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Memento : Issue 22
With the camels came the cameleers, often misunderstood by Australian society. While these men have commonly been referred to as 'Afghans' or 'Ghans', only a few were actually from Afghanistan. In fact, they came from such ethnically diverse areas as West Pakistan, Egypt, Persia and Turkey. Neither camel nor cameleer found easy acceptance in Australian communities, despite their impor- tance to the Outback. Communities like Alice Springs relied on the camel trains from Oodnadatta for mail and supplies, but did not understand the cameleers' resistance to carrying pork, bacon and hard liquor. Complaints were made about camels being smelly and overrunning town 'commons' -- the cameleers did not own freehold or leasehold lots of land on which to keep their animals. With the arrival of motorcars, camel power began to decline in the 1920s. Imported cameleers were replaced with white or Aboriginal Australians. The Immigration Restriction Act, and various Stock Diseases Acts and ordinances all but stopped the importation of camels and their handlers. Many camels were simply released, their descendants forming the only wild population of camels in the world today. The cameleers either returned to their homelands or stayed to live in what was left of the 'Ghan towns'. As highlighted during the Year of the Outback, the camels and their handlers have an important place in Australian history for the vital role they played in the development of Outback communities. Look out for more stories on camels, along with many other animals 'employed' in the service of the Commonwealth government, in an exhibition we've planned for later this year. Omrah, a former camel driver, photographed in Wyndham in 1929, before returning to Afghanistan. The last of Australia's mounted camel patrols sets out from Finke Police Station in the Northern Territory, 1949. NAA: A6180, 23/3/78/5 NAA: A1200, L11639 11 january 2003 memento