Ahmed Ackbar, a thirteen-year-old Afghan and the ‘youngest Afghan cameleer’ speaks Pashto and a very little English. He is the only surviving male in his immediate family. In late 1872 he sails into the prosperous city of Adelaide with three cameleers (Uncle Kamran, Alannah and Jemma Khan) to help look after four camels. But Ahmed has other things on his mind. What if his uncle isn’t as innocent of his brother’s (Ahmed’s father) death as he seems? As the expedition treks into an unexplored interior, Ahmed must cope with Jemma Khan’s enmity, his own homesickness, a very different culture and language, and the difficulties of exploration.
Showing part of where this expedition went.
William Gosse’s Journal
YA historical fiction about the discovery of Uluru
Recommended readership: Upper Primary& Young Adult
Part of the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge.
Viewpoint review: Summer 2011.
Goldie Alexander had written a terrific story based o the Afghan cameleers’ contribution to exploration in Central Australia. It is set around William Christie Gosse’s expedition of 1873 that set off from Adelaide to find an overland route from Alice Springs to Western Australia.
Alexander tells the story through a young Afghan boy called Ahmed Achbar, who arrives with his uncle, two other cameleers from Afghanistan and three camels. Although Ahmed is a fictional character many of the people in this story actually made this journey and it is interesting to read about landmarks discovered and named by Gosse. The story is based on Gosse’s journal of the exploration and is told in diary form through the eyes of Ahmed.
The descriptions of the desert are vivid, outlining the hardship of the long days travelling, the dust, lack of water and the dynamics of travelling in a group.
Ahmed is constantly thinking of home and worries about his family especially as his father died just before he left and his uncle may have been involved in his death. His subplot allows the author to introduce snippets of information about the religion and culture of Afghanistan.
Though some of the language might challenge the younger reader, there is a useful glossary of Afghan words and which describes the surveying equipment used by the early explorers.
This book would excite interest in both early Australian history and the novels that have been written recently for children about Afghanistan.
MAGPIES REVIEW The Youngest Cameleer (2011)
Ahmed Ackbar, a young 14-year-old Afghan, has spent six weeks at sea, and is happy to find his land-legs when he arrives in Adelaide with his Uncle Kamran. The year is 1878 and they have come to Australia to join the William Gosse exploration party as cameleers to help map a route from the Overland Telegraph Line at Alice Springs to Perth. Ahmed speaks a little English, so is able to translate into Pashto for the other Afghans in the party—Jemma Khan, Allanah and his uncle. Ahmed tells the story of the expedition through his diary entries, where we learn that life as a young cameleer is anything but easy. As well as being bullied by Jemma Khan, whenever Ahmed’s uncle is not watching, Ahmed—or Alfred, as the English refer to him—must contend with homesickness, the harshness of the Australian outback and working hard from dawn to dusk to look after the camels. Ahmed, however, has something on his mind that keeps him awake at night. Apart from worrying about being attacked by a bunyip or babalu, the bogeyman, Ahmed cannot stop thinking about the death of his father back in Afghanistan. Was his uncle involved in the death?
This is an historical fiction for older children and young adults. The story is engaging, with the likeable Ahmed recounting the story of the Gosse expedition and life as a young cameleer. Information about the life- and- death conditions endured by the early explorers; 18th century Adelaide; the history of Afghanistan; facts about camels; Afghani customs and religious observances; and the attitudes to the Indigenous Australians are all woven seamlessly into the story. The book’s themes include bullying, prejudice, hardship, endurance, friendship and hope.
Based on the diaries of William Goss, Goldie Alexander cleverly brings his story to life through the eyes of young Ahmed. Her portrayal of the relationship between the Afghans and their camels is particularly touching, as is the inner journey Ahmed takes as he contemplates the mystery of his father’s death, his growing into manhood and the responsibility he feels to look after his family back in Afghanistan.
Goldie Alexander has produced an enjoyable and informative book, Carole Poustie
Review: GO AHEAD KIDS!
Goldie Alexander’s book, The Youngest Cameleer brings to life the exploration to the interior led by William Gosse in 1873. She has based her story on Gosse’s own journal.
