Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

Wanderings in India: Australian Perceptions

Chapter 2

India in Australia

A Recent History of a Very Long Engagement1

Kama Maclean

While observing the media reportage of the 2001 Maha Kumbh Mela as it was being relayed into Australia, I noted a pattern in the ‘idea’ of India that underpinned the pages of newsprint that reproduced, in colour, fantastic images of crowds assembling to bathe in the sacred sangam, the confluence of the Yamuna and Ganga. Of course, the Kumbh Mela is eminently newsworthy. Guinness World Records, that compilation of the amazing and the bizarre, credits it as being ‘the greatest recorded number of people assembled with a common purpose’ (Glenday 2007:125), with an estimated 20 million pilgrims present in Allahabad on 30 January 2001.2 Many like to think that the assembled crowd represents a microcosm of India–’a miniature nation bristling with paradoxes’ (This Kumbh’s a Confluence 2001)–in all of its linguistic, regional, and sectarian diversity.3 The Kumbh Mela is all the more incredible given the limitations on the land available for the purpose of the mela and the enormity of the Uttar Pradesh state government’s task in overseeing the arrangements (with some central-government funding). This includes providing effective crowd control at all times, medical provisions, all-India transport arrangements, reuniting people separated in the crowd and overseeing that food and shelter is clean and affordable. In the interests of public health and safety the state has a duty of care to the pilgrims to achieve all of this and, in addition, it has to contend with the demands and needs of the ‘kings of the mela’, the sadhus. The impressive administrative achievement of managing an influx of millions of people onto a small tongue of land over the course of a month without catastrophe, in the face of overwhelming challenges such as terrorist threats, deserved media coverage. But this is not what earned the Kumbh Mela a place in the Australian media.

Figure 1: ‘Ganges Gathering Tests Political Water’

A serious news story about the politicisation of religion is juxtaposed with unrelated images which posit tradition against technology.

Photograph taken by Luke Harding

In all of the Australian coverage, the emphasis lay on the naga sadhus, the colourful congregation of Hindu holy men who parade naked or nearly so to bathe at the sangam on three grand occasions during the mela and hold court in their camps for the remainder of the period (approximately 180,000 sadhus attended the 2001 Kumbh Mela). The most widely circulated photograph (see image below) presented the ultimate anachronism: a holy man cradling a super-slim mobile phone to his dreadlocked head (Harding 2001).4 At the same time, he holds a kamandal (a pot), indicating a high state of withdrawal from the material world. So why does the holy man, who has abandoned all else, still cling to his mobile? To many in the West, Indian asceticism is logically incompatible with expensive, high-tech conveniences. This concept reveals a poor understanding of Hinduism in general and the modern history of Indian asceticism in particular, which reveals that Indian sadhus have always been politically and materially engaged with the world.5

The naga sadhus themselves had objected to the determination of media contingents to represent the Kumbh Mela internationally as an erotic, exotic show of the Mystical East. In an effort to regulate photographers’ access to the ghats, the mela authorities had allocated passes to the media, which prescribed the limits within which they could photograph or video pilgrims and sadhus while bathing. This was in accordance with legislation framed in 1940, which explicitly banned photography at the bathing ghats in Allahabad during a mela. Ever since the introduction of photography in India, local authorities had contested the right of photographers to capture sensational images of women bathing, their saris clinging to their bodies, and of the naga sadhus. Many colonial travellers had been attracted to the mela with the promise (advertised in early travel guides) of encountering the picturesque: a pre-industrial landscape, peopled with romantic figures engaged in ‘ancient rituals’ and peppered with statuesque, or perhaps ruined, buildings (Ghose 1998:41). The appeal of the picturesque lay in its raw, ‘natural state’, which was implicitly contrasted with the busy streets of the European metropolis. One such traveller, Constance Cumming remarked upon the curious fact that so many Indian women, when seen in public, would briskly draw a cloth over their heads and faces, but apparently had no reservation in bathing in sheer, clinging cloth at the mela’s ghats (Cumming 1884:89). It did not occur to Cumming that these devotions were deemed private and were not intentioned for her gaze.

