Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wade, Abdul (1866–1928)

by Christine Stevens

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

Abdul Wade (1866–1928+), Afghan camel merchant and businessman, was born on 18 January 1866 at Coonah (Kunar), Afghanistan, to parents from the Ghilzai tribe. His name may have been Wahid or Wadi. Although he claimed to have reached Western Australia in 1879, he probably arrived in the mid-1880s when gold was discovered in the Kimberley region. He and his cousin Gunny Khan were working for the camel merchants Faiz and Tagh Mahomet in northern South Australia by 1892.

Next year Wade began importing camels and recruiting Afghan cameleers for the recently formed Bourke Camel Carrying Co., New South Wales. An Afghan settlement, with a mosque as its central focus, developed on the outskirts of Bourke, where Wade had his house. In 1895 he was appointed manager and overseer of the company. With the firm's secretary George Tull, he made several trips to Karachi, India (Pakistan), to purchase camels and recruit drivers; in one year in the late 1890s he reputedly landed 750 camels at Port Augusta, South Australia—some 500 in one shipment. The company served western New South Wales and Queensland, including the copper fields of Mount Garnet, Chillagoe and Mungana and the OK mines. A depot was established at Cloncurry, where Sayed Omar, the ghantown's religious leader, was Wade's agent. Dressed like an English gentleman and riding a white camel, Wade was sometimes seen on the copper fields supervising his men.

On 10 June 1895 in Perth he married Dublin-born Emily Ozadelle, née Murcutt, a widow with one son. They had three sons, one of whom died in infancy, and four daughters. The drought of 1901-02 benefited Wade's business. In 1903 he purchased Wangamanna station, a grazing property thirty-five miles (56 km) east of Wanaaring, New South Wales. That year he and Tull again sailed for Karachi for an additional 350 camels and some sixty men. Faced with paying their wages upon landing at Port Augusta, however, Wade abandoned about sixteen men. Gunny Khan sought help from the police, but Wade offered only basic food rations until they found other employment.

With part of this shipment, Wade established a camel breeding and carrying business at Wangamanna station, where the Afghan settlement had a mosque. His men were put to work carrying in the district as well as harvesting and bagging salt from the property's lakes and transporting it to Bourke to be sent by rail to Sydney. Wade's monopoly of the cartage business in the Warrego region sometimes led to violent clashes with European teamsters.

Wade was a flamboyant and stylish entrepreneur, with a passion for horse racing on the country circuits. His employees treated him with such respect that he was known locally as an 'Afghan prince'. He issued a challenge for a race from Bourke to Wanaaring and back, between himself, riding a camel, and a European on horseback. The race resulted in victory for Wade, his rival's horse having died from exhaustion at the halfway mark. He liked to be seen in restaurants, clubs and hotels.

In 1902 Wade was naturalized. Next year he bought Northwood House, designed by Edmund Blacket, on the Lane Cove River, Sydney, and adjacent property, which he subdivided. According to local legend, he sometimes landed camels at Northwood wharf. His son attended The King's School, Parramatta, in 1910-11, and his daughters were educated at private schools. By 1917 he had sold his Lane Cove land, having reputedly lost Northwood House in a poker game, and moved to Chatswood. He later had property at Redfern.

Although Wade attempted to move as a successful gentleman among Europeans, he was ridiculed for his 'Afghan-ness': a ballad recounted how he purchased a new saddle in Sydney but gave it away when persuaded that it was made from pig skin, taboo to Muslim beliefs. Another tale lampooned his commitment to religious butchery restrictions: he would reportedly instruct the Gumbalie Hotel, near Bourke, to provide a live chicken which he would kill and bleed halal; he would then eat a previously cooked chicken for lunch.

Recognizing that camels were not suited to conditions in monsoonal regions, in 1905 Wade had purchased five steam traction engines in Sydney for £7000. These were intended to service the booming copper mines of North Queensland, employing European labour to operate the machines. In 1914-15 he offered his Australian camels and his contacts in Afghanistan to the Australian government for service in the Imperial Camel Corps against the Turks; the offer was apparently not accepted. Following the introduction of motorized transport into the outback in the 1920s, and the passage of the Camel Destruction Act (1925) in South Australia, Wade sold Wangamanna station. Many camels from its neglected stud escaped into the bush or were shot.

In October 1923 Wade had left for Afghanistan. Next year he surrendered his Australian passport. His wife died in Sydney in 1926. Wade was said to be living in England in 1928. His children remained in Sydney, including his son Abdul Hamid (1900-1982), a taxi-driver who served in the Royal Australian Navy in World War II.

Select Bibliography

  • G. C. Bolton, A Thousand Miles Away (Brisb, 1963)
  • C. Stevens, Tin Mosques & Ghantowns (Melb, 1989)
  • The History of Bourke, vol 10 (Bourke, NSW, 1985), p 155
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Nov 1987, ‘Good Weekend’, p 48
  • A1, item 1925/3882, A6770, item Wade, A. H. (National Archives of Australia)
  • Alan Barton collection (Public Library, Bourke, New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Christine Stevens, 'Wade, Abdul (1866–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wade-abdul-13230/text7395, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 July 2014.

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

18 January 1866
Kunar, Afghanistan

Death

1928

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation