By Royce Millar | THE AGE | AUSTRALIA |
The Bairnsdale football ground seems an unlikely site for a display of Sikh culture and charity, as unlikely as hardy Gippslanders queuing for free vegetarian food.
But these are exceptional times in Eastern Victoria.
On December 30, as fire raged through the state’s far east, 10 members of Sikh Volunteers Australia packed a van with food and water and headed from their base in Devon Meadows, in Melbourne’s south east, toward the smoke.
“We didn’t know where to go exactly,” said organiser Lakhwinder Singh 34. “We were trying to contact the local council but we were unable to make any contact. We just heard that there is a fire and we must go.”
Through a Gippsland fires Facebook page the group contacted Bairnsdale neighbourhood Centre boss Leanne Jennings who advised where their help was most needed. The neighbourhood centre also assisted with accommodation and extra cooking facilities.
The Sikhs based their food service at the relief centre at the Bairnsdale football ground. On the first night they served more than 100 meals and were still feeding people at 1.30 am. “The Red Cross and the Salvation Army were there but there was still a great need,” explains Mr Singh.
Undeterred by the smoke and confusion the Sikhs also travelled to other fire-threatened communities including Lakes Entrance. On Thursday they helped feed anxious locals and travellers at Orbost until the town was evacuated. “Everybody had to leave from there,” says Mr Singh.
As expected, a staple served by the group is classic veggie curry. But the group also does pasta (including gluten-free) and sandwiches. “Whatever people like,” says Mr Singh.
A second van of helpers joined the group on Friday. They have restocked mainly from local supermarkets but group members have also replenished supplies from Melbourne.
Sikh Volunteers Australia was founded by the burgeoning Sikh community in Melbourne’s south east about six years ago. It established a free food service in 2017 and now regularly helps feed homeless people in the municipalities of Casey and Frankston.
Early this year it extended its reach to help feed those affected by bushfires at Bunyip near Pakenham.
The group’s work is driven by the Sikh belief in people caring for one another says Mr Singh.
Since Monday, and under the watchful eye of head chef Sukhwinder Kaur, the group has prepared and served breakfast, lunch and dinner for many hundreds of residents and tourists.
See full story, ‘Thanks dhal: Sikh group to the rescue with hundreds of free curries’ (The Age, 3 Jan 2020), here.
Aussie firefighters battling bushfires get gurdwara-cooked meals (Asia Samachar, 14 Nov 2019)