In 1879 indentured camel drivers from the rugged plains of Afghanistan, Baluchistan, India’s North West Frontier and Sindh came into the colony of Western Australia through South Australia, ports of Fremantle and Albany making a visible and exotic presence in the growing vibrant town of Perth. Camels were introduced as a beast of burden with its exotic riders much earlier in 1860 in the colony of Victoria. This was promoted by explorer and businessman Thomas Elder in 1870 and by the infamous Ernest Giles expedition when Ernest Giles’s camels and its Muslim riders traveled across the vastness of Western Australia. Giles ‘s exotic expedition party camped and prayed underneath the Perth Town Hall in November 1875 much to the delight of the inquisitive locals. The infamous Giles expedition was well received by the West Australian colonial government and rightly acknowledged by London’s Geographic Society cementing the popularity of camel transportation in the arid regions of the British empire. Gold rush years of the 1890s saw a steady influx of Afghan, Punjabi and Baluchistan Muslim camel-men and merchants move into Coolgardie, Perth and the other West Australian Goldfields regions with their ‘Ghantowns’ despite facing some stiff local European business opposition that reflected overt racism of the 19th century.
By 1898-99 Muslims of Perth were then part of exotic mix in Perth’s ethnic melting pot, that included Chinese, Aboriginal, Filipino and Malay pearl divers. Muslims of Perth celebrated public Eid with non Muslim Australians held at the Esplanade ground near the beautiful Swan River as reported by the West Australian newspaper on 26 May 1896. The Association of incorporation for Perth Mosque was written in 1895 and fund-raising in the Gold fields began in earnest thereafter. Hard work and sacrifice did pay off in the end for Perth’s Muslims as Australia’s first federation Mosque was built in Northbridge in 1905. At present the historical Perth Mosque continues to serve the spiritual needs of Perth’s diverse Muslim communities and remains an icon of Perth’s multiculturalism and religious diversity.
Perth Mosque c.1905 Photographed in 2012
In the Tracks of the Camelmen:outback Australia’s most exotic pioneers. Pamela Rajkowski. Published Angus and Robertson 1987.
Perth Mosque in 1930
Front view ( William Street ) 1930.
Side view of Mosque. Photograph taken in 1933.
Front view of the Mosque.
Photograph taken in 1933.