's supposed to be like this."

Katherine tourist information centre
Katherine tourist information centre
Supplied by Kranthi Chintapula

Small town, but welcoming

However, that does not mean Kranthi does not love this little town - he says he started loving it his first month there. 

"I had a flat tyre just outside the car park and had five people stop and ask me, are you okay, are you calling someone or you want us to help you to change the tyre," he recalls.

Local art studio in Katherine encourages art and artists
Local art studio encourages Art and artists
Supplied by Kranthi Chintapula

"I felt very good, that was my first month here."

"Locals are always welcoming. I think Australia was diversified a long time ago and they do expect this to happen. They don't look at it like 'Oh my God you're from somewhere else'.

"They are like 'Oh yeah you been here for a while, so that's fine'. They don't even know that you were born here or not; they treat you like everyone else."

Katherine
Supplied by Kranthi Chintapula

Eight months on, Kranthi says it's a small town to people who know each other.

"In a small town usually people know you. They see you one time, the second time and third time suddenly they know you by your name. And then they say hello, how was your weekend or how was your holiday or how did you celebrate your Indian festival. Which is great."

Waking/bike track which connects around the town: the old rail trail
Waking/bike track which connects around the town: the old rail trail
Supplied by Kranthi Chintapula

Most of Katherine's Indian population are relatively recent arrivals. Kranthi says most of them work for local government, and many from the Nepalese community are in aged care.

"Most of them work for the government like accountants, engineers, roads projects, water etc.

"But, many of them are part-time workers whose partners or families live in Darwin so three days they are here in Katherine and they go back to Darwin," says Kranthi who also manages a Facebook group 'Indians in Katherine'.

Bridge at the entrance of Katherine
Bridge at the entrance of Katherine
Supplied by Kranthi Chintapula

He thinks the Indian local service station owner could be the longest community member there.

"I think this couple is here for more than five years. And yes, there is another person who is in India at the moment. He is here for almost seven years," 

So would he recommend migrants to move to Katherine?

"If you're not worried about the heat, if you are not living in India, you can live anywhere. If you have the courage to face all challenges, you can have a great successful life. That's the only thing. Just be brave."

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