Goans are known to have visited the shores of Western Australia since the middle of the Nineteenth Century as crewmembers of sailing ships that called into the ports of Albany and Fremantle from British India. A number of the ships would have sailed to the Eastern seaports of Adelaide and Sydney where 'Afghans', camels and other goods were brought in to help open up the interior of Australia. The earliest known Goan in Western Australia died in Australind, a settlement of migrants from British India in the 1880s.
It was not until the late 1950s and early 60s that the first sizeable number of Goans arrived as settlers. During this phase of the White Australia policy, they were declared eligible under the Anglo-Indian banner, following the independence of India. A number, particularly those who worked for the British Civil Service or the railways, found it possible to migrate to Australia, as they were indistinguishable from Anglo-Indians. This era also marked the Commonwealth Government’s Colombo Plan under which Australia hosted a number of Asian students from the developing British colonies. A few Goan pupils arrived here and upon completing their boarding school and university studies were allowed to settle here and bring their families.
With the abandonment of the White Australia policy in the late sixties and early seventies an increasing number of migrants arrived from East Africa and the exodus from Uganda, Malawi and later departures from Kenya and Tanzania boosted their numbers. In the mid-seventies, the introduction of a points system in the Australian migration program saw an increasing number of Goans qualify for settlement on grounds of family reunion, professional skills and business criteria. This third phase of migration came not only from East Africa but also increasingly from Southeast Asia, Middle East, India including Goa and from the UK. Increasingly the first generation of Goans born in Australia is beginning to have families and help boost the numbers in the community.
It is difficult to estimate the number of Goans in Western Australia. Over six hundred families have been members of the GOA, but it is estimated that four times that number exist in Metropolitan Perth, making it a community of around 8000-10000 people. Goans are spread throughout Metropolitan Perth. However, the addresses of members suggest a large number live in the southern suburbs.
Early in 1971, club-oriented Steven and Isabella D'Souza arrived here from East Africa and set about establishing a network of Goan contacts. Isabel organised the first New Year's Eve that year in the traditional mode of burning the old man and heralding the New Year. Steve , Isabella and the early arrivals from East Africa, Wilfred and Gracinda D'Souza took an interest in welcoming the Goans who were expelled from Uganda in 1973. In that year, the New Year's function was boosted by these new arrivals.
During the period 1974-77 there were many Goan gatherings, usually in the homes of those who had already settled into the suburbs. Cedric De Souza, Gilbert and Marie Mendonca as well as Isabel and Steve took turns in hosting functions. Some people such as Chappie Lobo took it upon themselves to organise a special service and reception for the Feast of St Francis Xavier. There were also picnic outings at which the suggestion that we should form a GOA cropped up.
In 1979 Steven D'Souza took the initiative and sent out notices to various families for distribution to other Goans inviting them to a meeting at his residence for the purpose of the formation of an Association. Despite only one RSVP, they had indications that about 10-15 families would turn up. On 21 October 1979 35 individuals attended the meeting presided by Steven. The Foundation Members unanimously agreed to establish the GOA and elected Steven D'Souza as the inaugural President, with Adolph de Sousa as the Secretary, Chappie Lobo as the Treasurer, Philosha Haslam as Social Secretary and Roque Figuerado as a member.
The constitution of the GOA was registered under the Associations Incorporation Act in 1981. The constitution of the GOA was framed along the models of New South Wales and the UK bodies. There were however some key adjustments made to reflect our circumstances. Firstly, membership, without distinction, was open to anyone who had an appreciation or association with Goa and its culture. Secondly the concept of universal suffrage for women was embedded in the membership provisions. That is, women became members in their own right and had all the associated privileges. There was a major review of the constitution in 1993, which provided for an Executive Council to be created in addition to the Annual Management Committee. The Executive Council looked after the longer-term issues of the Association, such as the acquisition of assets and the oversight on investments, whilst the Annual Management Committee arranged for the functions of the Association. In 1995, it was established that the revised constitution had not been properly registered as required under the Act, and the Annual Management Committee took control of the entire affairs of the Association. In 1998, another review of constitution was undertaken. This led to the Association meeting the requirements for tax exemption status and a refund of past taxes paid. The constitution also incorporated provisions for life membership upon payment of a one-off charge. Provision for this had been originally made in the 1993 constitution, when it was also decided that the GOA should set up a building fund. The 1998 amendments did not revert to the establishment of an Executive Council but formerly adopted the symbol and Logo for the Association. This embedded the icons of green palms of Goa and the boomerangs of Australia linked by the blue seas which separate the continents.
The 1987-88 Agnelo De Souza Committee was the first to recognise the need to reward members for their contribution to the community. This committee created two shields for The Personality of the Year Awards - one for a gent and another for a lady member. Initially, each committee made the awards to persons who contributed through their personal efforts to success of functions. In 1996, the Chappie Lobo Committee invited the general membership to nominate members who in their opinion had made a major contribution to enhance the reputation of the Association. In 1998-99 the Committee led by Dominic D’Lima, was the first to take advantage of a number of government and public grants to foster the aims of the Association. An intergenerational study was made of Goan and other south-Asian communities that helped tease out current issues and challenges facing the community. In 1999 a weekend workshop and camp was held attended by a large cross-section of the membership which established a vision and mission for the Association and which now guides it work. Subsequent Presidents have given a focus on making the activities attractive to the youth, involving them in sports, music/dance and debating.
The Social Calendar for the Association is now well established. More recently there has been a great interest in outdoor sports activities augmenting the already well-established badminton clubs organised separately by Goans from the Association.
In 1996, Mr Chappie Lobo finalised arrangements for the leasing of Office premises within the Australian Asian Association building in East Perth. Since that time many meetings of the Committee are held in those premises.
Traditionally, Goans have been village oriented and therefore Goans from specific villages have taken the opportunity of celebrating their village feasts. Two such groups are the Friends of Saligao and the celebrants of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception , the Patroness Saint of Goa, by the villagers of Moira, Calangute, Panaji and Margao.
Other groups of Goans have donated their time and effort to community causes. Two such groups are the Hands Across The Seas (HATS) and the Help A Poor Child (HAPC) organisation. Both are global in scope, one was established in Perth and the other is a branch originating from the UK. Recently the Association has more formally decided to support two well known Western Australian charities in their fund raising efforts so that the community’s involvement to wider society becomes more visibly recognised.
The GOA has passed a milestone with the celebration of its 25th Anniversary year. It organised a number of very successful events, which were generally fully subscribed by its membership and an even larger group of friends. Nonetheless many challenges continue to be faced. Primary amongst them continues to be the question of having an orderly and enthusiastic succession plan. This is particularly difficult at a time when those who volunteer their services have to make many personal sacrifices. The leadership offered from succession will determine whether many of the laudable objectives the Association has set itself can be realised. The next twenty-five years will therefore be of critical importance to the Association as many of the original members fade away and a new generation of membership are found to take over the reins.