The Great War

The declaration of war by Britain in August 1914 committed, without consultation, the whole empire to the conflict. Australia was an enthusiastic supporter in the main, with only the Industrial Workers of the World opposing the slaughter. With a population of four and a half million in 1914, this country by 1918 had recruited 400,000 volunteers. Of the 330,000 men tiny Australia put in the field, over 59,000 lost their lives. An entire generation was thus sacrificed. Prime Minister Hughes had tried to introduce conscription for overseas service in 1916 but was defeated in a referendum campaign which split the nation. Sectarian divisions amongst Christians were widened by the championing of anti-conscription by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Dr Mannix.

There was apparently a slanderous claim by anti-conscriptionists that conscripts sent off to war would be replaced by “the introduction of coloured or cheap labour into Australia.” Prime Minister Hughes denounced such lies and exposed the false claim made at an anti-conscription meeting “that 4000 Maltese had landed in the Northern Territory.” It was true that a batch of 200 Maltese was on its way to Australia “but, owing to my having given an undertaking that during the war no coloured labour would be admitted into Australia, I have notified the British authorities that it is not the intention of the Commonwealth Government to admit them into Australia.” White European Christians, the Maltese, were not acceptable in 1916. Muslims were even less acceptable. That was revealed in 1919 by an outcry over a false rumour about the Northern Territory. Seeking to make political capital out of a racial scare, Senator Ferricks had told a meeting in Brisbane that 379 Turks had arrived in the Territory. The Minister for Home and Territories quickly explained that during the past three years about 300 Greeks had entered the Territory but on passports issued by the French, who had been in charge of some of the islands captured from Turkey. They were not Turks at all.

Attitudes towards Muslims were affected by the war. War propaganda in the press against the Caliph of Islam, the Sultan of Turkey, wounded many Muslims but physical assaults against Muslims do not appear in the record. Even when two “Turks” who were in fact Afghans, shot up a picnic train in Broken Hill on 1 January 1915, there was no actual anti-Muslim or anti-Afghan pogrom, although it came close. The Melbourne Argus carried a six level headline on the day after the shootings: “Turks Attack Train; Entrenched near railway; Broken Hill Sensation; Four Picnickers Killed; Seven others Wounded; Police Shoot Murderers.” An ice-cream cart with a Turkish flag flying on it, and two men crouching with rifles pointing at the train, had been noticed by a passenger just as the train passed them. They fired 20 or 30 shots, killing Elma Cowie and three men and wounding six, including four women, one of whom was a 15 year old girl, Lucy Shaw.

Mulla Abdullah, who was killed in the subsequent gun-fight, was about 60 years old and acted as imam at the Broken Hill mosque. Just a few days before the attack on the train.”…Chief Sanitary Inspector Brosnan had taken him to court for slaughtering sheep at the Ghantown when he was not a licensed member of the Butchers’ Union.” This was in fact an act of religious persecution for it was well known that the Muslims would only eat animals slaughtered in accordance with Islamic requirements and unions at that time had racially discriminatory policies. Muslims were thus placed in an impossible situation. Mullah Abdullah said in his last letter that he was dying for his faith and in obedience to the order of the Sultan “…but owing to my grudge against the inspector it was my intention to kill him first. Beyond this there is no enmity against anybody, and we informed nobody.” The translation of his letter which appeared in the Melbourne Argus included the statement “I have never worn a turban since the day some larrikin threw stones at me, and I did not like it. I wear the turban today.” Gool Mahomed, now an ice-cream vendor, was most likely an ex-cameleer who had worked in the mines after the railways had moved in. Many men, including Afghans who had sought work in the mines, were retrenched when the price of silver fell with the onset of war. The letter he had in his waistbelt, certain he would die, stated that he was a subject of the Sultan and that “I must kill your men and give my life for my faith by order of the Sultan.”

