Australia's Muslim Cameleers
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Cameleer Biographies

In the Murchison district of Western Australia, some 60 kilometres from the Coodardy Station homestead, there is a nameless, undated, lonely grave of an Afghan cameleer (Coate 1986, p.191). This listing is dedicated to his memory, and to all other cameleers, hawkers, drapers, labourers, herbalists and ‘holy men’ who came to serve ‘Australia’s alien soil’, as Mena Abdullah puts it.

This listing records the names and brief biographical details of more than 1300 Muslim pioneers who came to Australia, mainly in the period from the 1860s to the 1930s. Most worked here as cameleers for periods ranging from one or two years to half a century or more. The listing is based upon a catalogue assembled by Vivienne Loois (Loois 1988) for a bicentennial project documenting Western Australian immigrants. For this book’s first edition, this listing was supplemented through the painstaking research of the Hungarian scholar, Dr Gabor Korvin (Korvin 2003a; 2003b). More recently, Philip Jones has revised and expanded the listing, adding details and a further 150 names gleaned from newspaper records. Many of the spellings have been corrected for this new edition by Abid Zareef Khan of the Zareef Khan Foundation in Peshawar. Notably, variant spellings of Muhammad have been rationalised, although other variants (such as Said, Syed, Sayed) have been retained. Further corrections and additions may be envisaged.

The listing is supplemented with small photographic portraits of selected individuals. Many of these portraits derive from the photographs accompanying the Commonwealth ‘certificates of exemption from the dictation test’ (CEDT), issued to cameleers who left Australia after the passage of the Commonwealth Immigration Restriction Act 1901, but intended to return. The potential of the CEDT forms as an historical resource has only been partly exploited. A fuller analysis of the surviving forms, held in National Archives offices across Australia, will result in a more complete listing of Australia’s Muslim cameleers. In the meantime, it can be assumed that the listing represents more than half of the total number of cameleers and other Muslim men from south Asia who worked in Australia during the era of camel transport.

This list also contains the names of Sikh cameleers, who worked with the Muslim cameleers in parts of the Australian inland, as well as the names of some Muslim herbalists, jewellers, storekeepers and other businessmen who may not have been directly involved with cameleering.