On Saturday, His Excellency Mr Wahidullah Waissi, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, was in Broken Hill, attending various events commemorating the 163rd anniversary of the arrival of Afghan cameleers in Australia.
At the Mosque Museum, some 50-plus descendants of Afghan cameleers who worked in Broken Hill joined His Excellency as the occasion looked strengthen ties between Afghanistan and Australia, along with recognising the importance of the cameleers to the area and maintain a strong relationship.
His Excellency said the turnout to celebrate the memory of Afghan cameleers was beyond his expectations, telling the Barrier Truth it was a momentous opportunity to share stories from and reflect on the past.
“I think this event has a lot of significance – national and international, for the community who are living in Australia, and for the multiculturalism value of Australia,” he said.
“It brings people together with different faiths and different beliefs, they live together, and they move stories to the younger generation, and that is bringing a lot of respect and solidarity to people, that collaboration and work.
“It is also something which is going beyond bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Australia, which any history book would start from the cameleers. It’s part of the legacy of Afghans who contributed to the outback development of Australia.”
During the ceremony, a bench was unveiled in memory of the cameleers, gifted by the Embassy of Afghanistan in Canberra, while a memorial stone and newly planted tree were also unveiled to further signify that the memories of the past should flourish and that they’re continued by the younger generation.
A prayer mat was donated to the city to keep as a memory for those who visit the mosque. Mayor Tom Kennedy was presented with a Pashtun, and a commemorative coin from the Royal Australian Mint was gifted also.
The Mosque Museum preserves the first mosque to the built in NSW and remains the only outback mosque in Australia.
Built in 1891, the site had been used for worship since 1887 by the early Afghan cameleers with the Afghan community’s role in the history of the Australian outback preserved through the building and its historical artefacts.
Falling into disrepair following the passing of the last Mullah, the mosque was then restored by the Broken Hill Historical Society (BHHSoc) and re-dedicated in 1968 as a place of worship, as well as a museum. It was the first project undertaken by the newly formed group who still operate and maintain it today.
Mosque Museum Coordinator and Caretaker, Amanullah Robert Shamroze – or Bobby as he is more regularly known –, whose grandfather was the last Mullah, told us it was important to share and reflect upon the historical factors and who shaped the town from the 1860s onwards.
“It’s great to have all these people come today, learning about the history and what it all started with in the early days with the camel drivers that came not only here in Broken Hill, but all over Australia.
“They opened up the country in the early days because there was no other way of doing it,” he said.
“I like the Mosque and I love doing the tours with the people coming here, telling them about the early days and building up Broken Hill and the surrounding districts. If it weren’t for the camel men – and I’m talking about all camel drivers, not just Afghan camel drivers -, we wouldn’t be advanced like we are now.”
BHHSoc President, Jim Daly, added that the Mosque is “a big part of Broken Hill history and if you lose it, you’ve lost it forever. If you can keep it and keep people interested, that’s the only way it’ll survive.”