That night a crowd of patriotic Australians burnt down the German Club in Broken Hill. Heavily booted soldiers and police searched the mosque in the Ghantown for a constable the Afghans had supposedly imprisoned and then as the searchers were leaving, a mob from the burning of the German Club arrived. The police and soldiers guarded the camp until the mob departed. “By the following day Broken Hill mines had rid themselves of all employees deemed under the 1914 Commonwealth War Precautions Act to be ‘enemy aliens’. Further south, two days after the Broken Hill massacre, there was a demonstration outside the Adelaide Mosque in Little Gilbert Street. When the demonstrators pulled down a Muslim flag attached to a metal pole on the minaret, they bent the pole. This remained untouched as a reminder of the incident for many years afterwards. Fortunately the police came and protected the mosque, so it was not invaded. The incident at Broken Hill was to have even further repercussions. At the instigation of the Attorney General, Billy Hughes, all ‘enemy aliens’ in Australia were interned for the duration of the war.”

Turkish subjects were the main object of interest for the authorities rather than Muslims as such. The Commonwealth Military Forces Third Military District Headquarters Melbourne on 6 November 1914 had requested police for any information as to the whereabouts of any agents of the Turkish Government. It also asked for the “issue of secret instructions for all Turkish subjects to be kept under surveillance by the police throughout the State.” Detective Howard reported on 22 November that instructions had been issued that Turkish subjects were to be treated the same as Germans and Austrians and that all non-naturalised Turkish subjects were reporting weekly to the police. On 30 November he reported that the Turkish Consulate, an Australian military officer, had informed police that “he does not know of a single Turk in Melbourne and if he knows of any he will at once let me know”. He also reported that the leading member of the Muslim community, a Syrian merchant ” Mr Jaboor of Lonsdale Street has also promised to inform me of any Turks that may come to the State.”

Aware that the war against Turkey and the Caliph of Islam would be unpopular with millions of Indian Muslims, the British were sensitive to any links between Istanbul and India. General Niazin Bey, who was responsible for an empire-wide security scare in 1915, was suspected of being involved in the establishing of such links. A British Admiralty Secret Circular was sent out to all ports in Australia, warning that this Turkish General had “recently returned from a Mission to spread sedition among the peoples of India.” It was understood that he was seeking to return to “Constantinople via Dutch Borneo and Holland” so all Boarding Officers were instructed to look for him. His detailed description was given. He was believed to be carrying “signed or at least named, photographs of the German Emperor.” A little less than three weeks later, in July, the Sub-Collector of Customs in Port Pirie was warned that a man under the name of L. Dillon, expert mechanic had left Galveston for Sydney on 1 July. Boarding Inspectors were instructed to look for him and report by wire should Dillon arrive. He was apparently suspected of being General Niazin Bey in disguise.

There was evidence of suspicion of Muslims compared to Christians in wartime regulations. The Director of Military Operations for the Chief of General Staff on 22 January 1915 issued instructions that “Any Turkish subject who is by race a Greek, Armenian or Syrian or member of any other community well known to be opposed to the Turkish regime and a Christian and who gives no cause of complaint may be excepted from paragraph 4 Aliens Instructions. Any such person now interned may be released.” The list of internees in March 1915 showed in Six Military Districts 2200 German and Austrian internees and only one Turkish subject. Sixty-nine Turkish subjects were on parole, reporting weekly. States were required to provide a list of all Turkish subjects registered under the Aliens Registration Regulations. Returns for South Australia indicate that they were all Christians, mostly from Lebanon.

The authorities were vigilant in defence of patriotism and took swift action where disloyalty was suspected. The flying of a Turkish flag in Northcote, Melbourne, caused some consternation. Mr Sharp of Fairfield Park reported to Victoria Police Intelligence Section that the offending flag was flying from a 30 foot flagpole in Separation Street Northcote next to the Little Sisters of the Poor. Sergeant Arthur of the Northcote Police was sent to investigate and he reported back to Victoria Barracks on 6 August 1915 that he had interviewed the man responsible, Dervish Ali. The Sergeant gave him sound credentials as “..a loyal subject married to an English woman and his house inside is bedecked with the portraits of our King and Union Jacks”. “Dervish Ali informed me that it is the Mohammedan flag and that he being an Indian he is simply keeping up the religious custom of the fast of Ramadan which is now being kept in the Mohammedan world.” The flag was taken down.

