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Australian Sikh & Hindu - Indian Wrestlers in Early Australian History

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

·September 21, 2016

© Len Kenna & Crystal Jordan 2014

Wrestling was a National sport in India and many Indians maintained their interest in the sport when they came to Australia and New Zealand competing at all levels of the sport that were staged in a wide range of venues, for example; Massa Singh fought Australian Harry Pearce for a purse of £100 ($200) in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, at the Tivoli Theatre, renamed Her Majesty’s Theatre in early 1900. Wrestling matches were also staged at the Hippodrome and Town Hall in Kalgoorlie. On the 29 July 1901 Massa Singh defeat Charles Watson when he won the Australian Championship Match at the Fremantle Town Hall, Fremantle. Massa Singh, only wrestled in Western Australia and held this title for 161 days. Buttan Singh, Gunga Brahm and other Indian wrestlers competed nationally and internationally.

Gunga Brahm was a hawker, an importer of women’s clothing, a Fishmonger with a shop in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Victoria, and a Champion Wrestler in Australia challenged the Sikh Wrestler, Buttan Singh, for the Australian Wrestling Championship staged at Wirth’s Circus, Melbourne as The Revival of Wrestling, it was held on the 30 April 1903. Gunga Brahm won the match making him the first Hindu to win the Championship of Australian Wrestling. Buttan Singh said, “You’re a better man than I am Gunga Brahm.” Buttan Singh then challenged Gunga Brahm for the Australian Wrestling Championship held on the 2 May 1903. Buttan Singh won that Championship. Gunga Brahm died aged 44 and was cremated at Koroit, Victoria on 1 February 1916. 300 people came to his funeral. It is not known what happened to Buttan Singh.

The most well-known amateur wrestler during post World War Two was Bakhtawar (Buck) Singh Samrai from Cairns, Queensland. Buck was the eldest of three boys and they were the sons of Bakhtawar (Buck) Singh Samrai Senior, who migrated to Australia in 1910. How Buck senior was able to enter Australia is not known, but at that time the “White Australia Policy” was being strictly enforced. Two of Buck’s brothers were wrestlers. Sarwan (Peter) wrestled at 18 stone, two stone lighter than Buck who tipped the scales at 20 stone. His other brother Sital (Sid) was the Queensland Welterweight champion and held that title for a number of years. In 1954 Sarwan (Peter) Singh Samrai was elected Acting Secretary for the Cairns Boxing and Wrestling Club, he was also a referee for boxing and wrestling. Buck was a referee at the Cairns Boxing and Wrestling Club, which also provided training facilities for the local community and staged boxing and wrestling tournaments as a means of providing competitions for the youth of Cairns.

Buck was selected for and competed in, the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and later in the 1974 Commonwealth Games at Christchurch New Zealand. As well as competing at a high level for over 20 years Buck still had the time to train at jujitsu and received his black Belt in jujitsu in 1950. According to the Samrai family history; Buck was also Australian Jujitsu Champion for a short period. Buck like a number of high level athletes gave back to the sport that gave him so much enjoyment.

Indian Boxers & Wrestlers Australia and New Zealand

Arjan Singh Das Amon Singh Bagot Singh Bagshot Singh Boota Singh Bakhtawar (Buck) Singh Samrai Buttan Singh Dava Singh Gharne Singh Gunga Brahm Harban Singh Hassan Singh Jaget Singh “Tiger” Joginder Singh

Massa Singh

Peter Sarwan Samrai (Buck's brother) Sid Sital Samrai (Buck’s brother)

Sunni - Muhammad Ali Tarcka Singh also known as Sakoor & Sender Singh

Selected Bibliography

[1] Kalgoorlie Miner WA 3 Jan 1902 p. 8. [2] Great Wrestling Match. The Sunday Times, 16 Mar. 1902. [3] Revival of Wrestling. The Australian Championship. Gunga Brahmn defeats Buttan Singh. The Argus Melbourne Vic. 1 May 1903 p. 6. [4] Portland Guardian 7 February 1916. [5] Fight Titles at Stake, Courier-Mail, Brisbane, Qld. 11 September 1952, p. 7. [6] Wrestling, Townsville Daily Bulletin, Qld. 6 October 1954, p. 4. [7] Samrai Family History Qld. [8]Kenna Len, Jordan Crystal, Are Indians An Ethnic Minority? A Pictorial History. Vol. 5, 2013.

[9]Kenna Len, Jordan Crystal, Sikh History in Australia 2014.

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