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Early history of Malayalees in Adelaide A view from a community member

My name is Sam George. I came to Adelaide on 17th of October 1971. At that time there were five Malayalee families and Dr.P.J. Kuruvilla living in Adelaide. Of the five families, two families were IAS officers who were here on deputation and went back to India in 1972, Dr.Eapen and family moved to USA at the end of 1972. Dr. Menon, an agricultural scientist went to Victoria in 1974 and Dr.Nambiar & Family left for Mount Gambier in 1975. By early 1972 Crisi and Molly joined us. Mathew Abraham arrived in Adelaide In March 1972 followed by Alice later in the year. Dr.Surya Narayanan arrived in late 72 and Renuka Narayanan with their two sons Arni and Chris joined the community in February 1973. 1973 also saw the arrival of C.K.Padmanabhan, Vasantha and their four children Vinod, Vivek, Viswesh and Veena. They were followed immediately by two more families Ayyappa Das, Ratnamma and their two daughters Rupa and Reema, Michael and Mary DeSilva and their daughter Mercy.

Our son Andrew was the first baby born to Malayalee parents, (Crisi & Sam) in Adelaide, in 1972.

Dr. Alex Daniel joined Royal Adelaide Hospital in 1974 as an intern and his parents Mr. And Mrs Daniel joined him in Dec.1980. Drs. Ariyam & Mary Devasagayam and their two sons David and Jonathan came to Adelaide in 1974 after three years in Darwin, so also Drs.A, M & Alice Cherian with their two daughters Roshni and Rekha from Darwin.

1975 was a significant year when three families arrived in Adelaide. George Varghese, Anna (Rajamma) and their son Leon, Charles & Elizabeth with their two daughters (they left for Darwin in 1977), and John & Mercy Wattchankal from USA (went back to USA in 76). We welcomed Ken Soman, Lalitha and their two sons, Sreekumar and Rudrakumar in November 1976. Sachi Thattengat came as a student in February 77. At that time we realised we had enough people to start a Malayalee association and started planning a get-together for Onam in 1977. September 1977 saw all the Malayalees in Adelaide meet at Ken Soman’s House in South Plympton for Onam celebration. The photograph taken on that occasion shows all the Malayalees in Adelaide except Mathew family, who were absent at the time

The first get-together of Malayalees in Adelaide for the Onam celebrations in 1977

Onam 1977

We have to take two photos to include the photographer (Name?) ( no remote those days)

Hope you can recognize some of the people in the photos. As you can see the group was not a great mixture for any cultural program. So the only entertainment we had was a game of cricket and talking to each other. The food was a different matter. Vasantha, Crisi and Rajamma organised the roster for cooking so everybody brought something different as the custom with the Onam feast. We had at least three different types of payasam. The food committee of Crisi and Rajamma. Continued their excellent work until AMMA was formalised in 1998-99.


Cricket match after the first-ever Onam Sadhya in Adelaide

We continued to hold the Onam and Christmas functions at different houses and some times in the parklands


Christmas celebrations at Alex & Marik’s house at Salisbury Heights


Christmas celebrations at Mrs. Verghees’s house at Delphin Island, West Lakes


Onam Celebrations at the Botanical Gardens

Mrs. Annamma Daniel (Magill Ammachi) and Molly came in October 78 from Malaysia

The first real cultural programs was probably cinematic songs by Molly, the classical music of Renuka and of course the romantic duets of Molly and Sunny.

Siva Prasad Came to Adelaide to do his PhD in May 1980. Jalaja joined him in July 1982 after their wedding in early 1982. Captain Rajagoplan, Lakshmi and their three children Ravi, Renu and Rajika joined the community in April 1981.


Onam celebrations at Molly and PJ’s house at Mt.Pleasant

Soon it was realised that individual homes were not big enough to hold the functions, so we moved to the Migrant Resource Centre in the city for our functions.

The first generation Malayalee children were getting to be teens and the late Wendy Padmanabhan got them together to start the cultural programs for the Onam and Christmas functions.


Some of the first generation Malayallee children

Dr. Rev Phillips, Elizabeth and children Premila and Pradeep arrived in 1980 and left for Brisbane after 4 years.


Wendy trying the young ones for the Nativity play for the Christmas celebrations.

1980’s saw Wendy working hard with the children to present many shows. The cultural program was mainly with the children with cinema songs form Molly and classical music from Renuka.


Shaun and Justin entertaining the girls with their Karate show at the Migrant Resource Centre


Nativity Play, Andrew & Reema with Baby Jesus and the Angels in waiting.

Then came the budding musicians, in Suni and Reena with their violins.

The mid 1980 we were fortunate to welcome two talented people in Bashi and Sethu. Sethu was a dancer and a good teacher. She mobilised the old hands here, both men and women to perform Thiruvathira, Vallam Kali and got the men to do weird dancing routines.


Kai kotti Kali on Onam day at th Migrant Resource Centre


Vallamkali with Crisi & Renuka charging the rowers( no, they are not playing cricket)


The hunter and the tiger (Pulikkali)

With the extinction of the tiger, the Malayallee community kept growing and we have to look for a new venue to accommodate everybody and moved to the Indian Australian Hall in Broadview.

With the community getting more enterprising, late Mr.Padmanabhan wrote and produced two programs:

  • kathaprasangam, Vazhakkula by Vallathol
  • Ottam thullan, ably acted by late Ayyappa Das

C.K and sunny and Vazhakkulai


Das preparing for the Ottam thullal


Ladies entering with the Thiruvathira performance

The Thiruvathira group had a much bigger participation the year after under the watchful eye of Sethu.

Throughout this period from 1971-1993 the Malayalee population in Adelaide keep increasing at a slow rate. The first of the tool makers arrived in the middle of 1993 and the number increased at a faster rate. All through these years Vasantha, Rajamma and Crisi managed the food roster very well.

Late 1990 we were doing so well, CK and Sunny wanted to bring Binduja Menon for a concert. The whole of the Malayalee population went with them and we had the pleasure of hosting her.


Binduja Menon with the ladies and you know who?

By 1998, we felt the numbers were getting too big to be managed in a haphazard way and the first meeting to formalise the Malayalee Association was held at Crisi & Sam’s house. That meeting decided to formalise the association and AMMA was born in 1999.


The singing contest oldies Vs youngies

The arrival of the many young tool making profession had a significant impact on the community with their enthusiasm and talents. They were aided ably by the medical community from CMC Vellore and Trivandrum medical college in improving the cultural content of the functions.

This is only an attempt to record the history of the early Malayalees in Adelaide.

At this time I have to record with great sorrow the passing away of some those early settlers, namely Mr Daniel (Alex’s father), Mrs. Annamma Daniel (Ammachi 1), Mr.Verghese, Mrs. Verghese, Mr. Iyeppa Das, Ms Renu Rajagopalan, Dr. Surya Narayanan, Mrs. Wendy Padmanabhan, Mr. Ken Soman, Mr. C.K Padmanabhan, Dr. Mary Devasagayam, and Mr. George Varghese (Sunny). Their contribution to the welfare and advancement of the Malayalee community in Adelaide will never be forgotten.

Sam George