An exhibition that records for the first time the remarkable contribution of Australia’s cameleers opens at the National Library on 12 December.
Pioneers of the Inland: Australia’s Muslim Cameleers 1860s–1930s tells 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.
This travelling exhibition from the South Australian Museum allows visitors to gain an appreciation – through photographs, camel saddles, historic clothing, textiles and original documents – of a distinctive and largely forgotten way of life. It has been co-curated by Anna Kenny and Dr Philip Jones.
“Cameleers assisted all major expeditions into Australia’s uncharted interior, starting with the Burke and Wills expedition in 1860, and have contributed significantly to Australia’s economic and cultural development,” Dr Jones said. “In the era of heroic exploration, the Muslim cameleers were rarely given adequate credit for their achievements. Expedition diaries confirm that several cameleers deserve the status of explorers.
“This exhibition brings together previously unrecognised and dispersed heritage objects and images, confirming the pioneering role of the cameleers throughout inland Australia.”
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), and a vast network of camel routes spread across the interior. As well as carting goods and assisting with inland exploration, the cameleers also played an important role in the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line.
Many cameleers returned home after their work contracts ended but others stayed, establishing communities in outback towns from Bourke to Broome. Some cameleers married European and Indigenous women, raising their children in the Islamic faith.
The exhibition also investigates relations between the cameleers and Europeans in Australia, and uses works of art and documents, including items from the Library’s collection, to chart the cameleers’ place in our collective memory.
It will be accompanied by a 192-page, fully illustrated book, published by Wakefield Press.
Pioneers of the Inland: Australia’s Muslim Cameleers 1860 –1930s, 12 December 2007 – 17 February 2008, open daily 9 am – 5 pm, free
Dr Philip Jones, Wednesday 12 December, 12.30 pm, Exhibition Gallery, free
High-resolution images are available for download at http://www.nla.gov.au/media/