The culture of mobile lifestyle: Reflection on the past - the Afghan camel drivers, 1860-1930

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In modern times when we speak of a mobile lifestyle we think of backpackers, fruit pickers, tourists, bikies or people living in caravans. Some people, of course, deliberately choose such a lifestyle. In the context of the historical past, of the people who moved in and out of this place - Kalgoorlie (our conference venue) - one group in particular had a very mobile lifestyle, though not by choice. I refer to the Afghan camel drivers who came to Australia for economic reasons. They mostly arrived as single men and assisted the explorers in their expeditions, and contributed to the development of the infrastructure of the Australian outback. The camel drivers steered the camels, 'the ships of the desert', that carried water tanks out to the mining areas such as Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie and other areas where water was scarce. The camels also carried wool bales and boxes of merchandize from one part of Australia to another. And they carted sleepers for the construction of railway lines from Perth to Coolgardie, and materials for the development of the Overland Telegraph Line in South Australia back in 1870-1872. The mobile nature of the lives of the Afghan camel drivers never permitted them to stay in one place for long. The Afghans were predominantly Muslims. They retained their culture and religion in such a harsh lifestyle. In this paper I examine the pattern of their mobile lifestyle from 1860 to 1930 and discuss their identity when they were with other ethnic groups, conflict when they faced resistance and their outspoken nature when they were regarded as the 'other'. Finally, I consider their loyalty to their Australian employers (and explorers). This paper relies on both primary and secondary sources, including oral testimonies.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Centre for Applied Social Marketing Research, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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