The ban on photography enshrined in the Mela Rules of 1940 aimed to protect the privacy of bathers, that they might perform their religious rituals unmolested by the gaze of photographers.6 Enforcing such a ban, however, has never been easy, particularly when the administration is distracted by vital issues such as public safety and crowd regulation on the main bathing days, when dreadful accidents have been known to happen. In 1954, arrangements fell short of what was required and, when on 3 February crowds exceeded expectations, the result was the death of hundreds of pilgrims in a crowd crush.7

On the first main bathing day at the Kumbh in 2001, 14 January, photographers positioned themselves along the banks and in the water in front of the akhara’s processions, or shahi snans, in order to get the best shots possible. The administration, distracted by the demands of organising the holy men’s processions, had not anticipated this and were unable to remove the photographers before the akharas charged towards the holy waters (Nandan 2002:87). The photographers had entered the sacred waters before the holy men whose right to enter the waters first is a well-enshrined custom, with the order of precedence still hotly contested among akharas today. The akharas objected to this and the Mela Authority responded by backing a Public Interest Litigation in the Allahabad High Court, seeking a strict ban on photography at the ghats in accordance with the Mela Rules of 1940. This moderated media coverage somewhat, although the issue remained contested for the remainder of the mela.

Of course, the Australian press was not alone in this voyeuristic preoccupation with naked sadhus and wet saris at the mela. The Australian media relied upon images taken by international press agencies and, indeed, those taken by Indian freelancers, many of whom protested at the limits imposed upon them and faced the lathis of police for their trouble (Kazmi 2001). There was considerable objection to the blithe broadcasting of such images in the Indian media, where the English-language press in particular portrayed the mela with a cosmopolitan sensibility that was interpreted by some as deeply disrespectful (An Uncultured Media 2001; Dutt 2001). In the United Kingdom complaints from Britain’s Indian community at Channel 4’s coverage of the first bathing day reached the mela management and the Commissioner of Allahabad, Sada Kant, responded, accusing the channel of taking a lewd, ‘titillating’ and immoral view of the mela (Lewd Charge 2001). This media interpretation of the mela as an esoteric, exotic and erotic festival raised the ire of Hindus who argued that the sentiments of the devout pilgrims were being treated with disregard. In Australia, with its relatively small Indian diaspora drawn from diverse regions and communities, there was no such response.

In 2001 the Kumbh Mela was the only Indian news story to reach the front pages of major broadsheets in Australia. In fact, India had scarcely occupied space on Australian front pages since the outraged coverage of the 1998 nuclear tests. (I am not counting cricket coverage here—on which, more later.) Why was the Kumbh Mela so newsworthy? How did it affect the lives of Australians that it justified prime position in the newspapers and large colour photographs on several occasions?

To newspaper editors, the Kumbh Mela justified such coverage because it was an ‘entertaining’ human-interest story. The Australian public consuming this news was one that believed that the world was gradually becoming more secular as modernity continued to advance. (The events of 9/11 had yet to force a public reconsideration of the secularisation thesis—that societies secularise as they modernise.) By contrast, here was India, still mired in rituals carried out regardless of the degree of inconvenience to the pious. Many Australians were unable to relate to the deep religiosity that drew such immense numbers to the sangam to bathe in ‘water unfit for humans’ (Kremmer 2001b:11). This was perhaps best critiqued by sardonic cartoonist Michael Leunig’s sketch of three Aussie couch potatoes, eyes agog, in front of a television, with one viewer reflecting that ‘we call our television “Ganges” because we immerse ourselves in it and are saved’ (Leunig 2001). Leunig’s cartoon suggested that in late Western modernity television had been substituted for religion as an opiate of the masses and that any civilisational smugness was premature.

*  *  *

Mass-mediated photographic representations of the Kumbh Mela as a quaint religious observance performed by ‘unmodern, superstitious and irrational’ Indians serve only to reinforce global relationships and of cultural dominance. And that is gratifying to a Western audience. If this sounds far-fetched, compare this with media coverage that reveals a sense of discomfort with India’s rising economic and military power: ‘India Jumps Queue’ (2004) in a large, angry font, on the Indo-US nuclear deal; and the indignant front-pager in the Daily Telegraph, ‘Where Our Jobs Went: The Indian Call Centres Undercutting Our Workers’ (McIlveen 2006). Former Prime Minister John Howard repeatedly framed his refusal to sign the Kyoto protocol in terms that it was ‘unfair’, because it would not ‘impose the obligations it would have imposed on Australia on countries like China and India’ (PM: Kyoto Won’t Work 2006).8 Such headlines reveal a sense that India is transgressing its ‘rightful’ place in the global economy and in geo-strategic politics, or rather, the subordinate place it has occupied since the early modern era. This is what Thomas Friedman (2005) meant when he declared that the world was becoming ‘flat’, after centuries of Western hegemony and exploitation of underdeveloped regions.