Goldie has chosen to tell this story from the point of view of 13 year old Ahmed Ackbar, the youngest cameleer who has to cope with homesickness and the perils of the expedition.He is also grieving for his father who died in mysterious circumstances that Ahmed is determined to get to the bottom of. Ahmed suspects that his father’s brother, Uncle Kamran was involved, an added uncertainty he must deal with on the trip.
Goldie Alexander blends fact and story seamlessly in The Youngest Cameleer to create a fascinating work of historical fiction that both informs and entertains. She also captures the unpredictability of the Australian wilderness.
“It being close to dusk, we were trekking along a dry riverbed when I heard the sound of rushing water. I ran to where the bed takes a sharp turn. To my astonishment a stream of frothing brown water was heading straight at me. Meanwhile up ahead came cries of ‘Watch out! Flood’!”
Ahmed is an engaging character and the reader is introduced to his Muslim lifestyle and the cultural differences of the participants of the expedition. There was also plenty to learn about camels and the way they live and how their bodies have adapted to the harsh environment in which they live.
The youngest Cameleer is told in diary form with Ahmed giving all kinds of details of the trip and his experiences.
“The nights are so cold, I wear my pakal and my coat, and even then I’m half-frozen.”
As the expedition continues so does Ahmed’s story and when he confronts uncle Kamran about his father’s death, the truth is not what he expected.
The Youngest Cameleer is a book for readers who enjoy history and adventure.
Review from Kids Book Capers
In 1873, William Christie Gosse set out on a mission to the Northern Territory to map a route from the Overland Telegraph Line at Alice Springs to Perth. He was unsuccessful in this mission, but succeeded in discovering and naming Ayers Rock, and naming the Agnes River, Harry’s Reservoir, and Mount Hay in the MacDonnell Ranges. This story of Gosse’s expedition is taken from his diary. It is a significant piece of historical reference for those who aren’t familiar with Gosse’s generally unknown trek into the interior.
The fictional, main character, Ahmed, is fourteen years old when he leaves Afghanistan after the sudden death of his father, and sails with his uncle to Australia to work as translator for the Afghans, and as the youngest cameleer. His goal: to earn money for his sister’s dowry and his mother’s livelihood. In the group is Gosse’s brother Harry, Edwin Barry, Henry Winnell, Patrick Niter, three Afghans – Kamran, Jemma and Allanah, and the aborigine, Moses.
A detailed insight into the life of cameleers and their bond with the animals in their care is presented in minute detail. Accompanied are descriptions of the harsh elements, unfamiliar terrains and lack of food and water, days of heavy rains and floods, and unrest from aborigines who see their land as being threatened by the explorers. The characters and their experiences on the trek appear as visual frames, and all the senses are awakened within the author’s clear and precise prose. The valuable equipment becomes visible; you can smell the camels, ride on them across the dry, merciless land, and share the warmth of the camp fires at night.
In the desert night scenes, we learn about Gosse’s past, family and education when Uncle and Ahmed exchange information. During Ahmed’s sleepless nights, we enter the boy’s internal struggle with homesickness, the unknown land, strange people and stranger customs. His suspicions about his uncle and the part he may have played in his father’s death accompany him everywhere, shadowing Jemma’s relentless cruelty that is meted out when they are alone.
Although aimed at the young adult age group, it is suited to every age group because of its valuable historical content. This is Goldie’s fifth historical fiction book set in Australia. All these books have generous amounts of Teacher Notes to be accessed on her website.
The Youngest Cameleer by Goldie Alexander (Five Senses Education)’
Review by Virginia Lowe (manuscript assessor and author)
William Christie Gosse’s expedition was the first to come upon Uluru. Here, Ahmed Ackbar is the youngest of the expedition, and an unofficial one. He had come with his uncle and the camels from Afghanistan after his father’s unexpected death, but never been officially acknowledged as part of the party (which allows Alexander to quote from the official records).
Ahmed is put in charge of the gentlest of the camels, Flower, whom he loves dearly. One of the evocative (though the artist is unacknowledged) sketches throughout, is an excellent portrait of her, and another one of Ahmed and his dingo pup. The drawings certainly add to a chapter book of this length.
