Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Shane Burke

Second Supervisor

Darren Holden


This thesis describes the lifeways of cameleers (also identifiable as males, Muslims, Asians, ‘Afghans’) who worked in Western Australia’s transport industry in the period 1887 to 1920. With their camels’ unique capabilities in the dry and sandy terrain of Western Australia’s arid and semi-arid areas, they provided a critical service in the early mining and settlement history of Western Australia. This research has been done through the archaeological record of their campgrounds, other sites, and the historical record. The research’s four aims were to gather and compile archaeological evidence associated with the Afghans and their religious lives as Muslims; describe their lives in permanent campgrounds; their working lives; and the collapse of their industry. Research on this topic has minimal precedent in Western Australia.

Seven sites comprising campgrounds, burial grounds and mosques were surveyed. Two other sites provided criteria to distinguish Afghan and European Australian occupation. The physical remains of mosques show both traditional Asian practices plus modification to Australian conditions. The archaeology of campgrounds reveals a complex society and economy with an intricate relationship with European Australians. Mosques and other religious symbols with varying functions reveal a complex Islamic life. Historical data showed that some transplanted cultural elements, such as purdah, seclusion of women, were imported unmodified. Food cans were the dominant artefact but have been greatly disturbed by contemporaneous campground clearing and metal recycling. However, outside of the camps, artefacts related to their working lives on the road were sparse. Almost all artefacts and features dated from the period 1887 to 1920, with very little post-dating this period, indicating a clear decline in activity. Declining output from mining and the introduction of railways limited Afghans’ work in Western Australia, and eventually ended it.

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