' The Heart of Melbourne Sings 'Konkani'

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The Heart of Melbourne Sings 'Konkani'
Stephen P D’Souza

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.



Comments on this article
Mr.A, UdupiTuesday, July 24, 2012
@Alex monteiro/&fly, kemmannu udupi, Menggi people dont hesitate to speak in Konkani, all the program was in Konkani, yes might be people where talking in Konkani, because most of the children born in Australia dont know Konkani..now dont say, they should know to speak konkani, i believe it is good to share the goog value to your children, it dosent matter what language you speak..
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Alex monteiro/&fly, kemmannu udupiMonday, July 09, 2012
i apprisiate that u have taken so much pain to interdues melbourne konkani community but the sad think is menggi peopuls thy hesitete to tolk our mother toungh KONKANI
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William, MangaloreSaturday, July 07, 2012
It can be much appreciated if someone can reply to Mr. Dinesh/Mangalore/KSA.
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Richard Dmello, MelbourneFriday, July 06, 2012
Dear Stephen very good article. Very well written. One more significant thing for Mangaloreans is having Mangalore Street in Melbourne. The inner city suburb Travancore was named after Tranvancore House. Here Henry Madden lived had close connections with India. The suburb has several streets with Indian city names. Lucknow Street, Mangalore Street and Cashmere Street were best streets of Travancore as per ‘The Age’ newspaper
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Sunil D'Souza, Bombay / MelbourneFriday, July 06, 2012
Hi Stephen, very good article. I have been using the Sandridge Bridge for the past so many years I have been in Melbourne, but never knew its significance.
Keep up the good work. !!
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Edwin D'mello, Mangalore/ Melbourne.Thursday, July 05, 2012
Congratulations Stephen on your research and on a well written article. Thanks for presenting Melbourne's richness and connection to the Konkani speaking community. Your article is an encouragement for all of us to put our hands together for a common cause to keep our beautiful culture and tradition alive here in Australia. We have been members of the MCAV and will continue to support any activities that will bring all Mangaloreans together.
Edwin & Janet D'Mello (Omzoor/Melbourne)
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Peter Lobo, Vittla/MelbourneTuesday, July 03, 2012
Well done Stephen
Very good article and photographs.
Hope this years monti fest will be grand as our Bishop gracing the occasion.
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Don, Mangalore/MelbourneTuesday, July 03, 2012
Yes you guessed it right i am Don, Colin's brother and we are both not happy with it
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Anita pinto, melbourneTuesday, July 03, 2012
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Bert Naik, Melbourne/AustraliaTuesday, July 03, 2012
Dear Jacob, Allan, Colin and Anita,

I am overwhelmed by your positive comments and offer of support. As you well know, sparing personal time for the sake of the community, and then rather than getting positive appreciation we often receive disparaging comments, the going can get a little tough. We are all busy people. The committee members do not earn anything for their effort and contribution. But that is what makes MCAV a truly community organisation. I truly appreciate your support. I am sure we can organise something.

Don, I would like to know your real identity. The members of MCAV were given a 'fee holiday' last year (2011-2012). No membership fee was collected from the those who were the members at that time. I know of one single $20 received. That was from Stephen (I believe the same person who authored this article). Stephen was not a member at that time. But there was no application form from Stephen. That can be refunded. But all this makes me wonder if I already know who this Don is.

MCAV is not there for any sort of profit. Every member family is encouraged to have some representation on the committee. As St Dominic de Guzman is reported to have said in the 12th century: "All those who stand to gain from a decison must put the effort in to make that decision".

Bert Naik
Comment on this message     

Ladru, MississaugaTuesday, July 03, 2012
Dave HH, Melbourne

Same show here in Toronto/Mississauga (Canada). "Konkani" is only in the name, hardly any "Konknai" is spoken during the programms!!! It seems that organizers/attendees are ashamed to speak Konkani.
Comment on this message     

Anita Pinto, AustraliaMonday, July 02, 2012
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Prakash, Mangalore/MelboruneMonday, July 02, 2012
People, i have been to one of the Mangalorean Nativity celebrations held in the north/western suburbs (Altona ??) and it was organised well and gave us a good feel of the hold feast .
The one in the South /East is the one that is more of a "commercial" committee .
Comment on this message     