The Europeans are trying to find a route between Alice Springs and Perth. Alexander describes each of the party well, Europeans and Afghans – and there is an indigenous boy Moses, too, to help them communicate with any ‘blacks’ they come across. He does communicate, helps the party find water when they desperately need it, and even captures a dingo pup as a pet and companion for Ahmed.
The mysterious ways of the Europeans are described – some are friendly, some are not, some like the Afghani food, others will not touch it. Not only has Ahmed to cope with the strange culture and horrific, if beautiful, terrain the party has to cross, but he has worries of his own. What had his uncle to do with the death of his brother, Ahmed’s father? Will he earn enough money to pay for a good dowry for sister Salah? Is Uncle planning to marry her? Will his little brother Yosef have forgotten him? And his attraction to the feisty Margaret on one of the stations they stop at.
This little known piece of our history, and the people who acted in it, are vividly brought alive in this, Alexander’s fifth historical novel for older children. The date was 1872/3 (just seven years before my grandmother was born, incidentally – not really so very long ago!) I’ve never seen the giant red rock, and her description of the first European sighting makes me want to pack up and go, at once!
Review By Jill Smith©August 2011
Ahmed Ackbar is 13, through his diary letters to family back home; we journey with him in Australia with his Uncle Kamran and two fellow Afghan cameleers. He is the youngest cameleer joining an English explorer’s journey across a continent. The country he crosses is so unlike his Afghan homeland, yet shares a desert that camels are best equipped to cross.
Although arriving in Australia speaking Pashto his native language and very little English. He quickly learns to increase his meager knowledge of English, so helping his cameleers cope with the strain of dealing with infidels. Ahmed works hard and proves to be a valuable member of the expedition as an interpreter.
The culture is a shock, as people he comes to treat as friends, do things that are not acceptable to his religion. They are equally tolerated by some of the party, thought of as odd by others, because they stop for prayers, and are despised by another.
At one point when they reach an isolated station to rest, Ahmed befriends the three children living there. He finds himself playing competitive games with the boy and allowing the girls to ride his camel. Just being alone with a female is not something he wants his Uncle to discover as it is taboo.
The book is a wonderful and accurate, drawn upon history, account of the W C Gosse exploration, tracing the journey along the inland telegraph route to Alice Springs and the discovery of Ayers Rock now known as Uluru. The naming of the landmarks along the way is also interesting, Goss contributed a great deal to Australia’s history.
The journey is a self discovery and coming of age event for Ahmed, as he is also wanting to learn how his beloved father recently died. To him, it is a mystery, and his Uncle Kamran holds the answer. He must be man enough to ask the questions burning in his mind.
Goldie has produced a book that is sure to be a school staple, as it invites young readers to question their outlook on the world and to investigate our own past. Exploration of Australia would not have been as successful without the assistance of cameleers.
My most recent fiction The Youngest Cameleer has been one of my greatest challenges as I took on the personae of a 14-year-old Moslem. A lesser known exploration into the interior was led by William Gosse in 1873. The various members of this exploration (both European and Afghan) did exist and my story is based on Gosse’s own journal and often using his own words. This expedition was the first non-indigenous group to stumble across Uluru. Without the use of the Afghan cameleers they might never have survived the harsh conditions they encountered. Some cameleers even lent their name to well know landmarks: Kamran’s Well. Alannah Hill.
My intention was to bring this expedition to life. In late 1872 Ahmed sails into the prosperous city of Adelaide to help look after four camels. But he has other things on his mind. What if his uncle Kamran isn’t as innocent of his brother’s death as he seems? As the expedition treks into the interior, Ahmed must cope with Jemma Khan’s enmity, his own homesickness, and the difficulties of exploring unknown territory.
If we don’t have Aboriginal ancestors, we are all migrants. My parents came from Poland in the late twenties. Our great migrant waves have occurred at various times: during the gold-rush, straight after World War Two, and in the seventies when the ‘boat people’ arrived. Given the current political climate, it is good to recall that Afghans have been responsible for opening up this vast continent and that without their camels the task would have been harder than it already was.