While I share many of the concerns of Friedman’s critics, including that global equality is likely to remain elusive for some time, media coverage such as this would suggest that Australia is ill-prepared for a future in which India has a determining role in the world. The breadth of India-knowledge for the average Australian is lamentably narrow, despite a very long history of linkages and connections. There were Indians on the First Fleet in 1788 and small numbers of Indian indentured workers came to Australia in the early 1800s (Raj 2006:383). While it is true that we have a shared history through joint membership in the British Empire, the fact remains that this membership was held under very different terms—a ‘white dominion’ and a ‘tropical dependency’ respectively.9 This point is most spectacularly demonstrated by the fact that India went through a protracted and sometimes violent struggle for independence in the early part of the 20th century, whereas Australians in a 1999 referendum still maintained the role of the British monarch as their Head of State.

Nor were postcolonial politics and global currents particularly conducive to close bilateral relations in the latter half of the 20th century, leading to a protracted period of relative disengagement and missed opportunity (Gurry 1996). The White Australia policy’s infamous European language test was partially devised with English-speaking Indians in mind.10 Cold War politics in the latter half of the 20th century saw India, while technically non-aligned, sidle towards the USSR, putting it at odds with Australian alliances (Gurry 1992/93:511–512). Both India and Australia maintained degrees of economic protectionism during this period, which kept bilateral engagement to low levels.

In fact, India’s relatively undeveloped, internationally disengaged economy allowed it to secure a unique place in the Western imagination as a spiritual contrast to the capitalised, globalised West. ‘India was undoubtedly “consumed” by the sixties counterculture’, writes social historian Julie Stephens; ‘Here consumption refers to certain practices which take a cultural and social form, like travelling, participating in rituals, reading, imbibing drugs, chanting and buying artefacts’ (Stephens 1998:49–50). India became a haven for ‘alternative tourists’, who imagined India in affirmative Orientalist terms and used it to mount a critique of Western society, which they perceived as spiritless and materialistic.11 Other tourists, seduced by skilful marketing campaigns that capitalised on the romance of the Taj Mahal, went to India and struggled with the harsh contradictions that only a rich culture constrained within a developing economy can produce. I have personally been upbraided for the difficulties and trials faced by more than one India-returned Western tourist, who had expected spiritualism and exoticism on their sojourns and were horrified to have that fantasy interrupted by frequent interactions with those who are desperately poor, as though their single-minded concern with poverty is indicative of a flaw in Indian theologies.

Addressing stereotypes such as this in Australia can best be done through education from the earliest levels. Currently, the Australian school system is more likely to introduce students to French language, culture and history, than it is to Indian—a striking anomaly given that ‘in the twenty-first century every sixth human being will be an Indian’ (Varma 2004:1). Explaining in historical terms India’s late development is vital if Australians are to understand and appreciate the South Asian region, with its diverse peoples and cultures. Nobody who had any knowledge of India would have supported former PM John Howard’s Kyoto excuse (that Australia should not sign the Kyoto protocol, because it would place limits on Australian emissions, but not on India and China’s, and that this would be ‘unfair’), which suggested that Australians and Indians were on an equal economic footing. Equally prevalent ideas of ‘mystical India’ are partially a product of the fact that educational institutions, starting from schools, have been constrained from offering engaging courses on the subcontinent. Funding cuts to the humanities in particular in universities have hit South Asia specialists hard, paradoxically at a time when Australian universities have come to heavily rely on the seemingly inexhaustible market of international students to make up for funding shortfalls. With few academic specialists to draw upon (and the available academics too snowed-under with administration, teaching and research demands to intervene consistently and effectively in the public sphere), the public is susceptible to media stereotypes and wild inaccuracies.