N. Frank, India/KsaMonday, July 02, 2012
Those who have migrated to Australia, should live like the Australians. Accept Australia as their country, speak the language of the country and forget the artificial remembrance of India, and most of all their unimportant love for Konkani which can be seen in Dave HH, Melbourne`s comments.
Comment on this message     

Reena Veigas, Mangalore,MelbourneMonday, July 02, 2012
We have beena living in Melbourne for the past 3 yrs. And last year in 2011 we attended the Monthi Fest celebration organised by the Monthi Fest Committee which has been now renamed as Melbourne Konkani Community. Whatever it is the last years feast celebration was exceptional which made me feel that iam in Mangaalore again. The Holy liturgy was celebrated in Konkani, and the cultural programme was conducted in konkani from the beginning till the end. I would not expect anything more from the organisers. A big thanks goes to Fr Prakash Cutinha and his team for taking the lead to bring all the konkani speaking Mangalorens together.
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nasir, karklaMonday, July 02, 2012
why INDIAN city's are not like this, why? we should,
we can also build same like master plan modern city's.
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Dave HH, MelbourneMonday, July 02, 2012
The article is good and glamoruos, but the reality is different. In the year 2010, there was a function organised by the mangalore konkani association and hardly few words were spoken in konkani , rest of the show was in english. This ultimately left a bitter taste in mouth of many konkanis who attened that particular function. Sadly, for several people , that was the last konkani function.How good is it to attened a so called "Konkani get-together" , wherin the whole show is in english.
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Flavia Pinto, Mumbai / Melbourne, AustraliaMonday, July 02, 2012
When I was employed in Crown Casino (on the Southbank), I used to use this bridge to reach my workplace alighting at Flinders Street Station on the northern side when I chose not to drive. Honestly, did not know its significance. Thanks for the Article .. great pictures, great write-up and a wonderful poem.
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Jacob Mendonsa, BangaloreMonday, July 02, 2012
My dear friend Bret Naik,

Good luck.Dont allow the organisation to become defunct.U have lot of Mangaloreans arround U including my son,in -laws & friends.Just start contacting them & organise.I am sure U will succeed before our Bishop reaches there.

Your friend

Jacob Mendonsa
Comment on this message     

Jacob Mendonsa, BangaloreMonday, July 02, 2012
My dear friend Bret Naik,

Good luck.Dont allow the organisation to become defunct.U have lot of Mangaloreans arround U including my son,in -laws & friends.Just start contacting them & organise.I am sure U will succeed before our Bishop reaches there.

Your friend

Jacob Mendonsa
Comment on this message     

Joseph D Silva, KulshekarSunday, July 01, 2012
Dear Stephen,
A very good article indeed. Nice photography. A very good description. I wish you all the best and also awaiting for many more articles. Cheers.
Comment on this message     

I J S Shet, MangaloreSunday, July 01, 2012
Great! Wonder if anyone recalls my article written in a few local publications about 'Mangalore' that exists not far from Melbourne!Lets hear how many recall and can give the details! Right at this moment at New Jersey USA the Konkani Sammelan is in it's concluding day~! So much for Mangalore and Konkani! Cheers!!!-ijss.
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Bert Naik, Melbourne/AustraliaSunday, July 01, 2012
Thanks Stephen for a great article.
I was a bit surprised to read the status of the Mangalorean Catholic Association of Vic, Inc. No, it is not defunct - just because we have not organised an annual dance this year! It is very much alive, but as usual, in great need of volunteers to organise a function that requires much effort.
Bert Naik
President, The Mangalorean Catholic Association of Vic, Inc
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Juliet Mascarenhas, Bejai/MangaloreSunday, July 01, 2012
Hats off to the Konkani cousins(RC,GSB,CSB,Goans)for raising the glory in the heart of Melbourne city.Wishing the Monthy Fest a grand success which will be graced BY Most Rev.Dr. Aloysius Paul D'souza.
"Moriye Hogolsia"
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Dinesh , Mangalore/KSASunday, July 01, 2012
I am interested to know the opportunities for civil engineers in australia.I have emailed many mangalore communities in australia.But nobody responded.
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