A cameleer is a camel handler - someone who rides and, usually, cares for camels.
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 1890s, 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.
- Why was it important to bring camels and cameleers into Western Australia in the mid to late 1800s?
- Search Trove to find newspaper articles regarding the Afghan cameleers. What were some of the negative allegations made about them in the press?
- Despite arriving from many different countries, why were the cameleers called “Afghans” or “Ghans”?
- With many cameleers restricted from re-entering Australia, what was the fate of their businesses, and their camels?
- Are camels still used in Australia today? What impact have camels had on the Australian environment?
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