Macquarie University
3 files

Representations of Arabs and Muslims in the outback in Australian literature and film: 1890-2011

posted on 2022-03-28, 14:25 authored by Erin Claringbold
This thesis examines the representation (and self-representation) of Arabs and Muslims in the outback in Australian literature and film in the period beginning in 1890 and ending in 2011. Much of this analysis focuses upon portrayals of the 'Afghan' cameleers, as the first Muslim and Arab community that emigrated to and settled in White Australia, and whose presence in Australia garnered significant public attention. While recent focus has been given to a recovery of the cameleer history, this thesis seeks to address the dearth of attention paid to how this history became translated into fictional portrayals. -- The thesis argues that the representation of the Afghan cameleers, while drawing upon Orientalist and colonialist ideologies and bodies of knowledge, helped to establish a tradition of Arab and Muslim representation that is specific to Australia. This tradition of representation is framed by two major practices of 'deviance and absence', wherein Muslims and Arabs are simultaneously demonized and imagined as external to Australia. Despite historical shifts in attitudes, these practices have carried through to current imaginings of Arabs and Muslims in Australia and are most evident in post 9/11 Islamophobic discourse. -- The focus upon representations of Arabs and Muslims in the outback is premised upon the significance of this landscape as a space of inherent political and national significance within the Australian imaginary. How Australia has imagined itself with relation to Arabs and Muslims is effectively allegorised in their fictional portrayal within this landscape, where they are often portrayed as those who encroach, invade, corrupt and devalue the outback, and by extension the nation. Alternatively, they are absented from the landscape altogether, their history co-opted either by white men or by the camel, which metonymically displaces them. -- In relation to these representations, the thesis also examines evidence of a tradition of counter-discourse, extending from 1890-2011, which has sought to fight against these absenting or demonizing practices and to emplace the cameleers within Australia's historical narrative. As part of this counter-discourse, attention is also paid to Muslim-Australian self-representations in the outback (unconnected to the Afghan cameleer history) and the most recent evolution of this tradition in refugee literature set in the outback, either inside or outside of detention centres.


Table of Contents

ch. 1 The Afghan menace: the tradition of Arab and Muslim deviance in Australian literature (1890-1940) -- ch. 2 The lascivious Afghan and the threat of "brown babies" -- ch. 3 'Fake Afghans' and white camels: the construction of Afghan absence in Australian literature -- ch. 4 Creating a counter-discourse: reinscribing Afghans into history, the outback and the nation -- ch. 5 Islam in the outback: Mena Abdullah's destabilising subjectivity and the question of belonging -- ch. 6 Rising from the ashes: Islamic spiritual rebirth in the outback in Eva Sallis' Hiam -- Conclusion -- Bibliography -- App. 1 (What it will come to by Anonymous) -- App. 2 (Shouting for a camel by Andrew 'Banjo' Paterson) -- App. 3 (Yussuf Khan by C.G.A. Colles) -- App. 4 (When Abdul had gone by Bakblox) -- App. 5 (A fall in Orientals by Dexter) -- App. 6 (Exiles' land by Gilrooney aka R.J. Cassidy) -- App. 7 (Abdul's love by Gilrooney aka R.J. Cassidy) -- App. 8 (The pilgrimage by Gilrooney aka R.J. Cassidy) -- App. 9 (Smiling eyes of sunset by Gilrooney aka R.J. Cassidy) -- App. 10 (The desert's daughter by Gilrooney aka R.J. Cassidy) -- App. 11 (An Afghan hawker by Louis Esson) -- App. 12 (Afghan by Douglas Stewart) -- App. 13 (A tribute to Singh by Vince Sheckleton) -- App. 14 (The Afghan king by Mena Abdullah) -- App. 15 (Sample references of newspaper articles analysed).


Includes bibliographical references

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of English

Department, Centre or School

Department of English

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Marcelle Freiman


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Erin Claringbold 2012.






432 pages

Former Identifiers

mq:28006 2066674