INDIAN families, many led by women, create change in unlikely places
It may seem slightly discordant but, then again, in the shifting world of norms led by a globalising revolution in just about everything, Bollywood is coming to Wycheproof.
The northern Mallee town and others around it are welcoming a new wave of work-seeking migrant families, many of them from the southern Indian state of Kerala and many led by women.
This new wave will be celebrated with Bollywood on Broadway, part of the Wycheproof Great Grain Festival, from March 16-18.
Athena George, 36, arrived in Australia in October 2006. Her husband and daughter followed 11 months later.
Athena is one of four registered nurses from India working at the Wycheproof hospital, known as the Wycheproof campus of the East Wimmera Health Service.
Two live in Wycheproof and another two at nearby Donald.
Campus manager Robyn Roberts says she started recruiting staff through an international nurse agency in Melbourne in 2007.
"Trying to recruit qualified nursing staff is extremely difficult, despite a campaign in the region and in the major metropolitan newspapers. You just can't get staff so we have had to go down this pathway," Robyn says.
About 35 Indian families, most from Kerala, have moved into the Mallee and are living in towns such as Sea Lake, Birchip, Hopetoun, Warracknabeal and Wycheproof.
Robyn says the women usually arrive first.
The East Wimmera Health Service employs about 17 as nurses across its various campuses.
They upgrade their qualifications and do rotations with a health service so they can be registered as nurses in Australia.
"They come to gain their nursing qualifications, often leaving their husbands and children behind," Robyn says.
"They are brave. They come with a great grasp of written English and they can read very well.
"The reality is that the professional status of nursing in India is not very high. It's a much more respected profession here."
Athena followed this path. She arrived in Adelaide, completed a pre-registration program at the University of South Australia and worked as a district nurse in South Australia and then as a nurse in Melbourne for two years before heading bush.
Her son Jude, in grade one at Wycheproof State School, was born in Australia and her daughter Ann is in grade five.
"In India a registered nurse earns about 5000 rupees a month," she says.
"That's about $200. It's very cheap. A registered nurse in Australia can earn more than $5000 a month."
Athena's husband, a commerce graduate and sales executive with a post graduate certificate in computers, works as a cleaner at Wycheproof State School. Finding work is often a big challenge for the men of the families yet the opportunity to earn more in whatever occupations they can find and to be able to educate their children is the big attraction.
Valsa George, 43, and her husband George Joseph, 45, live in Donald where their boys, aged nine and 13, attend the local state and high schools.
Valsa works at the Wycheproof hospital and George works night shift (1am-9am) at the Eat Well biscuit factory. The family lived in Dubai for 15 years, but are now Australian citizens.
Buloke Shire councillor Ellen White says the families have boosted flagging school enrolments and local church congregations. Most are Christian.
She's also noticed the fare on offer at the local supermarket changing. "There's a greater range of vegetables and Asian greens and lot more spice and chillies, rice noodles and bigger bags of rice. The Indians have just been fantastic," Ellen says.
"The fact that they participate in the community and having children and sending them to school has helped, and I just love their food."
- Bollywood on Broadway at the Wycheproof Great Grain Festival, March 16-18, ph: (03) 5493 7455.