Afghan cameleers appear on new 50-cent coin from Australia
- Published: Apr 21, 2020, 10 AM
Explorers in Australia from the 1860s until the 1930s relied on camel drivers to carry goods and act as guides.
These cameleers are the subject of two new coins from the Royal Australian Mint.
In 1859, the Victorian Expedition Committee commissioned import of 24 camels and three cameleers from India to join the pioneering expedition led by Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills.
This was the start of a significant contribution to Australia’s inland development by many cameleers, who came to Australia from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkey and elsewhere, as the practice continued for about 70 years.
The cameleers were collectively referred to as “Afghans” or simply “Ghans,” an abbreviation that inspired the name of Australia’s famous inland railway.
Camels were ideally suited to the harsh desert conditions of inland Australia, and the cameleers provided critical support to explorers, workers and merchants. At one point, half of Australia’s population relied on camel transport for survival.
Although the Muslim cameleers usually kept to themselves, creating “Ghan towns” that included corrugated iron mosques in the desert, occasional intermarriages with the other local population occurred. While many of the cameleers returned home, some chose to remain and make their homes in Australia.
The cameleers occasionally suffered from racial violence in Australia, yet their peaceful and moderate ways were also welcomed in many places.
To commemorate these often forgotten heroes of Australian history, the RAM issued a 2020 Uncirculated copper-nickel 50-cent coin and a Proof .999 fine silver version.
Both coins features the same design, depicting a cameleer in traditional Muslim headdress standing alongside his camel that is laden with packs and wearing a decorative harness. A train of pack-camels appears at the bottom of the coin, while the edges carry a decorative geometric pattern traditional in Islamic art. The reverse was designed by L. Ashe.
The obverse carries the Jody Clark effigy of Queen Elizabeth II.
Both coins measure 31.51 millimeters in diameter.
The Uncirculated coin weighs 15.55 grams. It has a mintage limit of 30,000 pieces and retails for $10 Australian.
The silver coin weighs 18.24 grams. It has a mintage limit of 2,500 pieces and retails for $85 Australian.
The coins are Australian legal tender and can be purchased through the Mint’s website.
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