Australia's Muslim Cameleers
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Life in camel camps

The first settlements were simple ‘camel camps’, sheltering the cameleers as they came and went. Gradually the cameleers added elements from their own homelands: mosques and religious teachers, halal butchers, vegetable gardens and date groves.

These vibrant settlements grew up at the edge of towns like Broken Hill, Marree, Oodnadatta, Coolgardie and Bourke, next to town commons where the camels could graze. Known locally as ‘Afghan camps’ or ‘camel camps’, the settlements allowed the Muslim cameleers to live and work according to their own religious and social conventions. Relations with their European neighbours were usually marked by tolerance, although some conflict arose over issues such as water use and grazing rights. In western New South Wales and on the Western Australian goldfields where bullock teamsters also competed for custom with the cameleers, tensions sometimes resulted in open conflict. The cameleers were sometimes criticised for their frugal habits – they saved most of their earnings and spent little in the towns.

One feature marked the lives of Muslim cameleers in Australia. Whether single or married, the cameleers arrived alone, without their womenfolk. Most intended to remain in Australia for only the term of their contracts, two or three years. If the cameleers did marry in Australia, their wives were European or Aboriginal. These families brought up their children in the Islamic faith, but with the passing of the elderly cameleers during the mid 20th century, the younger generation merged more fully with Australian mainstream society.

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