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Background Story & Research

Background notes for Mustara


Author's Response
I wrote the draft of Mustara in 2000. I had finished 
Zenna Dare and was in the State Library and found myself looking at books on explorers. Because Caleb in Zenna Dare was going up north to race camels and I had been to the Camel Cup at Marree in 1995, writing about the Afghan camel drivers seemed the next step for me. I remembered helping an Afghan student with her English assignment; she had to write about Afghans in Australia and there wasn't a suitable book available that she could read. I thought it would be good to have a fiction book about Afghans in Australia for all young people to access.

After I finished 
Soraya the Storyteller, I thought I'd get the draft of Mustara out again and rewrite it because Soraya mentions finding out about Afghan camel drivers in Australia. I sent the text to my agent and she had some suggestions too. It was accepted by Lothian in 2004. When Helen Chamberlain at Lothian asked me whose illustrations I thought would suit the text, I immediately said, 'Robert Ingpen'. I knew he would be perfect for the outback scenes, but I didn't for a minute think they could get him; it was just a wish. Robert Ingpen liked the story and did say he would do the illustrations. I was so excited. The illustrations are stunning, the colours true to life. People who have lived in the outback and have seen the book say, 'Yes, it's just like that.'

Author's background for teacher notes

The year is 1875. Thomas Elder of Beltana Station fits out Ernest Giles' final and successful expedition to find a way across the desert to Perth. Giles even returns, thus twice traversing Australia.
During his former attempts, Ernest Giles knew he must have camels to succeed.

How I longed for camels
the beautiful horse sinks
into the insignificance of
a pygmy in such country
when compared to his majestic
rival, the mighty
ship of the desert.

Ernest Giles 1872

There truly was a bull camel called Mustara in Ernest Giles' string. He was a great kisser and a favourite of Giles.
Also, in one of McKinlay's expeditions, two explorers who had lost their tracks, lashed themselves onto their camels. This saved the men's lives since the camels headed for water.
A string is what the camel caravans were called.

Hoosta means to kneel down. (Sometimes it can mean to get up also).

Camels in Australia were called the skyscrapers of the Gibbers by the explorers, just as Emmeline says.

I have heard that Mustara means lion-hearted or brave and I think Mustara lives up to his name in the book.

Afghans in Australia
In 1860 24 camels were shipped from Karachi to Port Melbourne as baggage animals for the Burke and Wills trip. Three cameleers came with them.

In 31 December 1865, thirty-one cameleers (camel handlers) first arrived in South Australia with 124 camels. Many of the men were from Afghanistan. Thomas Elder imported the camels and they became the nucleus of a stud at his property in Beltana. The camels were used for cartage but also the Afghans and their camels played an important part in opening up the Australian continent.
The Afghans were involved in transport, exploration, supplying homesteads and mining camps, carting ores, wool, timber, stones, water, railway sleepers, etc. They took part in projects such as the Overland Telegraph Line, the Transcontinental Railway Line, the Rabbit Proof Fence and Canning Stock Route.

Some of the exploration trips were only successful because of the expertise and endurance of the cameleers. Afghan cameleers also contributed to the war effort of WW1.
The camel drivers were denied citizenship in Australia and could not bring their wives and families.

Cigler and Stevens were the first authors to write about the Afghans themselves and not just the camels or the explorers.

About 3000 Afghans took part in the camel-driving work and for nearly 60 years played an important part in the outback until the truck reached the outback in the 1930s.

Islam in Australia is one of the most important cultural contributions of the cameleers.

Recently there have been Afghan refugees and Afghan asylum seekers coming to South Australia to escape the war and fundamental government in Afghanistan. There is an Afghan Association in Adelaide.

Some related reading

  • Brian, Janeen, Hoosh! Camels in Australia, ABC Books, Sydney, 2005.

  • Cigler, M. Afghans in Australia, Ethnic Heritage Series, Melbourne, AE Press, 1989.
    Giles, Ernest, Australia Twice Traversed (1889), Doubleday, NSW, 1981.

  • Litchfield, Lois, Marree and the Tracks Beyond, 1983.

  • Stevens, Christine, Tin Mosques and Ghan Towns. Melbourne, Oxford Uni Press, 1989.

Related Film based on Christine Stevens' research: 'Serenades'.

Related Fiction  
      Gleitzman, Morris,
Boy Overboard, Penguin
     Hawke, Rosanne,
Soyaya, the Storyteller, Lothian, 2004.
     Harris, Christine,
Outback series, Scholastic, 2005.
     Ottley, Reginald,
By the Sandhills of Yamboorah, London,                      Collins, 1965.


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