Villawood Properties, which specialises in residential land developments in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, says the number of Indian-born buyers on their housing estates has jumped from 12 per cent to 34 per cent within five years.
“At the height of the frenzy of buying early last year before the financial services royal commission, the number of Indian buyers across all greenfield projects was probably getting up to 70 to 80 per cent,” says Villawood Properties executive director Rory Costelloe.
By contrast, just 3 per cent of buyers of land on Villawood housing estates were from China last financial year.
“We find generally Asians come from countries where they are used to living in highrise apartments, whereas Indians and Sri Lankans’ aspiration is to have two kids and a detached house,” Mr Costelloe says.
“They don’t mind how far they have to drive to get there.”
Mr Vaghela came to Australia in 2007. He wanted to study abroad, Canada ideally, but it was difficult to get into certain courses and the fees were high. An education agent in India told him Melbourne was affordable. “He explained to me about Melbourne being the world number-one liveable city.”
A year later, Mr Vaghela persuaded Mr Gadani, who had a good job working in a pharmaceutical company in India, to join him in Australia. They studied commercial cookery, got jobs as chefs at an aged-care home and settled in Melbourne.
Mr Gadani, Mr Vaghela and their friend Prabhjot Kaur, a nurse from the Indian state of Punjab, all snapped up blocks in Delaray Estate on the first day of the land release in 2015. “At that time we found out there were so many Indians,” Mr Gadani said.
Clyde North is the final frontier of suburbia in Melbourne’s outer south-east, where brand new housing estates abut market gardens and dairy farms.
“It was the cheapest land at that time – we had been looking around Cranbourne East and West,” Mr Gadani said.
“When you settle down with family and kids, you don’t want to rent. All my friends think the same. In India, mostly we like to have our own house.”
Mr Vaghela says the Indian community believes Melbourne’s south-east is safer. (Many of the attacks against Indian students in 2009 and 2010 – including the stabbing murder of Nitin Garg – were in the western suburbs.)
All three, however, say they have never experienced racism. “I used to travel at midnight on trains and trams and never had any problems,” Ms Kaur says.
The three friends all have young families and their children are in and out of each other’s homes.
There is a park on Ms Kaur’s street with a jungle gym, swings and a basketball court.
She says elderly Indians – many of whom don’t speak English – often take their grandchildren to the park. There are more than 100 major languages in India but they communicate in Hindi. “My mother goes to the park every day, she knows there will be someone she can talk to,” Ms Kaur says.
According to the latest Census in 2016, the “typical” migrant in Victoria was born in India.
There are 169,802 Indian-born people living in Victoria – 3 per cent of the state’s population – and more Indians live in Melbourne than any other capital city in Australia.
“Indians in Melbourne, as in Australia generally, have a high level of educational attainment and proficiency in the English language,” according to the latest edition of The Indian Diaspora: Hindus and Sikhs in Australia.
“The Indian presence in Melbourne is increasingly evident, both in the workforce and through the proliferation of Indian restaurants and grocery shops.”
There is already an Indian food truck called Tandoori Hut in Clyde North. Mr Gadani says there are several Indian grocery stores nearby.
One of the editors of The Indian Diaspora, Dr Philip Hughes, says that Sikhs and Hindus have not settled in as tight communities as other religious groups, such as Muslims and Jews.
He says many Indians are prepared to drive to temples and don’t feel compelled to live next to one. “They are religious but don’t require a temple every weekend or require one within walking distance, as is the case with more conservative Jews.”
But there are concentrations of Indians in some municipalities: Casey, Greater Dandenong (home of the shopping precinct known as Little India), Monash, Wyndham and Brimbank.
In 2010 Domain reported that Point Cook was nicknamed Mumbai Cook, telling an old migration story that echoed the history of places like Carlton’s Little Italy – Lygon Street – or Richmond’s mini Saigon – Victoria Street.
Figures compiled by Red23, a real estate agency that specialises in selling land in new communities, shows 33 per cent of all housing lot sales in greater Melbourne have been to buyers born in India, compared with 25.8 per cent of Australian-born buyers.
Property consultant Manish Sundarjee says the affordability of the outer suburbs is the biggest drawcard for the Indian community. “Home ownership is culturally a very important part of an Indian family’s life journey – they like to commence in the property market as quickly as possible.”
Wilandra Rise Primary opened in Clyde North in 2017. Just two years later it already has 1100 students, a third of whom come from Indian families.
The school serves Indian food at parents’ morning teas and provides interpreters when they hold information sessions.
“Our Indian families are so respectful – they really want their kids to learn and be involved,” says principal Tina Clydesdale.
In its first couple of years Wilandra Rise Primary taught the sign language Auslan. “We thought at the time that was a useful skill to have,” Ms Clydesdale says.
“For some of the kids who have English as an additional language, learning a sign language often helps with communication.”
But this year the school decided to ask parents what language they wanted taught at the school. Given the high population of Indian students, proposals included Hindi and Punjabi as well as Mandarin, Spanish and Auslan.
Parents wanted Auslan to continue. But to Ms Clydesdale’s surprise, the majority – including those from India – also opted for Spanish to be taught.
“Because of the grandparents, our kids already know Hindi,” says Ms Kaur. “We wanted them to learn something else.”
If the three friends have one complaint about where they live, it’s the lack of infrastructure. “The traffic is killing all of us to be honest,” says Ms Kaur.
Meanwhile, development is booming: a Bunnings is opening soon in Clyde North. “A lot of the population is moving to this side,” Ms Kaur says.
The Victorian government has pledged to plan for a new rail link to Clyde but details and timelines are sketchy. Mr Gadani says a train station would be useful when their kids are older and would increase their house prices.
But in the meantime they are sanguine – they all have cars and work on the south side of the city.
“My cousin is living in Canada and the atmosphere is not good,” Mr Gadani says. “Australia is the best living country in the world.”
Jewel Topsfield is Melbourne Editor of The Age.