Australian imports 1866
And some ‘Afhgan’ cameleers stayed and married European and Indigenous [Aboriginal] women in Australia, raising their children in the Islamic faith.” 1
“From 1870 to 1900, as many as 2,000 cameleers, known as ‘Afghans’ in Australia, and 15,000 camels arrived from Afghanistan and northern India (today’s Pakistan). … Some returned home others stayed, establishing communities in outback towns from Bourke, New South Wales, to Broome, Western Australia.2
Around 1864 an agent had been employed to select (with great care) “Candahar” 3 superior-camels to ship to Australia.
The selection was evidently successful as the Blackwall’s cargo of “one hundred and twenty-two camels disembarked in good health at Port Augusta on January 7, 1866.” 4
Even though three camels had died on the voyage, with most of the female camels pregnant the expected birth of forty to fifty young camels, was ample replacement.
The Hon. Mr Elder was the force behind the introduction of the new “beast of burden” to the colony in 1866 and like most introduced species their impact on the environment was untried and unknown.5
Sailing from Kurrachee on October 23, 1865 the Blackwall, with Captain Harrison in command arrived at Port Augusta, South Australia, seventy-six days later with the cargo that heralded a “new era, in the carriage of goods to and from the Far North”, reported the Queanbeyan Age.6
When taken into the bush the camels “avidly” ate half a dozen varieties of plants especially the acacia.7
With each camel capable of carrying from four to five cwt it was intended to moderately load them with four hundred and fifty pounds of goods, with each trip expected to move twenty-five tons of stores.
“Arab drivers, Mohammedans of perfect sobriety”, were said to be a “superior lot of men in personal appearance with the skill to manage the animals,” reported the Age, “and disembarked with their saddles and necessary furniture.” 8
Baggage and people
“Camels can travel seventy or eighty miles a day with the greatest of ease”, continued the Age, “the motion as easy as horseback and on long journeys, less fatiguing.
Riding-camels are fleet of foot and able to travel six miles an hour at an easy ambling pace – the baggage-camels carry the heaviest loads, and go at a slower pace.” 9
Most of the cavalcade of camels were destined for Umberatana in South Australia, with a detachment going on to Lake Hope with provisions, and then return with wool to Port Augusta.
During the sea voyage the Candahar camels had grown a wooly coat and when clipped at Umberetana; the camel-wool-clip was expected to yield from twenty-five to thirty pounds in weight.10
This return on the camel-wool was worth from 7 pence to 9 pence per pound – an unexpected added bonus.11
The National Library of Australia was host for a traveling exhibition from the South Australian Museum in 2007 called: Pioneers of the Inland: Australia’s Muslim Cameleers 1860s-1930s, which told the “stories of the Muslim explorers and pioneers who unlocked the deserts, opening crucial lines of supply and communication between coastal and inland towns, remote settlements, mines and mission stations.” 12
Black and white
It must be remembered that Australia was inhabited by Aboriginal people before white settlement and exploration. It must also be noted that un-named Aboriginal guides (blacktrackers) showed explorers the way and gave them information that aided settlement.
In this context the Afghans were crucial in moving goods and chattel’s so that Australia’s interior could be charted, from the time of the 1860 ill-fated Bourke and Wills expedition through Central Australia.13
Footnotes / Resources
1. Australians have a habit of shortening names. Instead of referring to people as from Afghanistan they just call them Afghans. (A postman becomes a “postie”; a milkman becomes a “milko” etc – virtually any name will be shortened – if at all possible).
2. National Library of Australia exhibition:
3. ‘Candahar’ is in Afghanistan; it is also spelt ‘Kandahar’.
4. Queanbeyan Age, Feb 8, 1866: “The Camels and Donkeys”– South Australian Register.
5. Queanbeyan Age, Feb 8, 1866.
6. Queanbeyan Age, Feb 8, 1866
7. Camels are now considered an pests because of increase numbers and the damage they have done to the plant life, which has outstripped its ability to replenish. Acacia trees also called mimosa – an Australian wattle. Wattle is Australia’s national emblem. In South Australia Maku (or witchetty grubs) are dug for in the roots of acacia bushes:
8. Queanbeyan Age, Feb 8, 1866
9. Queanbeyan Age, Feb 8, 1866
10. Umberatana is a station (property) in South Australia: www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/umberatana.htm
11. (i) “Connee-Colleen. Queanbeyan Outlook – Beastly burden” (225) The Queanbeyan Age, April 1, 2010, p.11. (ii) Queanbeyan Age, Feb 8, 1866.
12. (i) Quote from an Australian National Library media release:
(ii) The exhibition was accompanied by a 192-page, fully illustrated book, published by Wakefield Press.
13. Connee-Colleen’s comments based on general-reading.
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