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Tasmania’s ‘first Sikh couple’ reflects on 50 years of ‘love and support’ in Australia

Kulwant Singh Dhillon and his wife Mohinder Kaur Dhillon. Source: Supplied

A retired Sikh couple explains how Australia’s social fabric shaped their lives after they moved to Tasmania 50 years ago.

Kulwant Singh Dhillon and his wife Mohinder Kaur Dhillon migrated to Australia from Malaysia in 1969.

The Indian-Malaysian couple, both retired schoolteachers say they are ‘blessed to be living’ in the Tasmanian city of Launceston.

“We have such a lovely experience to share with everyone. Throughout our years here, we have been nurtured with love and support from the locals and have built fantastic relationships with people living in this area,” said Mr Dhillon.

“It was the local social fabric based on love, acceptance and positive guidance, that helped us thrive in our chosen part of the world.” 

Mr and Mrs Dhillon were frequently featured in the local newspapers in Tasmania.
Mr and Mrs Dhillon were frequently featured in the local newspapers in Tasmania.
Supplied

It was Mr Dhillon’s wife Mohinder Kaur who first developed an affinity to the idyllic town.

She came to Tasmania for training at Launceston Teachers College in 1963.

In 1964, she returned to her home city of Ipoh in Malaysia, where she started her career in teaching at a local school.

She met Mr Dhillon, who had recently returned from England after completing his studies on a scholarship-based program, at the school. They got married in 1965.

Mrs Dhillon said it was the ‘political unrest’ in Malaysia in 1969 which led to the decision to move out of the country.

“We first had an approval for Canada where we were supposed to work in Winnipeg, as per the visa arrangements. But once I shared this news with my foster parents Charles and Molly [in Tasmania], they convinced us to make a move to Australia.”

Mrs Dhillon said that Australia’s visa approval at that time, was a rather difficult task due to the White Australia policy.

“It wouldn’t have been easy without my foster parents’ visa sponsorship. I am very thankful for all they have done for me and my family,” she said. 

An outside view of Mr and Mrs Dhillon's residence in Tasmania.
An outside view of Mr and Mrs Dhillon's residence in Tasmania.
Supplied

Mr Dhillon said that at the time of their visa application, the Australian High Commission had asked him why they wanted to move out to Tasmania and not to Melbourne or Sydney.

“The [High Commission] representative asked, why don’t we reach out to our respective high-density localities or areas like any other communities.”

“I simply told them that we believe in social cohesion and we wish to go to Tasmania where we already have friends. We would learn good things from them, and they can take whatever good they find in us.” 

They say that’s how they became ‘the first Sikh couple’ to settle in Tasmania.

“I was the only turban-wearing person in the area at that time. But I never felt that it is a different world, such was the acceptance from the people here,” said Mr Dhillon.  

“Another thing that made our settlement easier was our values and cultural background. We had the understanding that as human beings we all need love, affection and compassion, and these things bring people together.”

“We also knew that we live in a multicultural world where everyone is different. And no one is perfect.  So just control your anger. Even if someone passes a racial remark just don’t take it to heart, that could be one odd character passing negative comments. It is about developing a realisation that it’s natural to have different opinions and we must be able to accept and tolerate each other.”  

Mr and Mrs Dhillon are ‘the first Sikh couple’ to settle in Tasmania.
Mr and Mrs Dhillon are ‘the first Sikh couple’ to settle in Tasmania.
Supplied

Mrs Dhillon who received her first appointment at the Rose Bay High school at Hobart 50 years ago said she has enjoyed a ‘rewarding and fulfilling’ teaching career.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my career in teaching. Life became a bit slow and steady after retirement. Now I devote more time to meditation and for community work.”

While reflecting on her 50 year bond with Mr Dhillon, she said the mantra for a successful marriage is based on ‘trust and understanding’.

“Mutual love, humility, acceptance, and tolerance are the key factors that determine the success of any relationship, and I believe marriage is no different to it,” she said. 

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