This sheet (sar-loo) was made by my mother, Mrs Joginder Kaur Arkan, a long time resident of Woolgoolga, when she was a young lady in readiness for her marriage and formed part of her glory box.
My mother picked the cotton, with which it is handmade. It was processed at home. Using a spinning wheel the looms were turned into threads that were dyed at home. Eventually it was hand woven and embroidery added to form what you see today.
The different patterns represent earrings worn as part of a new bride's attire. They also resemble the peacock which while perched on the rooftop sings its song at day break, awaking the new bride to attend to the day's chores.
Proud resident of WoolgoolgaSignificance Statement
Punjabi girls in the mid-nineteenth century started preparation for their marriage from a very early age with their trousseau. They grew up listening to matriarchs in the family saying that ”their true home was in the house of the in-laws” and they were only visitors in their parents’ home.
After completing household chores of cooking, milking water buffalo, and attending to the washing, girls eagerly gathered in groups at each other’s houses to spin cotton and sew and embroider items such as pillowcases, sheets, cushion covers and the saalu for their true home after marriage.
The saalu, which was an essential part of the trousseau, is a large sized shawl. At the wedding of the family’s daughters, the saalu was draped around the bride in addition to her wedding attire to indicate the status, wealth, and social standing of the family. The saalu worn by Joginder Kaur Arkan [b1934] at her wedding in 1954 and brought with her from her home in the Punjab when she migrated to Australia in 1957 is made of cotton which was picked, hand spun and embroidered by Mrs. Arkan herself. The colours, pinks and yellows, are representative of the desert country of Mrs. Arkan’s youth. The different patterns represent earrings worn as part of a new bride's attire. They also resemble the peacock which while perched on the rooftop sings its song at daybreak, awaking the new bride to attend to the day's chores.
The provenance of the saalu is well established and has been confirmed by firsthand accounts from members of Mrs. Arkan’s family.
Whilst similar saalus were common at the time of Mrs. Arkan’s wedding, they no longer take this form; modern materials and production methods negating the need for such labour-intensive work. As such, it is representative of a traditional artform which is no longer practised. The saalu has suffered from significant fading and some damage at the hem lines due to its lengthy display at the Woolgoolga Library prior to being donated to the museum. There do not appear to be any similar items held by any other museum in Australia at the present time, thereby making its status somewhat unique. This is no doubt because the saalu is a precious heirloom passed down through families and as such would rarely be donated to museums.
Perhaps of more importance is the historical significance of this item. Mrs Arkan was one of the first Sikh brides to settle in Woolgoolga in 1957 and her life experiences have mirrored the history of the Sikh community there. From humble beginnings living in a hut on a banana plantation and being unable to speak English, Mrs Arkan was able to raise 6 children on a widow’s pension, learn to speak fluent English and eventually purchase two properties in her own right. She became a trail blazer for women in the Sikh community, encouraging her daughters to complete school and university and pursue independent careers. She also travelled widely in the area, teaching school children about Sikh language and culture thereby fostering greater understanding between the Sikh and Australian communities.
Mrs. Arkan told her three daughters: “You girls are not going into the bananas and getting married early”. The Saalu evidences Joginder Arkans's endurance, pioneering spirit, and resourcefulness as an early Sikh migrant. She was certainly a woman who was ahead of her times.
[Written by Louise Barselaar, 20 April 2022]Description
Saalu fabric background is beige while the underside is dark beige. Cotton used in embroidery - pink, yellow, light beige. Pattern at one end has a panel of triangular shapes between lines; length has two areas with crosses with a variation of fan shapes along lengths with other segments of squares. Stitching consists of cross-stitch, satin and tacking in different configurations with blanket-stitched edge.CollectionPermanent ExhibitionAgencyCoffs Harbour Regional MuseumExhibition HistoryPermanent Exhibition