A speaker series event was organised at the PwC offices in Adelaide on Wednesday 4 September 2019 hosted by Mr Chin Tan, Race Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission featuring keynote speaker, Professor Mohamad Abdalla sharing Australia’s long and primarily positive contact history with Muslim people, stretching from coastal traders before colonial settlement through to prospectors during the Australian Gold Rush and the Afghan cameleers who opened central Australia, to the modern Muslims who now call Australia home.
Professor Mohamad Abdalla is one of Australia’s most prominent and respected Muslim leaders, combining the roles of an academic scholar, public intellectual, community leader and commentator. He is the Director of Centre for Islamic Thought and Education (CITE), University of South Australia based in Adelaide.
The event was attended by a large cross section of community members from a diverse background who were also addressed by Mr Chin Tan and Mr Andrew Larson, Partner, PwC as hosts and Ms Mobinah Ahmad, Project Officer at the Human Rights Commission in her capacity as the MC.
Professor Abdalla’s kenote speech was given together with an audio-visual presentation summarising the long history of Muslims in Australia.
Professor Abdalla claimed that there was some evidence indicating that Muslims may have visited Australia as far back as the 14th century CE. This evidence is based on Kilwa coins found off northern Australia possibly originating from the 14th century prosperous Kilwa Sultanate 10,000 km away in modern day Tanzania. The coins may be 1,000 years old and could rewrite Australian History.
Professor Abdalla said that trade links between Aboriginal people of northern Australia and Makasar from Sulawesi began as far back 1700 CE. The fishermen “camped along the Arnhem Land coast, catching, boiling and drying trepang. They met, traded and worked with local Aboriginal people.
The people who live in the Miwatjor north-east Arnhem Land region are known generally as Yolngu, which simply means ‘people’. The Makasar did not settle in Arnhem Land but they did have an influence on the Yolngu people’s society and ritual.
Words such as rrupiya(money), and introduced metal blades, knives and axes which transformed Yolngu life.
After 1901, the newly formed Australian Government banned trepangers from Makassar in order to protect Australia’s ‘territorial integrity’ and to encourage a local trepang industry. In 1907, the last prau from Makassar visited Arnhem Land.
Between the 1860s and 1920s, approximately 2000 cameleers arrived in Australia to participate in the historic Burke and Wills expedition from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria in June1860.
The term ‘Afghan’ was used to refer to them, although they actually came from a variety of ethnic or national backgrounds apart from Afghan, such as Baluch, Pashtun, Kashmir, Sindh and other neighbouring ethnic regions.
The introduction of camels and the so-called ‘Afghan’ cameleers proved to be a turning point in the exploration and development of the Australian interior. For a short period of time from the 1860s to the early 1900s, these cameleers and their ‘ships of the desert’ became the backbone of the Australian economy.
Waves of Muslim migration starting with small number from Turkey (1911), Albania (1920s) and increased migration from Lebanon after the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s added to the Muslim population in Australia.
Altogether, Australian Muslims come from 183 countries, making them one of the most ethnically and nationally heterogeneous communities in Australia.