This was not always so, at least not in the tertiary sector. The Ingleson Report into the state of Asian Studies in 1988 identified 15 out of Australia’s then 19 universities which offered intensive teaching on subcontinental topics (Ingleson 1989). Most of the courses offered were focused on India, reflecting its dominance in the South Asian region. In the recent past, a student might choose from a range of what would now be derisively styled ‘boutique courses’ (classes with small but committed enrolments focusing on a fairly specialised area), a format of study which favoured topics of ‘lesser demand’. In 1992, for example, the University of Sydney offered a large and rich program of ‘Indian Subcontinent Studies’, in which it was possible to study Indian languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit or Bengali, and courses offered in the departments of History, Studies in Religion and Government gave students the contextual knowledge in which to position their language skills (see University of Sydney 1991:93–95, 193, 196, 236). The University of Melbourne had comparable offerings. Australia was a place in which research on Indian history had attained international attention; much of the early work of the Subaltern Studies Collective was based at Australian National University in Canberra, and researchers such as AL Bascham, Ravinder Kumar, DA Low, Robin Moore, Robin Jeffrey, Tom Weber and Peter Reeves achieved global recognition for their scholarship (see the Jeffrey Report (Jeffrey et al 2002:22)).

Several factors contributed to the decline of subcontinental studies in Australia from the 1990s. The end of the Cold War led to the fall in concern with, and funding to, ‘Area Studies’, where students had more often than not encountered Indian subjects in a range of disciplines. The so-called Dawkins Revolution, which among other things favoured faculties whose degrees were vocational and could be directly related to economic growth, was followed by over a decade of Howard government funding cuts to education. This decimated the capacity of Australian universities to teach and research in an internationally comparable or competitive fashion and it had a particularly detrimental effect on the humanities, for which alternative funding is harder to secure. The current model of tertiary education has become known by colleagues as the ‘Marsupial Model’—cute, fluffy and unable to survive outside of Australia. This model favoured research over teaching, in theory, but still required intensive, primarily large class instruction of broad, generic survey-style courses. Such subjects did not favour Indian topics, which had been attracting steady enrolments since the 1960s and 1970s. As a result of these changes, in conjunction with the retirement of academics who, given the funding constraints, were not replaced with fresh scholars, the study of India in Australia contracted; even the key Go8 institutions12 have been unable to maintain their Indian history, culture or language programs.

Then there was the ‘brain drain’. Many academics, tired of endless, fruitless funding rounds and increasing administrative incursions into their research time, found the terms offered overseas much more conducive to their careers. In universities in the United States, in particular, the academic culture is more clearly focused on research, undergraduate classes focus on discrete topics and are capped at relatively low numbers, the opportunities for postgraduates are less constrained, the conference scene is vibrant and funding comparatively abundant. By 2001 only five universities taught subjects related to India and the Jeffrey Report noted in 2002 that ‘if trends continue, there is a strong possibility that in five years no Australian institution will teach undergraduates specifically about South Asia’ (Jeffrey 2002:23). Indian specialists are still employed in the academy, but have been appointed in and therefore teach (and feel the pressure to research in) other, broader fields.

To be sure, global economic trends have always informed demand for subjects and, given the increasingly strained funding environment, they always will. The opportunistic nature of such demands creates problems of its own as it pegs learning (and, by extension, productive relations with other countries) to the mercy of the market. In the 1990s, Japan was Australia’s leading trading partner and students saw a secure future in studying Japanese. Lecturers of Japanese, while in demand, were less enthusiastic about the money-minded focus of the students they taught. This, in the past, was rarely an issue for academics teaching Indian languages, history, religions and culture. These lecturers faced a small but committed band of students, hippies, ashramites, the occasional missionary, but scarcely the business-minded. This also reflected the influence of Indian religions on New Age interpretations of spirituality, which had a considerable impact on the religious landscapes of the West in the closing decades of the 20th century. In 1980s and 1990s Australia, one did not study Sanskrit for three years on the basis of any sound financial calculation or on any reasonable expectation that there was a guaranteed career path as a Sanskritist, as I was told on several occasions by well-meaning friends.

In the late 1990s, in an attempt to boost falling Hindi language enrolments, advertisements were posted around the campus of my alma mater, La Trobe University.13 The colourful poster pointed out that Hindi was the second-most spoken language in the world. This did not save it from virtual extinction at La Trobe or in other Australian universities.14 The near extinction happened despite a 1998 government inquiry, which recommended that the Department of Employment, Education and Training ‘increase funding to preserve the study of the Hindi language and eliminate the uncertainty surrounding the availability of Hindi courses in Australia’ (Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade 1998:Recommendation 7).

