Australia's Last Surviving Cameleer Mosque in Desperate Need of Renovation
  • Mon, 01/18/2016
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18 January 2016

The Broken Hill Mosque is a vital link with Australia's early Muslim history, but one of the country's oldest mosques could fall to pieces if action isn’t taken, the building’s caretaker says.

The mosque at Broken Hill was built in 1887. It was the first in New South Wales, and the only one built by cameleers that remains standing.

The cameleers were a group of mostly young men who came to Australia from across the Middle East.

With their desert-hardy camels, they were instrumental in exploring land and creating infrastructure across the vast desert lands in the centre of the country.

The cameleers did not leave much of an enduring religious legacy.

Documentary filmmaker Nada Roude says the White Australia policy played a role in the traditions and the religion of the cameleers fading.

“They were not able to bring their wives back, [so] many, according to history, decided to return,” she said.

“Of the remaining who stayed, history shows that they were married with the local Aboriginal community and other Europeans at the time.”

Amminnullah Robert Shamroze is the grandson of the mosque's last imam, who died way back in 1960. The grandson holds the keys to the mosque and acts as a caretaker.

“I can still see him carrying a hurricane light down here in the nighttime, and he’d say his prayers,” he reminisces.

When Mr Shamroze’s grandfather died, the City Council decided they’d sell the land off.

“People came and bought little bits, parcels of land and there,” said Mr Shamroze.

“I think they were going to knock down and sell this block, too, that’s when the Historical [Society of Broken Hill] got into it; they managed to stop them, and that’s when they rebuilt it.”

Inside, the mosque holds countless pieces of the past: prayer books and traditional clothing belonging to the men; nose pegs and saddles from the camels.

But the building housing these items is, perhaps, the biggest treasure of all.

And it, Shamroze says, is slowly decaying.

Termites, water damage and the ravages of time are all taking their toll.

“The prayer room needs a new floor on it and the wall checked on one side, and the windows fixed,” he says.

“[The annex] needs the roof done, and the back wall needs doing, and round the doorway.”

“That’ll give it a bit more time. But if nothing gets done, it’s going to keep deteriorating, and the timber will just fall to pieces.”

Broken Hill's historical society lobbied to save the site from being sold off and redeveloped after the last Mullah died. The City Council owns the building.

Mayor Wincen Cuy says he would like to see the mosque preserved for future generations – but in a city filled with historic buildings, it’s not necessarily a priority.

“Broken Hill is about our history. It should be preserved,” he said.

“Exactly who is going to preserve it? We’re not quite sure at this point in time.”

Nada Roude says the building's importance extends well beyond the small community of Broken Hill.

“Muslims have always been part of Australia’s history, but a lot of it is not known or celebrated,” she said.

“I think Broken Hill is an example of the significant contribution, and the existence of a community that made a significant contribution to the development of the Australian nation.”

Now in his 70s, Shamroze is concerned about the building’s future.

He hopes the city will find a way to remember a group that helped shape a now heritage-listed city and tame some of Australia's most hostile terrain.

“They’ve got to remember what the camel drivers have done around here,” he said.

“Otherwise, this place, Broken Hill would have been behind for years.

Source: Rhiannon Elston, "Future of historic Broken Hill mosque in doubt" SBS January 17, 2016