Before European colonial powers exerted any presence here in the “Great South Land,” Indonesian traders made contact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in a great example of peaceful cultural contact. Muslim traders from the flourishing trading city of Makassar brought their boats into Australian waters, possibly as early as the 16th Century.
To the right you can see a cave painting found in the Arnhem Land, and the lines are unmistakably the image of one of the Indonesian prau. They annually travelled there in search of sea cucumbers, which fetched a high price in their local markets. Eventually, marriages between the two peoples were celebrated, and a lasting legacy of cultural and religious exchange is found in the region.
Later, in the mid-19th Century, the pearl-shelling industry brought Muslim Malays to the north-western coast of Australia. Much like the Makassans, Malays intermarried with local Aboriginal people and brought with them Islamic religious and cultural practices. Today, plenty of families in Northern Australia have names that bear the mark of these interactions, like Doolah, Hassan and Khan.
Islam Found at Australia’s Heart
Right in Alice Springs, heart of Australia’s imposing desert, there is an established Islamic Community and Mosque. It is called the “Afghan Mosque,” because in the mid-19th Century a 4000 Cameleers came to Australia, along with their camels. Many came from Afghanistan, but also from India and Pakistan too. They worked to help open up the way through the harsh deserts between Adelaide and Darwin. Their contribution to our Nation’s development is something that should not be forgotten.