Expertise in Hindi–Urdu would have important consequences, not only for productive cultural, trade and diplomatic exchanges, but also for Australian intelligence and security. When Dr Mohammed Haneef was arrested in 2007 and run through the gauntlet of newly-created and randomly-applied Australian terrorism laws, La Trobe Hindi lecturer, Dr Peter Friedlander, was able to publicly question the Australian Federal Police’s translations of Haneef’s interview transcript (Friedlander 2007). This expertise added volume to the growing concerns in legal circles and, eventually, in the Australian public about the powers invested in Australian security laws as they were applied to the hapless doctor’s case.

Not all of the blame for disengagement can be laid at the door of the Howard government. India was not at the forefront of the push to Asian engagement that was symptomatic of the Hawke–Keating era (1983–1996). At a time when India was undergoing post-liberalisation economic reform and beginning to re-enter the global economy, it was overshadowed by the spectacular economic growth of the Asian ‘Tiger’ economies. Commentators made snide comments about India’s ‘Hindu’ rate of growth (based on an Orientalist understanding of what is an incredibly dynamic religion), or extended the wild animal metaphor by invoking the slow lumbering gait of the Elephant to contrast it with the voracious Tigers. Further, India was maligned internationally after the nuclear tests of 1998, in the aftermath of which the Howard government distinguished itself by exceeding the response of the United States, suspending all but humanitarian aid and breaking all ties (with the exception of trade) in a series of actions which have been justly described as ‘extreme’ (Vicziany 2000:163).15 Australia continued to resist India’s application to join the key regional economic forum, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Howard government response to the Pokhran II nuclear tests ‘became an acute irritant in the relationship of the two countries’ (Kaul 2002:230). The 1998 parliamentary report on the Australia–India relationship mused that ‘relations were distant, but cordial and based on some shared experiences and national passions for cricket’ (Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence 1998).

While the cricket rationale has become a familiar refrain even in governmental circles, fans of the game know that the Australia–India cricketing relationship has been far from smooth. The ‘common language’ of cricket tends to be spoken in a dialect peppered with sledging and racial taunts, and this is not just one-way traffic as the controversy in the cricketing season of 2007–2008 showed, where truly sublime moments of cricket, such as Tendulkar’s test century and standing ovation at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 4 January 2008, were overshadowed by ugly and shameful behaviour on the field, which led to a crisis of truly international proportions (Conn 2008; Lalor 2008).16 India threatened to withdraw from the series; someone at the International Cricket Council did the maths, calculating that the Indian subcontinent generated about 70% the game’s revenue. It was subsequently thought that it might be prudent to try to save the series from collapse by taking on board some of the Indian team’s concerns. This led to yet another tabloid headline which indicates Australian unease with India’s rising clout, ‘Indians hold world to ransom’ (Wilson 2008), a phrase that was repeated in more in-depth reportage of the cricket crisis (Vincent 2008). In the past it was not uncommon to be stopped in the streets of India and, on discovery of one’s national identity, be happily reminded of the greatness of Allan Border; not anymore.

Nor was this the first cricketing incident that has mired the relationship. Jubilant Australian cricketers committed a major faux pas in November 2006, when Damien Martyn nudged an Indian union minister and then President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Sharad Pawar, from the stage at the Champions Trophy award ceremony in Mumbai, leading to mass insult and a flurry of letters of apology from the Australian side. On the other hand, Brett Lee has performed exemplary work as a cultural ambassador, by singing a popular duet with Asha Bhosle, a famous Bollywood playback singer, in which he promises to ‘even learn Hindi’ if it will help develop their romance (Bhosle & Lee 2006). The song, ‘Haan, Main Tumhara Hoon’ (Yes, I’m Yours) made number 2 on Indian pop charts. Steve Waugh is also widely respected in India for his support of orphanages and charities and is known as bhaiyya (big brother) by those he supports in the Udayan home for children affected with leprosy (Bose 1998). Despite these great examples, the highly competitive and ultra-nationalistic nature of our cricket relationship is far too volatile to be the basis of India–Australia co-operation.

