Australia Day ‘Waves of Migration’ Exhibition Highlights Lal Family 


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By -Rekha Rajvanshi 

On Australia Day this year, Australian National Maritime Museum organized various events and activities; amongst these, was a digital exhibition on the museum’s ‘Welcome Wall’ to tell migration stories in honour of those who came from overseas to make Australia home and made their significant contribution to the country. It was a proud moment to see the inclusion of one of the successful Indians Dr. Lal’s story. Dr. Lal arrived in Sydney with only $10, he worked hard to support himself and his family. His passion and commitment bore fruit; he not only became successful as a physician, but also helped others in need. Here is his inspirational story-

March 1962 – Burma, modern day Myanmar became dominated by the army who took control of people and their possessions. October 1968 – a young 36-year-old Indian medical practitioner receives the opportunity to flee the army coup arriving in Australia with little else other than the clothes he is wearing. He had one goal – to safely get his wife, six-year-old son and his six younger siblings across to Australia for a better life.

Dr Madan Lal Chhabra first arrived in Newtown, Sydney with only ten dollars. A Burmese family whom he did not know provided him accommodation for a few days. He secured a role as a doctor at Liverpool Hospital within a week of his arrival and so began his journey in the land of opportunity. In December 1968, he was joined by his wife and only child, Sunil. At first, life was tough and with a gross income of $52.00 per week, he had to pay rent, feed his family and send money back home to support his siblings. His wife, Kamla Lal remembers-

“In the beginning, we were scared as everything was new – the people, the places, the language.  We arrived in 1968 and a year after the “White Australia” policy was abolished.  Often when I would pick my son, Sunil, from school, other mothers would look at my sari inquisitively, wanting to touch and feel it. We were strangers for them. Things were difficult with long working hours and no domestic help. We worked hard to establish ourselves and at the same time send money back to other family members. I am so happy that we went through this journey as we are now settled here and this is our home now.”

Dr Max Lal, as he fondly became known, worked hard with 72 hour shifts, whilst wife Kamla obtained a job in sewing and later as a teacher at Kingsgrove Public School once Sunil commenced year 1 at Croydon Park Public in 1969. Mr Sunil Lal shares his childhood experience- “As a 6-year-old in a new country I do not remember too much of the early couple of years apart from recalling that life was simple and not materialistic. We enjoyed company of family and made new friends from various cultures. Schooling in the early to mid 1970’s was tough. There were many instances of racial taunts and this would affect me but, with the guidance of my parents, I was able to rise above it. I became stronger and dealt with it effectively.” The family of three rented one room at the rear of a house in Croydon Park and that became their modest home.  Shortly thereafter, Dr Lal became the medical superintendent and transferred to Western Suburbs Hospital where the family was also provided living quarters. Dr Lal opened his first surgery in Punchbowl and by 1972 he had opened his second surgery in Belmore.

Several years of hard work and sacrifice was paying off. Sunil married Shikha in 1987. In 1988, Sunil commenced his career as a lawyer with a leading national legal firm in Sydney. By this time, Sunil and Shikha had four lovely children in Divya, Radhika, Naeha & Rahul. Both father and son had also jointly embarked on building a diversified property portfolio by the 1990s whilst maintaining their professional careers. The family is heavily involved in philanthropy. Shikha Lal was appointed Director of Philanthropy for Kaden Boriss and the firm donates 2% of fees from the business to various charities in Australia and abroad. In Sunil’s words, “I learned to believe in myself and be proud of my heritage as an Indian. I have taken that advice to the corporate world and it enables me to survive and succeed in life. Australia is a beautiful country to call home, and I have been blessed with an amazing family and friends. All this could not have been achieved without dedicated hard honest work, the opportunities provided by our adopted country, Australia and with the blessings of God.”

Sadly, November 2005 saw the demise of Dr Lal, however by then he had left behind a well settled and respected family. His legacy of honesty, humbleness and hard work has affected three generations and now lives through Sunil, Shikha and his grandchildren.

The Indian Telegraph Sydney Australia

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