WA Day hero: Bicton baker Balamurugan Mahalingam found recipe for a bright future
When most of us are still fast asleep, Balamurugan Mahalingam is already flicking flour and preparing pastry.
Sent to a Christian hostel in India at the age of four because his parents could not afford to keep him and his elder brother, the Bicton baker has forged an incredible global journey to where he now believes his family’s forever home will be in WA.
He is one of the State’s local heroes The West Australian will recognise in the lead-up to WA Day on Monday.
Mr Mahalingam moved from Chennai to WA with his family in 2012 after a “friend of a friend” recommended him in the pastry chef role he has pursued for 25 years.
The move was triggered by a soured business deal, but adversity has been common in his life’s ride.
It started on the poverty-riddled streets of Madurai, a city in India’s Tamil Nadu, included a stint in a call centre, and led to him working as a chef on cruise ships from the age of 20.
“Every day, you’d wake up in a different country,” Mr Mahalingam recalled.
“ They were wonderful years.”
Mr Mahalingam, whose parents and brother and sister still live in Chennai, said he and his wife Saroja had been unsuccessful in their bid to move to Australia in 2004.
When they finally did make it Down Under, his stint nearly ended just three days into his new job.
He was riding his bicycle to work with no idea of the road rules or directions and was apprehended by police for travelling on the wrong side of the Kwinana Freeway.
But after that narrow escape — and also confronting the culture shock of moving to quiet and spacious WA with sons Gautham and Siddharth — they have all gained Australian citizenship and fallen in love with their new home.
“In India, it is always crowded, but colourful and noisy and a bit polluted as well,” he said.
“So my wife found it really hard for more than a year because it was so quiet and scary. “Now, I don’t think she wants to go back. When I got the opportunity to come here, I thought it was a good thing for the boys to go and to give them a better life because I didn’t have a better life growing up. It’s been life-changing.”
His specialty vanilla slices and fruit loaves, along with his wife’s chicken curry puffs, are now rolling out the door of his Baker’s Batch operation to the WA people he says have been the foundation of his family’s new life.
“What I like most about WA is the people,” he said.
“We came with nothing, technically just our bags, and the people have been so good to us and friendly.
“They are always asking if we are OK and doing all right. Here, there is a warm community spirit where everybody cares for others and the place is so beautiful.”
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