July 1, 2012
It is arguably the ‘world’s best livable city’ and is often called as the ‘Food, Cultural, Entertainment and Sports capital of Australia.’ Home to people from more than 140 countries, it celebrates diversity and tolerance. Boasting of the largest tram network in the world, it is often referred to as the ‘Garden City of Australia.’ This friendly city is the home to the largest Jewish population in Australia and officially has the highest Polish population outside Warsaw and unofficially the highest Sri Lankan population outside Colombo. In the midst of all this, the heart of this multicultural city sings Konkani. How?
In downtown Melbourne there lies a Bridge, one of the two pedestrianised bridges that crosses the Yarra river. The steel girder bridge known as the Sandridge Bridge, is where thousands of immigrants first landed on the Australian shores and thus forms a unique link with Melbourne’s past and present.
The Sandridge Bridge is situated near the old Yarra Falls site (now Queens Bridge), a traditional Indigenous meeting place and just upstream from the landing point of Melbourne’s first white settlers (Enterprize Park). The Yarra Falls was used as a river crossing and marked the point where the Yarra turned from saltwater to freshwater. Because of this fresh water supply, the site was chosen by John Batman, as the location for Melbourne.
The Yarra River
The river was a major source of food and meeting place for Indigenous Australians from pre-historic times. The area surrounding the Yarra river was originally inhabited by various clans of the Wurundjeri people for at least 35,000 years. The lower stretches of the river is where the city of Melbourne was established in 1835. From its source in the Yarra Ranges, it flows 242 kms west through the Yarra Valley which opens out into plains as it winds its way through Greater Melbourne before emptying into Hobsons Bay in northernmost Port Philip.
The city of Melbourne on a misty morning as seen from the river Yarra
The mighty West Gate Bridge spanning 2.5 kms connects Melbourne’s western suburbs to its CBD as seen from the river Yarra
Interestingly, the ‘old falls’ played a key role in the naming of the Yarra. Apparently John Batman’s surveyor John Wedge overheard members of the Wurundjeri clan using the words `Yarra Yarra’ at the falls and mistakenly believed they were the indigenous name for the river. In fact, the words refer to the pattern of water flows around the falls in the Woiworung language (literally ‘water cascading over water’).
The Sandridge Bridge
Built in 1888, it was originally a railway bridge and is the third constructed on this site. The current bridge replaced two earlier railway bridges erected in 1853 and 1859 and is. It is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register and is considered to be of State significance. The bridge was closed nearly after hundred years in 1987 as it quickly fell into disrepair. It was refurbished in 2005, opening 3 days before the 2006 Commonwealth Games. The redevelopment, includes the magnificent sculptures – ‘The Travellers’ which are a series of 10 giant steel sculptures lining the Yarra River in Melbourne’s vibrant Southbank precinct. Designed by Lebanese artist Nadim Karam, each sculpture stands approximately 7.5 metres high. It is lined on one side with glass panels containing information about the various nations from which immigrants and settlers journeyed to make Melbourne their home.
Constructed at a 33 degree angle to the river bank, the Bridge spans the Yarra river linking Flinders on the Northbank with Queens Square on the Southbank
They are called ‘The Travellers’ - a series of giant steel sculptures sliding quietly across the Yarra, depicting the waves of immigrants who have journeyed to Melbourne to make it their home
Sandridge Bridge is one of two pedestrianised bridges that crosses the Yarra River in the heart of Melbourne. The Sandridge Bridge as seen from the Northbank
The bridge is adorned with various sculptures and lined on one side with glass panels containing information about the various nations from which immigrants and settlers came to Melbourne
The modern bridge, carrying pedestrian and cyclists, is 178.4 metres (585 ft) long and is made up of five spans, measuring in length, from the South bank to the North bank: 36.9 metres (121.1 ft), 36.6 metres (120.1 ft), 36.3 metres (119.1 ft), 36.9 metres (121.1 ft) and 31.7 metres (104 ft). The bridge is 17 metres (55.8 ft) wide and the girders are 2.74 metres (8.98 ft) high from the top to the bottom of the flange. The bridge has been constructed at a 33 degree angle to the river bank.
