Hump day

The Monthly (Australia) - - THE NATION REVIEWED - SAM VIN­CENT

The Mar­ree road­house in out­back South Aus­tralia is the last ser­vice sta­tion for 203 kilo­me­tres. From across the street, Mathew Zada watches the grey no­mads pull in to re­fuel. “See that?” he says of a LandCruiser tow­ing a jacked-up car­a­van. “Way too high for the speeds that they want to drive at. As soon as they hit the sand it’ll be­come un­sta­ble.” Same goes for the next car­a­van, ap­par­ently. And the next. Mathew knows about these things: his fam­ily has been “get­ting stranded ex­plor­ers out of trou­ble since be­fore the White Aus­tralia pol­icy came into force”.

Ev­ery win­ter, Mathew and other de­scen­dants of “Afghan” cameleers con­gre­gate in Mar­ree, 685 kilo­me­tres north of Ade­laide, for a catch-up and a curry on the site of the town’s old camel yards.

Be­tween the 1860s and the 1920s, around 2000 cameleers and 20,000 camels ar­rived from Afghanistan and Bri­tish In­dia; if “with­out trucks Aus­tralia stops”, with­out camels it would’ve stalled. The in­tro­duc­tion to the desert of the truck and the train (named after the “Ghans”) – and the Im­mi­gra­tion Re­stric­tion Act 1901 – sent the ma­jor­ity of cameleers home, but some set­tled, mostly with Abo­rig­i­nal women, in re­mote towns such as Mar­ree.

Mathew throws a fence post on a fire, its flames translu­cent in the bright desert af­ter­noon. Benches are car­ried into place to form a square. In a nearby de­mount­able cabin, women talk and cook.

The Zada fam­ily lived in Mar­ree when it was an im­por­tant hub at the junc­tion of the Ood­na­datta and Birdsville tracks. The town was also a rare source of spring wa­ter for cameleers and drovers alike. But, like many of those com­ing for din­ner, the Zadas left after the rail­way was rerouted in 1980, when Mathew was nine. Since then, Mar­ree’s pop­u­la­tion has shrunk from nearly 400 to 150.

Mathew’s great-grand­fa­ther Khan Zada ar­rived from Afghanistan around 1891, aged 14. He worked de­liv­er­ing

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.