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Bejah, Dervish 1862?-1957

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Born: 1862? [Baluchistan, India (now Pakistan)]

Died: 6 May 1957 [Port Augusta, South Australia]

Cameleer, explorer

Bejah arrived in Australia at Fremantle, Western Australia, about 1890 after a time serving in the Indian Army. During the 19th century 'Afghan' cameleers were brought to South Australia as camels were a useful mode of transport for the arid interior of the colony. Although these 'Afghans' actually came from a number of different countries, including modern day Egypt, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, they were referred to by South Australian authorities collectively as Afghans because of their non-Anglo Saxon appearance, way of dress and belief in Islam. In May 1896 Bejah joined the Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition as cameleer to explore the essentially unknown central deserts of Western Australia. The leader of the expedition, Lawrence Wells, named Bejah Hill after him in recognition of the great skills which Bejah brought to the party. Particularly when the expedition group broke up, Wells came to rely heavily on Bejah. When the expedition returned to Adelaide, Bejah was honoured with a reception at Government House at which he was given the compass used during the exploration with a personal inscription.

Bejah settled in Hergott Springs (now Marree) in South Australia's north and became a leader in the large 'Afghan' community there. Bejah continued to work with camels using them to transport wool and later he established a date farm.

Bejah joined Wells again in 1933 on an expedition which followed the Ghan railway from Beresford to McDouall Peak. In 1939, CT Madigan invited Bejah to accompany his expedition across the Simpson Desert, but Bejah declined, sending his son in his place.

Key achievements

1896-1897: Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition

22 August 1896: Lawrence Wells, leader of the Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition, named Bejah Hill

1902: Bought land at Hergott Springs (now Marree) and became a leader of the 'Afghan' community

1933: Expedition from Beresford to McDouall Peak

Further reading

Healey, John, ed. S.A.'s greats : the men and women of the North Terrace plaques, Adelaide : Historical Society of South Australia, 2001

Jones, Philip and Anna Kenny. Australia's Muslim cameleers : pioneers of the inland, 1860s-1930s, Kent Town, S. Aust. : Wakefield Press, 2007

Journal of the Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition, 1896-7 : equipped at the request and expense of Albert F. Calvert, Esq., F.R.G.S., London for the purpose of exploring the remaining blanks of Australia, Perth [W.A.] : Government Printer, 1902

Steele, Wilfred. To the great gulf : the surveys and explorations of L.A. Wells, last Australian explorer 1860-1938, Blackwood, S.A. : Lynton, [1978]

Stevens, Christine. Tinmosques & ghantowns : a history of Afghan cameldrivers in Australia, Melbourne : Oxford University Press, 1989


Australian Dictionary of Biography Online: Search for Dervish Bejah

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