By Dr Bharat Raj Poudel and Ram Khatry
14 September 2016
The launch of Far and Away: Nepalese Families in Australia by Sudhira Shah has by far been the biggest book launch event of the Australian Nepalese community. The picture book by the Nepal-born photographer is being presented as a publication that captures the struggle of Nepalese migrants as they settle down in Australia.
Speech and comments made during last weekend’s inaugural function suggests portrayal of family values, culture and tradition with the stories of some 466 Nepalese families that call this lucky country home is at the heart of the pictorial.
“Being a Nepalese origin photographer in multicultural country I thought this would be an amazing opportunity to share these special bonding of Nepalese families (which we are famous for) and bring it forward. That’s how my journey of “Nepalese Families Photography Book Project” came about,” Sudhira Shah said responding to an email from southasia.com.au.
Most community leaders have spoken highly of Ms Shah’s work and expressed appreciation of her photographic taste and skills but some, on the other hand, doubted if it really makes a true portrayal of the diaspora as certain familiar names at the forefront of the Australian Nepalese community were left out in the book. A member of the community said he was advised that the book was being produced to document those who had made significant contributions to the diaspora which, however, was less reflected in the final product. Requesting anonymity, a Sydneysider said some of the faces that appear in the book have had no role in the community but nevertheless have gotten prominent places in it as opposed to some popular and familiar faces who have played huge roles in promoting Nepalese culture and tradition in Australia.
“I was told that the book would be about people who have contributed to the Nepalese society in Australia, people who were active in social work etc. This made me think of other people who were much more deserving than myself. So I urged them to contact them first and then get back to me,” Dr Shamser Singh Thapa, a well-known Sydney solicitor recounted his experience. Congratulating Ms Shah on the publication of Far and Away, Dr Thapa further said that he did not participate in the project because he was unable to determine whether it was a commercial undertaking or social work. It was not until professional pictures began flooding into social media that he realised the project was more of a commercial nature, he said.
Ms Shah does not agree with such criticisms. “Families were included in the book regardless of their social status, profession and other backgrounds. Families were invited to participate in first come first serve basis. This photography project was prominently featured on Nepalese/ Australian Nepalese Media/Social Media on a regular basis in the form of an invitation when project was running,” the mother of a young daughter said in defense of her publication. Indicating that efforts were made to include people from all walks of life, she mentioned that the Far and Away team also contacted community organisations and leaders “in order to reach out to maximum families”.
Dr Sitaram Joshi, a senior staff specialist at Wollongong Hospital (NSW Health) and one of the highest-ranking doctors of Nepalese origin in Australia, was another candidate contacted by the Far and Away project. He was apparently given to understand that the book would be a “Who is Who” of the Nepalese diaspora. However, he chose not to be photographed because he too was not sure whether it was a commercial or social project, he said in a conversation with southasia.com.au.
Far and Away has nearly five hundred pages that include colour pictures of 466 Nepalese families living across Australia. According to comments made at the inaugural programme last weekend, it became possible following three years of painstaking work by Ms Shah, a familiar name in photography both here and back in Nepal.
People who feature in the book said they have paid considerable amount of fees to be photographed, some thousands of dollars.
A fixture in Sydney’s community programmes, Narayan Pradhan emigrated to Australia some 40 years ago. When they talk of the foundation of Nepalese migrant community in this country, community leaders make sure that they do not forget one particular name: Dr Narayan Pradhan. When asked, he confirmed that his pictures were also taken. But interestingly, he has not checked if he is included in the final publication. Mr Pradhan, on his part, was full of praise for Ms Shah. The retired scientist hoped that Far and Away in future editions would become more inclusive than be somewhat limited by business motives.
Constructive criticism aside, there is no dearth of people who see nothing but value in what Ms Shah has achieved through the book. Speaking during the launch event, community and business leaders expressed how her work captures the essence of the Australian Nepalese communities.
Shesh Ghale, the global president of the Non-Resident Nepali Association, said that the publication will definitely contribute to documenting real-life stories of the first generation Nepalese communities living in Australia. According to the CEO of the Melbourne-based MIT Group, it would help aspirant migrants to prepare for the challenges and opportunities they would face in Australia once they emigrate here. “I further hope that this publication will help bring unity, sense of togetherness and belonging among the Nepalese communities living in different parts of Australia,” the education tycoon further added.
“This book will stand as a poignant reminder of the diversity which strengthens our nation and will endow all Australians with a richer understanding of the vast contributions of Nepalese Australians to our society,” said Labor MP Michelle Rowland. She hoped that the book would serve to widen Australia’s “understanding and deepen our appreciation of the countless ways Nepalese-Australians enrich our way of life”.
Speaking at the inaugural function, CSIRO senior scientist Dr Raju Adhikari reminded that the book was not merely a biography of the participating families but that their stories have cultural, social, economic, academic and multicultural significance for both Australian and Nepalese people. He pointed out that Nepal was one of the youngest migrant countries to Australia and yet, in a matter of two decades, it managed to be listed as the first 10 countries of the highest migration index to Australia.
As Dr Pradhan pointed out, Far and Away is undoubtedly a good start towards documenting an emerging migrant community that is today part of Australia’s multicultural fabric. Ms Shah has evidently put her heart and soul into the project. This became obvious the way she was overcome with emotions as she mentioned her daughter and husband during the launch, prompting the programme moderator to offer her drink of water.
Ms Shah was once associated with Nepal’s largest-selling daily Kantipur. She has been working as a professional photographer ever since she emigrated to Australia in 2002 and is a familiar name in the community when it comes to photography.