Wyndham Vs Dandenong: battle for cultural precinct

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Wyndham was out in front by a mile with 385 votes on 17 June, while Dandenong’s Little India, trailed on 119

Competition to find Victoria’s new Indian cultural precinct is heating up, with the state’s fastest growing municipality, Wyndham, shaping up to be fierce contender against Dandenong’s ‘Little India’.

The state Labor government set aside $500,000 in the 2015-16 budget to establish the precinct as a hub to hold festivals, support business, attract tourists and act as a meeting place for the community. An advisory panel set up to decide the location is due to make its decision by the end of August.

The search for a hub gave rise to two serious campaigns, with each party vying for votes on the online petition platform Change.org.

Wyndham was out in front by a mile with 385 votes on 17 June, while Dandenong’s Little India, around Foster Street, trailed on 119.

That might surprise those who know Little India. While embroiled in controversy not long after it was created by Vic Urban in 2009 – retailers blamed redevelopment works for driving away shoppers and demanded compensation — it fast became known as the place to go for Indian food, fashion and Bollywood flicks.

But the fact Wyndham is beating Little India – among online voters at least – hasn’t raised the eyebrows of the man spearheading its campaign, Sudhir Juneja.

“I was not surprised,” said Juneja, who moved to Wyndham about nine years ago, after migrating to Australia from India in 2002. “There’s a large Indian population here and its growing fast… it’s a much younger, vibrant community.”

Wyndham was home to 199,715 people in June last year, over a quarter spoke English as a second language, and 34 per cent were born overseas – most in India. By 2036, the area is expected to boast a population of 384,275.

The area is brimming with Indian cultural activities, which many people are unaware of, according to Juneja. It’s home to classical Indian dance classes, Holi and Diwali festivals, a Bollywood school, and community cricket tournaments – including Australia’s largest club level Twenty20 competition.

Juneja said the promotion of Indian culture in Australia had become too entwined in commercial ventures, like Indian restaurants and shops, and the new precinct should highlight other aspects instead.

“We need to delink the culture from the business… [the] cultural precinct has to portray India in the modern light, it’s not businesses and shops, this is the complete experience,” said Juneja, who plays in a local cricket game and is a member of the Western Gymkhana Club Indian community group.

But Juneja said he’s not trying to steal the cultural thunder from Little India, in Dandenong.

“It is being said that we are trying to move the precinct from Dandenong to here,” he said. “I definitely have no intention of moving the precinct because anyway that is an old business hub there. We want that to flourish and continue there, but the application which I have filed is purely for the cultural precinct.”

Juneja said he envisioned the cultural precinct to be a building that would promote various cultural activities and events, act as a meeting point for the community and hub for festivals.

He said the hub would be good for Wyndham because, despite its large and growing Indian population, “there’s not much happening in the Western suburbs”.

At the same time Juneja said it would work to raise awareness and foster understanding of Indian culture in the local area, which was important due to the size of the community.

“We need to have a good showcasing of Indian culture here in Wyndham,” he said. “If we know the other people better, if we know the other culture, we’ll respect the other people more.”

Juneja and his supporters plan to submit their proposal for Wyndham to the state government before the end of the month.

“I’ve already spoken to the council and am working to gather information and making a case to take to the state parliament,” he said.

 

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