Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fazal Deen (1898–1963)

by Judith Church

This article was published:

Fazal Deen (1898?-1963), hawker, battery-operator and entrepreneur, was born probably on 19 June 1898 at Mehron, near Moga, in the Punjab, India, son of Foth Deen, hawker, and his wife Umri Bebe, both Muslims of the Rajput clan. Educated at Mathra Das College, Moga, at the age of 16 Fazal married Burkit Bebe; they were to have six children. In 1922 he left his immediate family to join his father at Blackall, Queensland. Foth and Fazal hawked throughout Central Queensland, selling drapery, hosiery, fancy goods, confectionery and jewellery from a Bedford truck specially fitted with shelves and drawers on either side of the body. Fazal had brought gems from India and peddled these to miners in the region.

In 1933 he moved to Tennant Creek, Northern Territory, where he set up a general store and extended credit to hopeful goldminers. Next year, on a site south of Mount Samuel and adjacent to the Stuart Highway, he erected a battery to treat gold ore. Initially a two-stamper, it was enlarged to a four-stamper, with a crusher. From 3630 tons of ore, the plant produced 1890 oz. (54 kg) of gold valued at £13,375 in 1935-36. Although Deen engaged apprentices to work at the battery, many were discouraged by his practice of paying a portion of their wages in goods from his store. He acquired rights to a nearby government bore and charged a fee to passing drovers for the water he pumped to drinking troughs. Running goats, cattle and horses, he killed his own meat in accordance with Islamic rites.

By 1936 his four sons had joined him. They lived in a large house with ant-bed floors, galvanized-iron walls and a roof supported by mulga beams; incorporating an inner room surrounded by verandahs, the isolated home was supplied with running water and electricity. Well groomed and dignified in bearing, Deen was an excellent cook and host who conversed with people from all walks of life, and kept a supply of wines and spirits for his guests. He was a devout Muslim and observed the prayer ritual five times daily; he did not drink alcohol, nor did he smoke. With the onset of World War II the battery's engines were removed, the plant was rendered inoperable and he left Tennant Creek in 1944.

A diabetic who needed two injections of insulin each day, Deen shifted to Brisbane where he bought and managed cafés. In 1949 he visited India. While staying in a Hindu village near Moga, he narrowly escaped death in the violence that continued after the 1947 partition. Forced to hide in a cellar for thirty days, he was smuggled to a refugee camp and interned for a month before being moved to Pakistan. In March 1949 he returned with his wife and daughters to Brisbane and settled at Wynnum. Deen invested in the Chelmsford Hotel at Southport and in a Holiday Inn on the Gold Coast. Government agencies made use of his skills as an interpreter and he came to be regarded as an unofficial representative of Pakistan. Survived by two daughters and three sons, he died of a coronary occlusion on 29 December 1963 at Southport and was buried in Mount Gravatt cemetery, Brisbane. Following his death, litigation continued over £29,000 worth of gold bars alleged to have been left by Deen with a Brisbane company and lost in 1953.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Carment, R. Maynard and A. Powell (eds), Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography, vol 1 (Darwin, 1990)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 30 Dec 1963.

Citation details

Judith Church, 'Deen, Fazal (1898–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 June, 1898
Mehron, Punjab, India


29 December, 1963 (aged 65)
Southport, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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