In memory of Joginder Kaur Arkan, a trailblazer in Woolgoolga

Joginder with her daughter Rashmere in 1986 at the Anandpur Sahib Holy Place of Worship at the foothills of Shivalik Hills.

 

JOGINDER Kaur Arkan, a well-known, valued member of the Woolgoolga community, passed away on 2 May, 2022, aged 87.

Her funeral was held on Wednesday 11 May at Karangi Lawn crematorium followed by a service and social gathering at Guru Nanak Temple in Woolgoolga.

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John Arkan, a former Coffs Harbour City Councillor, real estate agent and shop keeper in Woolgoolga, spoke about his beloved mother.

“We carried mum into Karangi Lawn accompanied by the Coffs Pipe Band, then went back to the Guru Nanak Temple in River Street, Woolgoolga, for a service, hymns and food.

“Mum came to Woolgoolga in 1957,” John told News Of The Area.

“Mum was a wonderful lady living firstly with her husband and six kids in Korora then moving to Woolgoolga.”

Widowed with six young children, Joginder’s story is one of a person who, against real hardship, was able to survive, endure and celebrate living and bringing up her family with true Aussie spirit.

“She was proud to say her children all contributed to Australia; Nachatter – a primary school teacher at Naranga Primary School; Rashmere – coordinator of Woolgoolga Neighbourhood Centre for the last 20-odd years; Peter – restaurant owner and grape farmer in South Australia; Sarjeet – a human resources manager in Sydney; and Geoff – who worked in corrective services and has now retired.”

And son, John, who served as a Coffs Harbour City Councillor, and Deputy Mayor for one year, the first Sikh councillor elected to the local government of Australia.

Here John shares some more of his mum’s history.

Joginder Kaur was born in the village of Masopur in Punjab State on 20 October 1934.

Hers was a well-respected ‘jatt’ (agricultural landowner) family and deeply affiliated with the Sikh religion, with her father and brothers wearing long beards and the turban.

Tragedy struck when her adored elder brother Joginder, who was her namesake, acquired an illness that resulted in his death shortly after his marriage.

The grief stricken family moved from the Punjab to join family in Bikaner in Rajasthan circa 1945.

This was Joginder Kaur’s first experience of migration as the desert of Rajasthan is very different to the fertile green crop laden fields of the Punjab.

Joginder spoke about playing in the sand dunes, the water of the canals and picking cotton as a young girl.

She also remembered the “upheaval” (understood to mean Partition) in 1947.

Migrating to Woolgoolga, Joginder found that she was to live in a rough ‘humpy’ on a banana farm without electricity, hot water or an indoor toilet.

With a return to the Punjab and then back to Australia, the family was growing.

Joginder and Harjeet Arkan settled on a banana farm in Korora in 1965 with their four children.

They built a house on the Old Coast Road and their children attended Korora Public School.

Two more sons were born to them.

In May 1970 the family moved to Woolgoolga, to take advantage of the cultural life of the growing Punjabi community which then numbered six families and the establishment of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple.

Harjeet died in a horrific car accident at Avocado Heights on the Pacific Highway in September 1970 and Joginder was left alone with six children aged three to thirteen.

As a result of her grim struggle to survive financially, she became a trail blazer for women in Woolgoolga’s Indian community.

“You girls are not going into the bananas and getting married early,” she told her three daughters, pushing them to finish school, go to university and have independent careers.

The family did not have television and Joginder enthralled the children in the evenings with stories of life in Rajasthan, her move to the Punjab after marriage and her migration to Australia.

She instilled in them a deep respect for education and the Sikh religion.

She was actively involved in multicultural education and travelled to schools from Iluka and Yamba to Macksville, giving hands-on lessons in Punjabi culture to primary and secondary school children.

She was invited to open the Moonee Beach Shopping complex in 2005.

Joginder Kaur was a proud mother, with fifteen grandchildren in careers such as health professionals, marketing, teaching and hospitality.

John closed, “I don’t believe Mum set out to be a person so many came to love.

“More so I think Mum had an enormous faith in doing the best with what you have.”

 

By Andrea FERRARI

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