An exhibition opening in Australia on Wednesday pays tribute to the often ignored contribution Muslim camel drivers made to opening up the dry centre of the vast country in the 19th century.
More than 2,000 cameleers and 15,000 camels arrived from Afghanistan and northern India or modern Pakistan as a mid-1800s gold rush accelerated exploration of Australia’s rugged interior. But their contribution has not always received the attention it deserves, the National Library of Australia says in an introduction to its exhibition “Pioneers of the Inland: Australia’s Muslim Cameleers.”
“Cameleers assisted all major expeditions into Australia’s uncharted interior, starting with the Burke and Wills expedition in 1860, and have contributed significantly to Australia?s economic and cultural development,” said curator Philip Jones. “In the era of heroic exploration, the Muslim cameleers were rarely given adequate credit for their achievements. Expedition diaries confirm that several cameleers deserve the status of explorers.”
The Muslim pioneers “unlocked the deserts, opening crucial lines of supply and communication between coastal and inland towns, remote settlements, mines and mission stations,” according to the exhibition notes.
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|Cameleer Bejah Dervish leaving Mullewa for the Calvert Expedition|
Many cameleers returned home after their work contracts ended but others stayed, married European and indigenous women and established communities and mosques in outback towns, raising their children in the Islamic faith. “Muslims have come to this country and contributed blood, sweat and tears,” Jones said. “The exhibition will enable people to realise that there are historical links between Australia and south-Asian countries.”
The exhibition, which runs at the National Library in the capital Canberra until February 17, features photographs, camel saddles, clothing, textiles and original documents largely borrowed from cameleer descendants.