A taste of the nastiness brought out by war and its accompanying jingoism is given by the records on the “Turkish Tom Thumb”. In a file marked “Secret” there is a letter written in blue pencil on tissue paper addressed to Commander, Victoria Barracks Melbourne. From Fred H. Jones it is a warning that his ‘small man performer’ understood to be ‘a Turk’, “…has given his intention of slipping away by boat, taking several hundred pounds with him.” Jones went on “I am an Australian and consider that this money should be made stop in the state.” Telling the Commander “I considered it my duty to inform you” he asks the authorities to call before Saturday at his lodgings 539 Victoria Parade East Melbourne where the miscreant Hayati Hassid was also staying. They acted quickly. The denunciation was received on 21 January 1915 and on 23 January, Hayati Hassid was hauled in as an alien and required to sign an undertaking “that I will neither directly nor indirectly take any action in any way prejudicial to the safety of the British Empire during the present war.” Described as “European Tom Thumb”, Hassid weighing two and a half stone and only thirty inches tall, was released on parole the same day. On 26 March Fred Jones again denounced his employee, accusing him of spying, presumably for the Sultan of Turkey. He was also still obsessed about the funds he claimed Hassid was accumulating. Writing about their country tours he said Hassid ” …gets full particulars of each town visited and he has of big heap of particulars of each town.”

The Melbourne Argus carries a report from some months later headed “Mayor of Tiny Town; Claim for Wages; Question of Nationality.” Hassid was claiming forty-six pounds in back wages from Fred Jones, but the defence argued that as he was a Turk and an enemy subject he had no right to sue. Mr Lazarus for Hassid, argued that his client was born in Salonica which was now Greek territory so could not be regarded as a Turk. The presiding magistrate reserved his decision until Friday. That very day, according to the police files, Hassid was accepted as a Greek subject by the Greek Consul in Melbourne. As a Greek subject of Hebrew parents he was “entitled to the privileges which accrue as a subject of a neutral country.” The last entry is dated 5 November 1915 with Detective Howard reporting that when last seen, Hassid had told him he was going to America. He had been sending money out of the country, to his sister-in-law in New York, at the rate of five pounds a month.

There was no doubt that Turkey was seen as an enemy, but not the leading enemy. The press was replete with stories of German atrocities. There were stories of Turkish atrocities but Australian troops denied them. In June 1915, just after the horrors of the attempted landing on Gallipoli, the wounded arriving in Cairo “…state that the Turks are fighting most fairly. In one case a Turk dressed the wounds of a British soldier under fire. Another left his water bottle with a wounded Australian. An Australian who was taken prisoner, but subsequently escaped, states that he was very well treated.” Sergeant Niven Neyland who was captured, wrote to his wife in Toorak, telling her that he and his companions, three Englishmen and two Frenchmen, were being well treated by the Turks. “I did not expect to be so well cared for.” “Turkish Chivalry” was again reported in 1916. A barge loaded with 300 wounded and medical personnel had become stuck in the mud in the British march on Baghdad and was abandoned. It was the Turks who towed the barge downstream under a white flag and returned all on board to the British camp unharmed. Such reporting was a contributing factor to ameliorating anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim hatred in Australia.

The Crusader tone of reports on the capture of Jerusalem must have been the source of misgivings amongst those Muslims who had not thought of the implications of Indian and some Arab soldiers fighting against the Sultan of Turkey. This victory was reported as enhancing Britain’s prestige in the east and exercising an important influence in Russia which, at that time, supplied the majority of Christian pilgrims to the shrines in the city. The Chief Rabbi of London described the news as ‘soul-thrilling’. A Papal Encyclical decreed that Roman Catholics all over the world, even those in enemy countries, should give thanks for its delivery from the hands of the Turks. Papal neutrality was clearly suspended: “the Pope has addressed to the Catholic bishops an official communication stating that any attempt to return Jerusalem to the Turks would be a crime against Christianity.”

