Book Review
Christine Salins
By Christine Salins

Colonial Cousins:
   A Surprising History of Connections Between India and Australia

   By Joyce Westrip and Peggy Holroyde (Wakefield Press, $39.95, softcover, 451 pages)

In many ways, India and Australia couldn’t be more different. With its one billion-plus population, India offers no escape from a crowd. No matter how bereft of people a place might initially appear to be, you only have to stop for a minute and a crowd will suddenly appear.
   In Australia, the emptiness can be dramatic, with a population of 20 million spread over a vast landscape affording countless places where you can be alone.
   Yet there are some surprising parallels between the two countries, and in the expertly researched Colonial Cousins, Joyce Westrip and Peggy Holroyde have a look at some of those connections.
   Did you know, for example, that wealthy tycoons in Calcutta formed a syndicate and bought a strip of land along WA’s south-west coast and named it Australind? Their objective was to source timber for the Indian railways and to breed horses here for the Indian army.
   Or that Caroline Chisholm was an indefatigable charity worker in Madras before coming to Australia?
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   Or that women’s rights crusader Jessie Street was born in India in 1889?
   The authors explore these and many other connections in Colonial Cousins, creating the first comprehensive social history to thoroughly examine migration from India to Australia over two centuries.
   Joyce Westrip was born in southern India in 1929. She left India in 1947 to live in England, moving to Perth in 1955.
   Awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2000 for her work promoting cultural links between Australia and India, she is fascinated by Indian history and culture, and regularly visits the subcontinent to continue her research.
   An avid collector of books on Indian cooking, including rare and out of print cookbooks, she has presented many radio and television programs on Indian cooking and culture. She has authored Moghul Cooking: India’s Courtly Cuisine, An ABC of Indian Food and Fire and Spice: Parsi Cookery.
   Peggy Holroyde spent five years in India in the 1950s with her husband Derek, who worked for the  BBC.
   During that time she travelled the sub-continent extensively and she has
returned many times since.
   She has lectured on Indian history and cultural attitudes at educational institutions in the UK and Australia, where she has lived since 1976.
   A Member of the Order of Australia after administering various Indian Ocean Festivals in Australia, she is the author of Indian Music, East Comes West, Social Change Amongst Asian Families in England and An ABC of Indian Culture.
   Their collaboration has produced a book that is far more than just an historical account. Colonial Cousins discusses Australian and Indian affinities in landscape and culture, and even looks right back to the time of Gondwana, when the continents were physically joined.
   Gondwana is an Indian word meaning “land of the Gond people”, the Gond being an ancient tribe in the north-central sub-continent.
   The book documents relationships in trade and government, and provides a rare appreciation of policies that impact upon trade and business between the two countries.
   The national chairman of the Australian India Business Council, Brian Hayes, wrote the foreword to the book, remarking on the “authors’ deep understanding and genuine love of India and Australia”.
   Despite their cricket fraternity, common English language and mutually inherited colonial institutions in law, education, health and federal parliamentary democracy, India and Australia still suffer from misconceptions on both sides.
   Yet with India’s rising industrial power and global clout, and for the sake of harmony in the world, it is surely high time for a book such as this which explores and embraces the connections between us.

To find out more about Christine Salins click here.
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