Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Abdullah, Mullah (1855–1915)

by Christine Stevens

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Mullah Abdullah (c.1855-1915), camel-driver and Islamic priest, was born probably in Afghanistan or a nearby region of India (Pakistan), as he was literate in Dari, the formal language of Afghanistan. He may have come from a family of mullahs, a profession generally handed from father to son; the title was conferred after training in Islamic spiritual teachings and law at a madrasa school, usually within a mosque. Arriving in South Australia about 1890, from about 1899 he worked at Broken Hill, New South Wales, probably as a camel-driver and certainly as mullah to the Afghans at the local 'Ghantown'. As spiritual head of a group of cameleers, he led the daily prayers, presided at burials and killed animals al halal for food consumption. A sanitary inspector twice prosecuted him for killing meat illegally. By 1915 Abdullah was a grey-bearded zealot, fiery when insulted.

Also in Broken Hill was Gool Badsha Mahomed (c.1875-1915), camel-driver, soldier and labourer. He had been born near the North-West Frontier of India, in the mountainous Tirah region of Afghanistan, an area that operated under local tribal law and was never governed by the powers of Kabul. An Afridi tribesman, whose characteristics were fieriness and feuding, he spoke Pushtu. Gool came to Australia in his youth and probably worked as a cameleer before going home to enlist in the Turkish Army. After fighting in four campaigns under Sultan Abdul Mohammed Rasheed, he returned to Australia about 1912, but the camel carrying-business was beginning to decline. After working in the silver-mines at Broken Hill he was retrenched. He became an ice-cream vendor, pushing his cart around the streets. In World War I his religious and nationalistic fervour increased as he became incensed by the conflict and by the many unemployed miners enlisting in the services. He and Abdullah smoked marihuana together as they discussed their mutual grievances and intentions.

On the morning of 1 January 1915 the two men raised the Turkish flag on the ice-cream cart and, using the cart to carry their weapons, set out on a terrorist-suicide mission: an attack on a train carrying holiday-makers to Silverton for the annual Manchester Unity Order of Oddfellows picnic. Gool (fighting for the Turks against the British allies) and Abdullah (avenging his malice against the butchers' union sanitary inspector and his honour as Islamic priest) opened fire on the moving, open carriages. Four citizens were killed and seven others severely wounded. The sanitary inspector, though on the train, was not among the victims. The two Afghans then moved to higher ground where, after a lengthy exchange of fire, a posse of local rifle-club members, civilians and police rushed them. Abdullah was shot dead. Gool, wounded, was taken to the Broken Hill hospital where he died of gunshot wounds. A letter bearing the seal of the sultan, honouring his services to the Turkish Army, was found in his waist-belt. In suicide notes left at the scene of the battle, found three days later, they had written of their grievances and stated that they acted alone. Gool was illiterate; his letter, written by the mullah, was in a mixture of Dari and simple Urdu.

On the night of New Year's Day the two bodies were buried secretly and hurriedly below the floor of a public building used for storing mine explosives. Police employed an Aboriginal tracker to dig the graves; the townspeople, wanting their own revenge, had refused to bury the Afghans.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Rajkowski, In the Tracks of the Camel-Men (Syd, 1987)
  • C. Stevens, Tin Mosques & Ghantowns (Melb, 1989)
  • Barrier Miner, 1, 2, 4, 5, 12 Jan 1915
  • Mr B. Carlton, correspondence, 30 Sept 1979 (Broken Hill Library archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Christine Stevens, 'Abdullah, Mullah (1855–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/abdullah-mullah-12763/text23021, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Birth

1855
Afghanistan

Death

1 January 1915
New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation