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The Afghan Cameleers


When the Silver City was discovered, life was brutal: water was scarce, the baking sun harsh, and the isolation absolute.

Luckily for those early pioneers, the Afghan Cameleers arrived, putting their camels to work providing vital transportation services in the area. Without them, the development of Broken Hill may have taken a fair while longer.

Imagine life in Broken Hill in the late 1800s and early 1900s before reliable transport services, good roads, or access to motor vehicles. Even the most basic needs such as a reliable water supply were not guaranteed. During this time the cameleers provided a lifeline and connection with the outside world for this remote community.

In the early years of settlement in the outback it became clear that camels were far superior to horses for transport. Camels were imported and Afghan cameleers were recruited to handle the camels. Thomas Elder first imported camels into South Australia in 1866; their progeny were brought to Broken Hill and surrounds in the 1880s.

The influence of the Cameleers was diverse and critical to the survival of Broken Hill. They carted water, produce and equipment in and out of the region as well as digging dams for mines and properties. They contributed to both the survival and the cultural diversity of the community.

They were initially well accepted by the broader community but at times they encountered adversity and discrimination. Negative sentiment grew with the White Australia policy.

After World War One the need for camels declined as rail and road transport took over. The last camel run from BH was 29  September 1929; the camps were then abandoned and the camels let loose into the outback.

The children of the cameleers were initially raised in the Islamic faith but as the elders died their descendants tended to merge into the broader Broken Hill community. It is a tribute to their descendants that they continue to preserve the Mosque as part of their heritage.

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