The Yarra River, the Sandridge Bridge and Konkani
Well! Here is the Konkani connection.
The bridge is adorned with various sculptures and lined up with 128 glass panels on one side in total, running the length of the Sandridge Bridge recording the details of the Indigenous peoples and immigrant arrivals by country of origin since 1788 from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Nine of the 10 sculptures represents Australian immigration from the convict and gold rush periods through to the refugees and professional newcomers of today. Out of the 128 glass panels, one nearer to the Northbank towards Flinders Street Station is INDIA. It is a tribute to a nation from where there were no refugees but professionals from various spheres who could speak English fluently and excel in the Australian society.
The History Screen of each nation on the glass panel is divided into five categories. Taking the history screen of India, the first portion of the glass panel mentions people from parts of India they came from – Mangalore does not feature as a separate place and is included under Karnataka. Bangalore separately finds a place as there is a sizeable number of Kannada speaking population here, most of them IT professionals. Likewise the state of Goa is mentioned, from where predominantly Konkans migrated much earlier as compared to others. The second portion denotes people of Indian Diaspora that is from countries other than India. Under ‘Arrivals’ are listed four different periods. The next portion gives number of people arrived. The penultimate portion breaks down the people arrived by their language and this is where Konkani predominantly finds a place. Each panel represents a community of more than 1000 people. Communities of between 100 and 1000 are mentioned on summary panels. The data is for the period until the year 2006.
In the last six years, the number of Indians who have arrived has shot up being the primary migrant group upstaging the Italians (with Hinduism the fastest growing religion) and among them many of them have been Konkans. Finally, the world map is placed at the bottom of the panel with the country of origin and the country of destination highlighted in red in this case India and Australia.
The transparent glass panel depicting INDIA with information from which parts the people came from, the different period of arrivals, the numbers, the languages followed by a world map
We find Konkani in the Guinness Book of World Records, we find Konkani on an Indian Currency note, we find Konkani right here Down Under in Melbourne
Konkani speaking population in Melbourne
It is estimated there are at least about 2000 Mangalorean Konkani (Roman Catholic) speaking people have settled in Melbourne that is excluding the Goud Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) and Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmin (CSB) – that would sum upto 350 families and students who had come here to study and stayed along. Adding to this, there is a sizeable Goan population. It is widely believed the community is doing well with the integration into the mainstream crossing a few hurdles excelling in areas like business, banking, finance, engineering, IT, nursing, beauticians and chefs.
The Mangalore Catholic Association of Victoria (MCAV) was the first Mangalorean Association to be set up in Australia and now unfortunately is defunct. Of late, the Monthi Fest Committee, registered as Melbourne Konkan Community Inc. has taken centrestage and has been active in many respects most notably with the Annual Monthi feast of September 8th which they have grandly organized for the past few years. This year, the Monthi feast celebrations on September 9th would be more colourful with the Most Rev Dr. Aloysius Paul D’Souza, Bishop of Mangalore gracing the occasion giving a fillip to the hardwork done by the individuals concerned notably Fr. Prakash Cutinha, the Parish Priest of St. Joseph’s Church in Northcote, Melbourne.
The heart of Melbourne sings Konkani -
On a long historic bridge of yore …
As the river Yarra gushes on its shore…
The city’s beautiful skyline adore…
On either side with all splendour galore!
The word ‘Konkani’ smiles to the core.
We find Konkani in the Guinness Book of World Records, we find Konkani on an Indian Currency Note being the official language of the Republic of India and we find Konkani right here in the heart of Melbourne – the world’s most livable city. Added to this, as I have mentioned in these very columns before there is a Mangalore, 350 kms north of the Central Business District and a Mangalore Street in a suburb called Travancore in Victoria, Australia.