Srilankan Aussies............PAGE 1 of 2 ........... Link to page 2 An Aussie Guide to Srilankan Names!{short description of image}{short description of image}

A Scientific Paper on the High Blood Levels of Heavy Metals and their effect on the Central Nervous System of Expatriate Srilankans living in Melbourne, Australia.

Srilankans are a strange lot. Those still remaining in the old republic would like to live elsewhere whilst those of us who live elsewhere would dearly love to go back! To the old People's Republic..(Well for a few weeks at least!)


When it comes to food the difference between the locals and us expats becomes even more obvious and rather sad!

With the arrival of McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Srilanka there is nothing that the locals would love more than a BigMac, where as on the rare visit to the republic there is nothing more we expats would love than a traditional meal of rice and curry complete with Karavala (dry fish). On my last visit I avoided all fast food, thoroughly enjoyed my sister Babsie's cooking and brought back a couple of kilos of dry fish with me (This probably confused the sniffer dogs at Heathrow Airport!)

Expat Srilankans go to extremes to obtain traditional herbs, spices and vegetables. Some even try to grow the stuff themselves without much success in the sun-less grey cold and miserable clime here in Britain. A friend had some success in growing curry leaves but that's about it.

Things are different in Australia though, or so my correspondent in Melbourne informs me. There is obviously a big Srilankan community "down under" who get up to the usual things that we expats get up to … My correspondent reliably informs me that certainly, the expats in Melbourne do their best to grow Srilankan vegetables and herbs.The climate is of course kinder....


Mukunuwenna is a Srilankan staple. It is considered a "leafy vegetable" although it looks much more like an herb (such as parsley) than a proper leaf vegetable (such as cabbage greens or spinach.) The plants are shredded finely and stir fried with grated coconut and spices to make what is known as "mellum". Not Haute Cuisine... Definitely not McDonalds!

In the early nineties most Srilankan expats living in Melbourne had their own patch of home grown Mukunuwenna. This lowly and rather modest plant, which normally grows in wet areas with a high sewage content, suddenly found itself to have attained celebrity status. Overnight it became the centrepiece of Aussie-Lankan dinners.

The proud housewife would boast (smirk! smirk!) how she actually managed to grow the stuff herself! "We have Mukunuwenna!", she would proudly announce, implicitly saying that "you haven't got Mukunuwenna so we must be superior"!......(Srilankans like to boast about food just like they do about their cars etc. No doubt the Aussie-Lankans parked their Mercs near their Mukunuwenna patch!) The established Lankans patronisingly offered a few potted plants to new immigrants...Ahhh!....Mukunuwenna became a main topic of conversation in Australo-Srilankan circles.

The plant attained such a rarity value and status in Melbourne that it was regularly offered up to the local Buddhist monks as alms or a religious offering ("dana"). Afterall only the best is good...


All would have gone well if a zealous agricultural scientist (the busybody!) had not recognised the plant for what it was. The guy was a Srilankan (by the name of Lalith) and recognised the plant to be not Mukunuwenna at all but a rather nasty weed called Alligator weed. Furthermore it was banned in Australia due to its ability to completely takeover waterways and lakes. Oh, by the way the plant has the ability to store large quantities of heavy metals!

As we all know heavy metals cause brain damage! Meanwhile, some idiot introduced the weed to Srilanka!

All hell broke loose, as they say! There were warnings on Radio Wagga-Wagga and that sort of thing. People were warned not to touch the plants....The plants were later removed under the supervision of the experts from the Ministry, no doubt using flamethrowers and Agent Orange..... Ministries don't do things by half-measures!

In the aftermath, no one was more worried about the poisonous effects than the Buddhist monk who had received the stuff on a daily basis. He went on record to say that whereas most others had only eaten this poison once or twice a week he had received daily doses of it! ("Mahattayala nam sumaneta dawasak dekak mé vasa kanna athi. Mata nam hema dama daneta meva hondata hambavuna!")...Bugger!... No doubt he went on a diet afterwards.

Footnote: I am pleased to inform that this story had a happy ending.

The scientist who discovered the true identity of the plant was later instrumental in growing the real Mukunuwenna. (He is now known as "Mukunuwenna Lalith"!) The Agriculture Department then distributed the real McCoy among the Srilankans in Melbourne and so far there are no signs of brain damage in that community except for that attributable to excess alcohol!

Acknowledgements: Keerthy Silva, my Melbourne correspondent (and life-long friend)

Copyright © Melbourne Insitute of Ethnic Health Studies

Gyan Fernando 2001 First written on the 21st of April 2001

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