Delhi-based scholar Shanta Nedungadi Varma identifies two factors that need emphasis in the building of stronger bilateral ties: ‘One is the need for positive image projection of each other by the print and audio-visual media; second, for more people to people contact through a much greater promotion of academic and cultural exchanges’ (Varma 2002:265). The creation of the Australia–India Council in 1992, as a result of a Senate Committee Report on Australia–India Relations in 1990, has significantly broadened the scope for bilateral educational linkages and many distinguished Indian professors and younger scholars have come to Australia for periods of study and research. The Indian Association for the Study of Australia (IASA) has proven to be a vibrant body which hosts a biennial conference attracting scholars from all over India and Australia, supported by the Australia–India Council and the Australian High Commission in New Delhi. Importantly, Australian organisations, such as the Asia Education Foundation (AEF) and Asialink, have been working consistently at finding ways in which Indian history, culture and society can be incorporated into Australian school curricula. In late September 2007 the AEF organised a superb teachers’ conference, Linking Latitudes, which took 300 schoolteachers from Australia and New Zealand to Delhi and Agra for a series of lectures, tours and visits to a range of Indian schools (Sheridan 2007a). This is beginning to bear fruit as Australian teachers begin to apply their India experience to their practice; already there are inspiring pedagogical projects being developed which aim to educate the coming generations in India-literacy.

The Indian diaspora in Australia is growing at an incredible rate; between 1996 and 2001 the population of Indians in Australia increased by 23% and a high percentage of Indian immigrants seek citizenship (Lakha 2006:387).17 The number of Indians living in Australia in 2004 was put at 200,000 and, in addition to this, Australia receives 40,000 Indian students into its higher education sector every year (Hugo 2004)—the numbers in 2009 were greater still. Just a few years ago, for Indians with an eye to international tertiary offerings, Australia was the second choice, behind the United States, as an education destination, because the cost of living and the exchange rate against the rupee made it relatively more affordable. However, the Great Financial Crisis has turned this around, although this factor is secondary to the crisis and controversy following the attacks on Indian students in Victoria.

On his return from Delhi in October 2007, respected foreign affairs editor of The Australian, Greg Sheridan, predicted, ‘Like the US [does now], India will eventually shape the world we live in’ (Sheridan 2007b). Of course, in the past there have been several short-lived bursts of India-enthusiasm in areas of trade, security and diplomacy; Mark Thirlwell notes that ‘it has been a rule of thumb among Australian diplomats that every Australian government will “discover” India at least once in its term of office’ (Thirlwell 2004:112). We need to cultivate, through education in schools and universities, an India-literate population that appreciates India’s history, society and culture. Such a project will not be realised quickly or cheaply, but will minimise the chance of the next burst of India-enthusiasm faltering and Australia missing out on the opportunity to understand (and engage with) this rising world power. This is not simply about taking economic advantage of India’s rise. The interconnected nature of Australia in the 21st century is such that knowledge about India has the capacity to inform issues that we should all be concerned about, from international environmental policy, the politics of nuclear weapons, and framing reasonable and effective terrorism laws.

Works cited

Bhosle, Asha and Brett Lee 2006, ‘Haan main tuhara hoon’, Asha and Friends vol I, YouTube,, viewed 25.2.2012.

Boisvert, Mathieu 2002, Personal communication 3 July.

Bose, Saibal 1998, ‘A good sport: Steve Waugh pitches for kids of leprosy patients’, Indian Express 22 July.

Broadbent, James, Suzanne Rickard and Margaret Steven 2003, India, China, Australia: trade and society 1788–1850, Historic Houses Trust of NSW, Glebe, NSW.

Conn, Malcolm 2008, ‘Kumble’s bodyline bouncer’, The Australian 7 January,, viewed 25.2.2012.

Cumming, CF Gordon 1884, In the Himalayas and on the Indian plains, Chatto & Windus, London.

Dutt, Anuradha 2001, ‘Greatest simulated show’, The Pioneer 25 January.

Friedlander, Peter 2007, Interview with Jon Faine, ABC Radio 774, 1 August.

Friedman, Thomas 2005, The world is flat: a brief history of the twenty-first century. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York.

Ghose, Indira 1998, Women travellers in colonial India: the power of the female gaze, Oxford University Press, Delhi.

Ghosh, Devleena and Stephen Muecke 2007, Cultures of trade: Indian Ocean exchanges, Cambridge Scholars, Newcastle.

Glenday, Craig (ed) 2007, Guinness world records 2008, HiT Entertainment, Barcelona.

Gurry, Meg 1992/93, ‘Leadership and bilateral relations: Menzies and Nehru, Australia and India, 1949–1964’, Pacific Affairs 65(4).

— 1996, India: Australia’s neglected neighbour? 1947–1996, Nathan, Centre for the Advanced Study of Australia-Asia Relations, Griffith University.

