Telling the lost stories of our Afghan desert kings

January 1, 2021

Black and white photo muslim cameleers in the desert, circa 1900

What if your important contribution to Australia’s history was all but forgotten? This was the burning question that inspired Saad Khalid – a young student from Pakistan who established the Urdu program on 1CMS – to find out more about the Muslim cameleers who travelled with 19th and early 20th century British explorers into the Australian interior.

Hailing from areas that are now part of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the Afghan or ‘Ghan’ cameleers were vital to the survival of these explorers. As settlements were established, they also became a lifeline for outback communities providing supplies and key infrastructure including railway lines, the overland telegraph and roads.

Saad Khalid’s 25-minute audio documentary, Kings of the Desert, explores this little-known history of the Ghan cameleers and highlights the important contribution of the Muslim community to the development of Australia.

Kings of the Desert was produced as part of the 2019 CBAA National Features and Documentary Series for the Canberra Multicultural Service (1CMS). An 8-hour podcast is in production.

“The CBF’s support in making this documentary helps to bring the stories of migrants that have made their mark in Australia to the attention of the wider Australian community.” – Saad Khalid, 1CMS.

Listen to the Kings of the Desert audio documentary >

Kings of the Desert was funded through a CBF Content grant in 2019. We run two Content grant rounds each year, usually in January and July. You can check when our next grant round is open on the key dates page.

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Photo: Afghans riding camels near Cunnamulla, ca. 1900 courtesy of State Library of Queensland.