So Jonathan and I were in Australia at around the same time in the summer of 2004. It sounds like were actually in the same cities at around the same times as well, but we never met up there. However, he was much better about posting his thoughts than I was. I wanted to pick up on his mention of Afghans (minor quibble, “Afghani” is an adjective, “Afghan” is a noun) in Australia. They have a long history in Oz, and the “new” Ghan rail line is named after them.

There’s more under the fold, but it’s image heavy, and I want to keep load times down.

In Sydney there’s not much evidence of the Afghan community. However, when I went to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock, The Red Center) I flew in through Alice Springs – a rather God-forsaken patch of earth – where the evidence of Afghans was pronounced, although there no longer is a community there. The highlight of Alice Springs is the Date Gardens. Signs for it are everywhere, starting in the airport. Everything dates, all the time. It’s only when you get there, after driving past it 4 times because it’s so small, do you see that’ it’s the “Mecca Date Gardens.” Orientalist imagery of the Middle East permeates the place, plus the smell of burnt dates – there was fire that wiped-out everything, but there were still some date products to be had, including ice cream.

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One you first walk into the gardens, you are greeted with a palm tree. Said tree’s name is “Mosque.” It gives royal dates. Let that last line sink in a bit. I didn’t laugh until slightly later; I blame it on jet-lag.

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You’re also greeted by the bird of paradise, several of them actually, Taûs. Apparently they are mean, ornery, tough, and inedible. So what exactly makes them paradisical? 😉 I’ll take my duck choo chee any day.

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The people behind the counter didn’t speak anything besides English, but some of the signs in the store were in Dari and English. I’m assuming the owners are Afghan, but like most sane people, didn’t live in Alice Springs.

These Afghans represented the earliest Muslim presence in Australia, and I hope to work up a slightly longer treatment of that history over the summer. Unfortunately, the sort of organic interaction with Australian society that the Afghans represented has now been replaced with institutional, official, state Islam. In Canberra, Australia’s capital, I went to the Canberra mosque, located on the Muslim wing of embassy row, next to Indonesia and Malaysia, and the unbuilt Iranian and Pakistani embassies. The gate was open, but no one was around. Voluntarily separate and unequal. It was a sad commentary to me about the interaction of Muslims in Australia now.

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Can’t wait to go back in a year. Will try to get the Western Australia Muslims.