IN THE PUBLIC EYE
Pamela's work continues to be refenced in the media, by academics and by museums in Australia and across the globe.
George Negus Tonight :: History :: Transcripts :: Afghan Cameleers
Broadcast 6.30pm on 01/11/2004
For 100 years or more, ‘Afghan’ cameleers travelled around many part of Central Australia, from Kalgoorlie to Broken Hill, Marree to Alice Springs. They lived in enclaves on the outskirts of these towns.
Little of these Ghan communities remain today, except the memory of a rugged way of life.
GEORGE NEGUS: For 100 years or more Afghan cameleers moved around many parts of Central Australia. As the books tell us, from Kalgoorlie to Broken Hill, from Marree to Alice Springs, they certainly got about. They usually lived in enclaves on the outskirts of towns. These days, though, little of these Ghan communities remains except the memory of a pretty rugged way of life.
(ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE OF CAMELEERS IN CENTRAL AUSTRALIA)
ABDUL BEJAR, CAMELEER'S SON: My name is Abdul Hamid Bejar. With my heritage, it goes back to my grandfather who came from India, Bejar Dooj. In 1939, Dr Madigan was having an expedition through the Simpson Desert and he asked for my grandfather as a cameleer. He said he was too old, so he sent his son, who was my father, to do that expedition.
(PHOTOGRAPH OF ABDUL BEJAR'S FATHER)
ABDUL BEJAR: And during that expedition, my father walked every inch of the way. He didn't ride the camels as the Europeans did. He walked. I therefore believe that he would have been the first non-Indigenous person to ever walk right through that desert trip. Even his dog rode the camel, but he walked.
ZELLICA HASSAN, CAMELEER'S DAUGHTER: My father was a cameleer. And he came out in the early days with camels. He used to take the camel teams up into the stations delivering the goods to the station people. And he'd be away for weeks.
PAMELA RAJKOWSKI, AUTHOR: When camels were loaded up with supplies to go out to pastoral stations there could be about three or four Afghans handling a whole string of camels. And you could have from 25 to 70 camels on one long string. They would walk all day, saying their prayers in the morning, walk all day and then say their prayers in the evening and let their camels graze. And they would be on the road for about five to six months doing a complete circuit.
(PHOTOGRAPH OF ZELLICA HASSAN'S FATHER)
ZELLICA HASSAN: My father was a Muslim and he was very devout to it. I remember when he used to come home, put his prayer mats out into the big living room we had. And every night he used to pray and we'd keep silence in the kitchen.
(ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE OF MUSLIMS AT PRAYER)
ABDUL BEJAR: As a child, we were sort of taught in two Sunday schools - the Christian Sunday school and then we'd also attend the Muslim school, which was taught by a lady there. The main prayer is... (Recites prayer in Arabic)
(MONTAGE OF PHOTOGRAPHS OF ZELLICA HASSAN, HER HUSBAND AND FAMILY)
ZELLICA HASSAN: We had to marry into our own colour and creed and it was always older men, much older than ourself. But we had our children and we all grew together and learned to love each other. So it was quite a romance after a while.
PAMELA RAJKOWSKI: The camel strings in South Australia were used to cart out materials for the Overland Telegraph Line back in 1870 to 72. They were used to take supplies out to stations and then they would return with bales of wool. And that was a very important industry that they were involved there.
In Western Australia, in the goldfields, they carted out water in bales out to the mining areas and also firewood. And they also carted sleepers for the Perth to Coolgardie railway line. Their camels were also used for emergency work. When some towns were struggling for lack of water, camels were used to sort of save settlements. In their time, that probably wasn't seen to be extremely demanding. It was just a way of life and that's what you had to do to survive.
When they lived in the outback of Australia, they never really doubted their abilities and they never questioned what they had to do. They were very resilient and lived through very trying times to make a living for their families and their community.
ABDUL BEJAR: I think he loved the serenity of the desert and just the peacefulness. And, of course, he adored his camels.
ZELLICA HASSAN: It is a beautiful history for somebody to have...to remember what the Afghans did in the early days of opening up the outback with their camel teams.
GEORGE NEGUS: What a tough way to earn a quid. A bit of old Islam there, here in this country, including arranged marriages, no less.
Afghan cameleer's commemorative plaque in Port Augusta 2010
Pamela worked with many descendants across Australia and the Port. Augusta council, to have a commemorative plague launced at the Port. Augusta wharves. This was the site of the first landing of Afghan cameleers in Australia in Dec. 1865. If you watch this video, you will see the male descendants standing where their Afghan cameleer grandfathers first disenbarked. with camels imported by Sir Thomas Elder of Beltana Station.
Mona Wilson nee Akbar is a descendant of Jack Akbar who came to Australia some time in the late 19th century as an Afghan cameleer. He met Lallie an Aboriginal Wongai in Western Australia and they eloped to marry in South Australia because it was illegal in WA. Prior to meeting Pamela, Mona and her siblings were unaware of their parents' histories and through Pamela's research and assistance were able to obtain a copy of their mother Lallie's file, kept by the Chief Protector of Aborigines ( A. O Neville). The files date, 1926 through to 1970, closed on Lallie's death.