Harding, Luke 2001, ‘Ganges gathering tests political water’, The Age 13 January.

Hugo, Graeme 2004, ‘Recent population movements between India and Australia: trends and implications’, in Gopal, D and Dennis Rumley (eds), India and Australia: issues and opportunities, Authorspress, New Delhi.

‘India jumps queue’ 2004, The Weekend Australian 23–24 July.

Ingleson, John 1989, Asia in Australian higher education: report of the Inquiry into the Teaching of Asian Studies and Languages in Higher Education, Asian Studies Council, Canberra.

Jeffrey, Robin, John FitzGerald, Kama MacLean and Tessa Morris-Suzuki 2002, Maximising Australia’s Asia knowledge: repositioning and renewal of a national asset, ASAA, Melbourne.

Jenkins, Diana 2007, ‘The smart art’ The Australian (Smart Money Special Section) 2 June.

Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence 1998, Australia’s trade relationship with India, The Committee, Canberra,, viewed 25.2.2012.

Kaul, Man Mohini 2002, ‘Australia–India relations: a critical survey’, in Gopal, D (ed.), Australia in the emerging global order, Shipra, Delhi.

Kazmi, M Nikhat 2001, ‘Battle lines drawn: it’s media vs cops at the Kumbh’, Times of India 21 January.

Kremmer, Christopher 2001a, ‘Pilgrims progress’, The Age/SMH Good Weekend Magazine 3 March.

— 2001b, ‘Tempting fate or testing faith?’, The Age 24 January.

‘Kumbh turns into a “sangam” of Hindus, Muslims’ 2001, Times of India 12 January.

Lakha, Salim 2006, ‘Indian cultural identity in Australia’, in Lal, Brij V, Peter Reeves and Rajesh Rai (eds), The encyclopaedia of the Indian diaspora, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.

Lalor, Peter 2008, ‘Ugliness of racism will not go away quietly’, The Australian 7 January,, viewed 25.2.2012.

Leunig, Michael 2001, [Cartoon], The Age 12 January.

‘Lewd charge causes a splash in the Ganges’ 2001, The Age (Green Guide) 17 January.

Maclean, Kama 2008, Pilgrimage and power: the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, Oxford University Press, New York.

Matthiesson, Josephine 1999, ‘Doing the India trip: myths and paradoxes of a travel culture’, MA dissertation–Department of History, University of Melbourne.

McIlveen, Luke 2006, ‘Where our jobs went’, Daily Telegraph 10 October.

Nandan, Jiwesh 2002, Mahakumbha: a spiritual journey, Rupa, New Delhi.

Nicholson, Peter 2008, ‘It’s not cricket: India v Australia’, 18 January,, viewed 21.1.2008.

Phipps, Peter 1990, ‘The budget traveller in India: a deconstructive analysis and cultural critique’, BA(Hons) dissertation–Department of History, University of Melbourne.

Pinch, William R 2006, Warrior ascetics and Indian empires, Cambridge University Press, London.

‘PM: Kyoto won’t work’ 2006, SBS News Service, 31 October.

Raj, Sushma 2006, ‘Australia’, in Lal, Brij V, Peter Reeves and Rajesh Rai (eds), The encyclopaedia of the Indian diaspora, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.

Roy, Arindam 2001, ‘Salim’s holy dip’, Hindustan Times 12 January.

Sheridan, Greg, 2007a, ‘Cricket aside, the indians are coming’, The Australian blog posting 4 October,, viewed 25.2.2012.

— 2007b, ‘Powerful dash of new spice’, The Australian blog posting 6 October,, viewed 25.2.2012.

Stephens, Julie 1998, Anti-disciplinary protest: sixties radicalism and postmodernism, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.

Tavan, Gwenda 2005, The long, slow death of White Australia, Scribe, Carlton North, Vic.

Tewari, Vinay 2001, ‘A progressive pilgrim breaks communal barriers’, Times of India 12 January,, viewed 24.2.2012.

Thirlwell, Mark 2004, India: the next economic giant, Lowy Institute, Sydney.

‘This Kumbh’s a confluence of two worlds’ 2001, Indian Express 11 January.

‘An uncultured media’ [Editorial] 2001, The NavHind Times 2 February.

University of Sydney 1991, Faculty of Arts handbook 1992, Sydney.

