Cameleers in exploration
Despite its tragic outcome, the Burke and Wills Expedition demonstrated that camels provided the mobility and endurance needed for inland exploration. From the 1860s, most successful exploring expeditions were equipped with camel teams controlled by ‘Afghan’ cameleers.
Exploration parties depended heavily on the cameleers. They cared for the camels, loaded and unloaded equipment and provisions, located water, hunted game, and took part in the trials and achievements of exploration.
Many scientific expeditions also relied on the cameleers. While expedition scientists pursued their collecting and field observations, the cameleers ensured safe passage for the party and its scientific specimens.
Thomas Elder’s Beltana camel depot in northern South Australia became the starting point for several important inland exploration expeditions of the 1870s. Cameleers such as Kamran and Saleh Mohamed were recruited from the depot’s workforce.
In the era of heroic exploration, the Muslim cameleers were rarely given adequate credit for their achievements, but expedition diaries confirm that several deserve the status of explorers.