Australian Mint Honours Afghan Cameleers

21 Apr 2020  Tue

The Afghan cameleers who traveled to Australia from 1859 made a significant contribution to the exploration of Australia’s inland, and to the development of Australia as a multicultural nation. To commemorate their work, the Royal Australian Mint has released a special 50 cent uncirculated coin in the last week of April 2020.

The first “Afghans” were brought to South Australia in 1838, to assist in the early exploration of the interior of the country. Camels played an essential role in navigating through the harsh desert terrain that horses would struggle with.

In the late 1890s, the goldfields in Western Australia were booming. The gold mines were typically located in the desert, where horses struggled due to the soft sand and intense heat. In order to build the infrastructure required, such as train lines and roads, camels continued to be imported from other countries. The men who brought these camels and looked after them were called “Afghan Cameleers”.

Many Afghan cameleers sought business opportunities in the Goldfields. Their camels carried food and supplies to surveying and construction teams in the outback. The cameleers contributed greatly to the developments of goldfield towns in Western Australia such as Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Menzies, and Leonora.

About a hundred years ago these cameleers were subjected to discrimination based on their appearance and religious practice. The Immigration Restriction Act (White Australia Policy), 1901-1958, impacted the future of many cameleers. They were refused naturalization and, after visiting family abroad, many were required to sit a dictation test which resulted in refused entry to Australia.

Today, Australia Mint recognizes their contribution to history. Better late than never? Or already too late? We’ll let you decide.

Image Courtesy: Royal Australian Mint

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