Varma, Pavan K 2004, Being Indian: the truth about why the 21st century will be India’s, Penguin, New Delhi.

Varma, Shanta Nedungadi 2002, ‘India and Australia: towards forging a dynamic relationship’, in Gopal, D (ed.), Australia in the emerging global order, Shipra, Delhi.

Vicziany, Marika 2000, ‘Australia–India security dialogues: academic leadership in a diplomatic vacuum’, in Weigold, Auriol (ed.), Midnight to millennium: Australia–India interconnections, published as South Asia 23(1).

Vincent, Michael 2008, ‘Cricket tour remains in limbo’, transcript of 7.30 Report. ABC TV, 8 January., viewed 25.2.2012.

‘Who’ll man my rickshaw when i take a dip?’ 2001, Times of India 16 January.

Wilson, Rebecca 2008, ‘Indians hold world to ransom’, Sunday Telegraph 13 January.

1   This chapter was initially written in 2008, in the aftermath of the Indian cricket tour of Australia, but prior to the attacks on Indian students in Australia in 2009. I thank Amit Sarwal, who urged me to write this piece, and Michael Milne for his comments and ideas.

2   For all of the record book’s concern for accuracy, this is a mistake; the biggest bathing day in the 2001 mela, Mauni Amawasya, fell on 24 January. The figures, however, are consistent with other estimates of the number of people present on that day.

3   During the Kumbh in 2001, the English-language media reported several vignettes about Muslims bathing in the sangam (Roy 2001; Tewari 2001; Kumbh Turns into a ‘Sangam’ 2001; Who’ll Man My Rickshaw 2001).

4   The same image was published in Canada with the caption: ‘Hello, Vishnu?’ (Boisvert 2002).

5   New research by William Pinch has revealed that militant ascetics might have triumphed over the East India Company in the 18th century, had they lent their significant support as mercenaries to the Marathas, instead of making an alliance with Lord Wellesley (Pinch 2006:256).

6   One Australian photographer, Stephen Dupont, sells the images of pilgrims at the mela for astronomical prices, having established them as ‘fine art’. It is highly doubtful that the pilgrims who constitute his subject gave their permission or share in the profits, which must be considerable given advice that his art is collectable and a desirable thing to add to one’s investment portfolio (Jenkins 2007).

7   For an extended discussion on the Kumbh Tragedy of 1954, see Maclean (2008:Chapter 6).

8   In fact, greenhouse gas emissions per capita are much higher in Australia; in terms of tonnes per capita, Australia is fourth highest in the world, whereas India ranks as 140th. This is not to deny that India faces an environmental challenge, but it does point out problems with Howard’s argument; it is an argument that no India-savvy Australian would accept.

9   An exhibition held at the Museum of Sydney in 2003 drew public attention to some of these forgotten linkages (see its catalogue (Broadbent, Rickard & Steven 2003)). Historians are beginning to explore these connections in more depth, for example Devleena Ghosh and Stephen Muecke (2007).

10 Immigration officials policing the boundaries of White Australia could test applicants on their proficiency in any European language and thereby exclude people who had acquired fluency in English as a result of colonial connections. One of the greatest challenges to these racist immigration laws was the dramatic case concerning a young Indian–Fijian girl, Nancy Prasad (Tavan 2005:147–153).

11 Two excellent unpublished Australian theses investigate this (Phipps 1990 and Matthiesson 1999).

12 The Go8 is an Australian consortium of eight universities (of approximately 40) who form an interest group of sorts and define themselves as the nation’s elite universities, primarily on the basis of research intensiveness and, to a lesser degree, comprehensiveness.

13 The campus served as the backdrop for the graduation scene in the 2005 movie, Salaam Namaste. It is also worth mentioning that Indira Gandhi visited the university in 1968 on the first visit of an Indian Prime Minister to Australia.

14 The teaching of Hindi at La Trobe University has been revived, although it remains one of only two Australian universities (the other is the Australian National University) teaching Hindi in the classroom.

15 Vicziany further notes that it was academic intervention from a loose affiliation of Melbourne scholars that created meaningful security dialogues.

16 For an amusing take on the cricket crisis of 2008, see Nicholson (2008).

17 Salim Lakha writes that 79% of Indian residents in Australia take up citizenship, against a figure of 75% for those born elsewhere.

Wanderings in India: Australian Perceptions

   by Rick Hosking and Amit Sarwal