Swan Hill’s Sikh community is on a mission.
To build its own temple instead of relying on the suburban property currently used for religious services and as a social hub.
The first step will be the block of land – the community had its eyes on one pre-COVID but that got moved to the backburner as the state went into its series of lockdowns, border controls and restrictions on numbers at religious services.
Sikhs have had a strong presence in and around Swan Hill for more than 50 years but their association with the town goes back a century.
Nationals Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, said the Sikhs who have chosen to make Swan Hill their home have added a lot to the region in the time they have been here, across industries from agriculture to running the town’s biggest taxi company.
Mr Walsh said it was a vibrant and welcoming community and he had already been in discussions with the community about its temple plans and would be working to support them throughout the process.
“And I was delighted to join them at the weekend and meet more of the Sikhs who now call this town, and Australia, home; and hope I will be able to assist them as they work towards their own temple,” he said.
“This is an exciting time for this community; and I am looking forward to being part of the next stage in its progress in Swan Hill.”
Community spokesman Jagandeep Singh – who is also treasurer of the committee driving fundraising for the temple – said while the temple will be for the Sikh religion, part of that religion is its all-embracing friendship and openness.
For example, Jagandeep said the Sikhs stage regular community meals; which are open to anyone who might be hungry or looking for some social contact.
“All are welcome to join us, we are all part of the Swan Hill community as well as our Sikh community and we would love to have people come and see what we do and how we do it,” he said.
“Now the COVID controls have been relaxed we have been able to boost numbers at our services and move them back to weekly instead of the small fortnightly ones we were holding during the worst of COVID.”
Because it is still a relatively small community here – with about 150 members – Jagandeep knows they will be taking a lot of small steps on the road to fulfilling their dream; but is confident once they get the land, they will be able to get support from larger Sikh communities as well as the money they can raise themselves.
He said they were hoping to find a block for around $100,000 and then access any state or federal government funding that might also be available to supplement they money they have raised.
Sikhism is one of the world’s youngest major religions but one of its largest organised religions, emerging in India’s Punjab region in the 15th century, and has spread across the world.
In Canada; Punjabi is now one of that country’s three official languages and is in school curriculums, after 20 Punjabi-Canadians were elected to its Parliament.
While it is nowhere near that size in Australia, Jagandeep said there were Sikh temples in Mildura and Melbourne and in Sydney the religion is about to open its first grammar school.