The Legend of Monga Khan, an Aussie folk hero

Monga Khan, although born in India, lived, worked and died in Australia. Monga was a hawker who sold goods in Victoria, helping the young Australian economy to grow.

Monga Khan’s photo has been kept for a hundred years in the Australian National Archive, along with his application for exemption to the White Australia Policy. It is only now, however, that he has been given a voice.


Enter Adelaide-born artist Peter Drew. His quest – to make Monga Khan famous, in order to re-write Australian folklore and redefine what ‘Aussie’ really means.

Peter began a crowd-funded campaign in an attempt to cover Australia with 1000 posters of Monga.

Peter Drew

The campaign received such strong support that Peter’s fundraising goal was exceeded and, as a result, he decided to use the additional funds to commission artists and writers to pitch in and create for Monga the historical fiction he deserved. These stories, poems, and artworks combine to form Peter’s book, ‘The Legend of Monga Khan, an Aussie Folk Hero’.


It is an honour to be launching this book at The Boroughs Store.


I remember when I first began to see Peter’s posters appearing around Australia. His ‘Real Australians Say Welcome’ campaign seemed to inspire the best in people and caught the eye of many other artists and creatives. Peter’s artwork is an inclusive breath of fresh air in a hostile political landscape of fear mongering and growing disdain for multiculturalism.


Peter’s message resonates with our community and customers and his posters on our walls never fail to start conversations.


It seems only appropriate to involve Peter himself in that conversation. I spoke to him ahead of the launch.


The Boroughs: Where did you find Monga Khan, and what drew you to him?


Peter Drew: I found Monga Khan's records in the Australian National Archive in Victoria. In 1916, he applied for an exemption to the White Australia Policy so he could travel back to India without fear of being kept out of Australia upon his return.


There are thousands of records like Monga Khan's in the Archive. I chose his simply because he looks heroic. It's the kind of image that makes you wonder 'who was that man? What was it like to be him?'


TB: What does it mean to you to be ‘Aussie’?


PD: The strength of openness.


TB: What do you believe is the benefit of Monga becoming a folk hero?


PD: Australia needs new myths – ones that reflect our multi-ethnic past and future – because without shared narratives we can’t form shared identities. It's important that some of those narratives are myths because only myths grant the reader tacit permission to make the imaginative leap necessary to really identify with the hero.

That's what myths are for! Constructing myths of this kind is fundamentally the job of artists.


TB: Who has collaborated with you on this project and how and why did you approach them?


PD: I approached Royce Kurmelovs to edit the book because I had a hunch he could pull it off in terms of skill, temperament, and sensitivity to the subject matter. Luckily I was right! In the beginning, I simply asked Royce to commission writers with knowledge of the migrant experience, so we naturally attracted a diverse group.


Nici Cumpston from the Art Gallery of South Australia wrote the foreword about her own family story, which spans the history of the cameleers and the Barkindji people of remote NSW. I thought it was the perfect way to ground the book in reality before embarking on our journey of myth-making.


The illustrations are by artists I admire, many of whom I've wanted to work with for a long time. That aspect of the project has been a real treat for me.


TB: Why did you decide to launch Monga’s story at the Boroughs?


PD: Because this project is all about community, and so is the Boroughs... Ever since you asked to display my posters I knew we had plenty in common.



Peter’s book of fictional short stories, poems and illustrations will launch in Victoria at The Boroughs on Wednesday, March 15, from 6:30 – 8:30.



‘ The Legend of Monga Khan, an Aussie Folk Hero’ features contributions from:

Royce Kurmelovs, Anne Waters, Nici Cumpston, Manal Younus, Kavi Guppta, Elizabeth Flux, Lindsay Nightingale, James Roy, Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa, Ena Grozdanic, Laurie May, Hop Dac, Kerri Ann Wright, Andrea Smith, Julian May, Dave Court, Tom Gerrard, Alasdair Mackinnon, Gabriel Cunnett, Freda Chiu, Kyoko Imazu, Rosie Turner, Joel Matheson, Gabriel Cole, Owen Foley, Paul Kisselev, Penny Ferguson, Yan Yan Candy Ng, Jake Holmes, Alice Lindstrom, Alexis Winter, Jake Bresanello, Minna Leunig, Amanda Ng, Emily Nelson and Lucas Grogan.




Hester MacKinnon