Last month I was delighted to make my way down to the Little India cultural precinct in Foster Street, Dandenong to meet with two well-known and respected community advocates, Manoj Kumar and Kaushaliya Vaghela, at this wonderful Indian and South Asian precinct. We met to discuss the future of this precinct.
Little India is a quintessential Australian success story—a story of a wonderful migrant community that has transformed the face of Dandenong. It is a transformation driven by a community, the Indian community, which has made a profound contribution to the country. According to the 2011 census, Indian Australians make up around 1.9 per cent of the Australian population, totalling about 391,000 Indian Australians by ancestry; and 111,700 Indian Australians are living in Victoria, with many visiting Little India on a regular basis.
The history of Foster Street is really one of transformation by this dynamic community, who have literally transformed the face of the City of Greater Dandenong. I would like to briefly touch on the history of Foster Street, now branded as the Little India precinct in Dandenong. The first important stage in the transformation was in 1980, when the first Indian grocery and video shop was established in Mason Street. It subsequently relocated to Foster Street. The Punjab Indian sweet shop followed by opening on Mason Street, and in 1994 the first sari clothing shop, Roshan’s Fashion, opened in Foster Street. However, over 30 shops in the precinct were vacant at the time due to the 1990s recession.
Roshan’s sari shop was the start of the transformation of the street that brought life back to the area. Foster Street is the gateway to Dandenong, given its close proximity to the station and bus interchange. It is now filled with lively and colourful shops. There are approximately 37 shops in Little India, featuring specialty goods from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Mauritius, the Middle East and Africa.
People from all backgrounds come from far and wide to enjoy and experience the vibrancy of this wonderful precinct. Fashion outlets with beaded saris, children’s clothes and one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces are popular with shoppers here. Little India has an array of stores selling Bollywood movies and music as well as restaurants and grocers serving a wonderful array of Punjabi sweets, authentic spices and delicious meals.
In a recent survey conducted by the Federation of Indian Associations of Victoria, it was found that within a 20-kilometre radius of Little India in Dandenong, there are approximately 85,000 persons of Indian descent. This area has the highest number of specialty Indian shops, mostly contained within the precinct. The Dandenong Market also houses traders selling vegetables and spices traditionally used in Indian cooking that allow the population to feel a little closer to home.
In 2007, the Dandenong council noted the economic activity in Foster Street and, recognising the value of the area, named it the Little India precinct. Council promoted this precinct by running Little India cultural tours as well as providing distinctive signage and advertising.
Little India has also participated collectively in food and wine festivals, and visitors have been brought in by bus from various locations in Melbourne. It has featured in promotions supported by the council and on TV shows such as Postcards and Coxy’s Big Break. It has also been written about in The Age newspaper, which compared the eclectic Foster Street charm with a new Brunswick, Lygon Street or Acland Street. That says a lot about the vibrancy of this particular street.
However, due to recent acquisitions by VicUrban of buildings surrounding this precinct, the Foster Street traders association and the Little India traders are fearful about the future of this unique precinct. Little India is an Australian success story. We should do everything we can and I will do everything I can to protect this precinct on behalf of the Indian and South Asian Australians and make it a better future for all to enjoy its charms.
In the time remaining I would just like to say that the Indian community has been an amazing community, particularly in the region that I represent. We recently had the Moomba Festival where Labour Day Bollywood star Pallavi Sharda was named one of the Moomba monarchs in order to strengthen ties with the Indian community in Melbourne. There is certainly a lot of two-way trade and a growing relationship between our two countries, augmented by the great number of Indian Australians in our community.
I was there recently to celebrate one of their great days, Holi. It showed the best of Indian culture. The Indian community has much to be proud of, but I will do what I can in this place to protect this great precinct, the Little India Precinct, in Foster Street, Dandenong.