Working with camels
From 1866 small groups of cameleers began arriving at Port Augusta, on fixed three-year contracts. Initially, they carted loads of wool from Thomas Elder’s remote sheep stations to the port, returning with stores and fencing materials.
By 1870 the cameleers had proved their worth. They joined exploration parties, and were given a key role in supplying the Overland Telegraph Line construction teams. Several became independent enough to establish their own carrying businesses. Brothers Faiz and Tagh Mahomet began importing camels and cameleers, and pioneered new transport routes in the Western Australian goldfields. Abdul Wahid employed dozens of cameleers throughout inland New South Wales. Several European businessmen formed partnerships with the cameleers, and small fortunes were made.
The cameleers possessed remarkable stamina, walking with their camels from sunrise to dusk. They coordinated as many as 70 camels in a team, and secured heavy loads – up to 600 kilograms in weight – with a single length of rope. Few Europeans could match their efficiency.
Not all north Indian and Afghan men arriving in Australia were cameleers. Some became hawkers or traders, buying goods from city merchants and selling direct to country residents. In the Broken Hill and Tennant Creek regions, several cameleers became miners, particularly as camel transport declined. A small number also worked as jewellers or as herbalists, drawing upon ancient tribal remedies of their homelands.