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When Islām came to Australia

Article: When Islam came to Australia
Source: BBC News (24/06/2014)

Few Australians are aware that the country's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had regular contact with foreign Muslims long before the arrival of Christian colonisers. And Islam continues to exercise an appeal for some Aboriginal peoples today, writes Janak Rogers.

The white lines are faint but unmistakable. Small sailing boats, picked out in white and yellow pigment on the red rocks of the Wellington Range in Arnhem Land, northern Australia, tell a different story from the one most Australians accept as the history of their nation.

They are traditional Indonesian boats known as praus and they brought Muslim fishermen from the flourishing trading city of Makassar in search of trepang, or sea cucumbers.

Exactly when the Makassans first arrived is uncertain.

Some historians say it was in the 1750s, but radiocarbon dating of beeswax figures superimposed on the cave paintings suggests that it was much earlier - one of the figures appears to have been made before 1664, perhaps as early as the 1500s.

They apparently made annual trips to gather the sea cucumbers, which fetched a high price because of their important role in Chinese medicine and cuisine.

The Makasssans represent Australia's first attempt at international relations, according to anthropologist John Bradley from Melbourne's Monash University - and it was a success. "They traded together. It was fair - there was no racial judgement, no race policy," he says.

Quite a contrast to the British. Britain designated the country terra nullius - land belonging to no-one - and therefore colonised the country without a treaty or any recognition of the rights of indigenous people to their land.

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