Afghan Cameleers

A cameleer is a camel handler - someone who rides and, usually, cares for camels.

Loading camels for the new rush

The first “Afghans” were brought to South Australia in 1838, to assist in the early exploration of the interior of the country. Camels played an essential role in navigating through the harsh desert terrain that horses would struggle with.

In the late 1890’s, the goldfields in Western Australia were booming. The gold mines were typically located in the desert, where horses struggled due to the soft sand and intense heat. In order to build the infrastructure required, such as train lines and roads, camels continued to be imported from other countries. The men who brought these camels and looked after them were called “Afghan Cameleers”.

The name is a little misleading, as they were not all from Afghanistan. They came from other nearby countries also, such as Egypt, Iran, Turkey, India and Pakistan. The cameleers were usually Muslim and male.

Many Afghan cameleers sought business opportunities in the Goldfields. Their camels carried food and supplies to surveying and construction teams in the outback. The cameleers contributed greatly to the developments of goldfield towns in Western Australia such as: Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Menzies and Leonora.

Although actively contributing to the community, the cameleers were subjected to discrimination based on their appearance and religious practice. They were depicted unfavorably in the newspapers and received increased restrictions from the government which led to increased tensions within the communities.

The Immigration Restriction Act (White Australia Policy), 1901-1958, impacted the future of many cameleers. They were refused naturalisation and, after visiting family abroad, many were required to sit a dictation test which resulted in refused entry to Australia.

Focus Questions

Key words

You may wish to find out more about  Afghan cameleers. The following key words can help you find information:

cameleers

goldfields

exploration

migration

dictation test

naturalisation

Websites

The following websites can help you with reliable information:

State Library of Western Australia

Trove

Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences - “Afghans” and their camels for Australian inland transport

ABC News - Australia's Afghan cameleers' forgotten history revived by their living relatives

SBS - How the Cameleers and Aboriginal culture connected in Australia

 

Afghans loading camels

Four men on camel-back

Fazzledine and his camel

Afghan Merchant Advertisement

A buggy and camels near Coolgardie

Packed camel train with Afghan cameleers

Asians and Afghans in Eucla with camels

The Afghan nuisance

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