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When Islam came to Australia: Afghan Cameleers

Two Men With Camels

The important story of the thousands of camel drivers from Afghanistan and Pakistan, who with their camels came to build supply lines across the harsh Australian outback. They also built the first mosque in Australia and played a crucial role in developing the infrastructure of the continent. 

G’Day Cameleers
57min | Doc, History | 2018

1865 Port Augusta, South Australia, and a crowd gathers to witness the strange sight of turbaned Afghans and 124 camels being hoisted from a ship onto Australian soil. They were there to help map the new inhospitable continent, where horses the traditional means of transport were ineffective. By the 1890’s there were around 800 cameleers and they played a significant, but overlooked role in the building of Australia’s infrastructure, including the construction of The Ghan railway between Adelaide and Alice Springs. 

Three People By A Man Made Lake

Forced to live aside from the white population and forbidden from marrying, many of the men married indigenous Aboriginal women. They established mosques and preserved Muslim customs for their children to practise. Eventually most gave up and returned home and the ones that were left slowly assimilated. Over the years their contribution and legacy had almost been forgotten and there is now a concerted effort being made to recognise their efforts in building Australia’s infrastructure.

Afghan Cameleers 50 Pence Piece

In April of 2020 The Royal Australian Mint recognised the contribution of the Afghan Cameleers with 2020 50-cent coins.

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G’day Cameleers features four Australian Muslim boys who, during their school holidays, went on a journey to explore the land of the early Australian Muslim Cameleers and paid a visit to their final resting place.

Tarek Chamki

Zakareyah Chamki, Chihab Chamki

“On the outskirts of Alice Springs, I found the Mecca Date Farm, with the palms originating from eboee the Afghans planted in various Ghantowns between Marree and Alice Springs. Dates were the fruits of the Prophet, enriching the health and the spirit, and were eaten at the end of the day during Ramadan.”

Christine Stevens, Australian Geographic 

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