The Indians, the Empire and White Australia

The question of British India and the White Australia Policy was placed on the national agenda well before the outbreak of the Great War. Voices in India were being raised against it and legislation against dominions which discriminated against Indians was being discussed as early as 1911. Dr J.W.Barrett, who had attended the Universities Conference in Britain in 1912, returned to Melbourne reporting that “Unpleasant reflections upon Australia had been made in his hearing as a result of the manner in which the White Australia Policy was being enforced.” “Educated Indians…expressed strong resentment at the conditions which educated and enlightened men,…were obliged to put up with.” And further “..Indians had even advocated the exclusion of persons from the dominions from India.”

The war did not make matters any easier for the racists. Report after report came in of the valour of Indian soldiers in the Imperial Armies. One such report from 1915 mentioned one of many examples of heroism. “A battalion of Pathans, after a forced march, was advancing along a road towards the scene of action when a shell fell, killing and wounding 16 men. The survivors did not even break their columns of fours, but simply closed up and marched straight on.” Despite these sacrifices, the Australian press was adamantly denouncing any weakening of the policy of racial exclusion and warmly reporting any defence of White Australia. Lord Carmichael, former Governor of Victoria and of Madras, presiding over a London meeting of the East India Association at which Indian migration to the Northern Territory was attacked, said that it was useless to hope that Australia would ever abandon the White Australia ideal, with which he made clear, he “thoroughly sympathised.” In fact, he suggested, those who opposed it had base motives. “The only exception were a handful of Australians financially interested in exploiting Indian labour.”

Others were not quite so adamant in their support for racially based immigration restriction. Sir Henry Richards, Chief Justice of the North-Western Provinces of India, on a tour of Australia the year before, did not mince words. “It is permitted to me I think to point out that your immigration restrictions were resented, and bitterly resented, in India-not by men who would like to come here, but by the ruling chiefs and educated class. From the standpoint of national dignity, those regulations are regarded as an insult to Indians.”

The local Muslims apparently did not dare to call for the overthrow of the racist policy. In 1918 in a letter to the editor over the issue of the policy, Sheikh Abdul Kader of Carlton Victoria reassured readers, “I do not hint in any way against the White Australia policy. I would be the last man to see Australia flooded with cheap labour”. He called instead for ‘justice and fair play’. Reminding readers that “India has remained a loyal and staunch supporter of the British throughout the present crisis” he appealed “for certain rights which are denied to us on the ground of our being Asiatic. We should be allowed to vote, and also we should have the benefit of old-age and invalid pensions.” He recounted the story of one member of the community, an old man who had spent his life in Australia, “…applied for a pension and was pointblank refused on the ground of his being Asiatic. After all we are human and it did seem humiliating to us.” A response a week later, from F.T.Hodgkiss supported the call for change, based upon respect for Indian loyalty to Britain. “The spirit shining through Sheikh Kader’s letter illustrates the loyalty of the Indian Moslem, and is the reply to the Kaiser’s grandiose appointment of himself as ‘Protector of the Mohammedans’. Cannot Australia render something in return for all this, so that we can meet this brave and loyal people with countenance unashamed?” The right to vote was withheld until, after a visit of the Indian statesman Dr Sastri in 1925, some Indians in Melbourne tested the matter in court and won a favourable verdict.

At least Indian Muslims were not discriminated against on religious grounds during the course of the war. The Austral-Indian Society of Melbourne had applied successfully for Saied Lal Shah to visit in 1911 and obtained an extension to cover Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr and in November “Bakra Eid”. Unable to come in early 1914 due to illness, his exemption from the dictation test was extended twice. The outbreak of war did not cause any disruption to his visit and on 1 September 1914 he was residing at the shop of Mr S.M. Jaboor in Lonsdale Street Melbourne. Mr Jaboor, who had put up a one hundred pound security bond to the government for his visit, was the same man who had told the police he would inform them of any Turks he might come across. Lal Shah was given an exemption for another twelve months. Although the authorities made sure he was about only religious duties, there is no indication at all that he was even suspected at the height of the war of being a possible security risk although a well respected and active Muslim imam. He spent much of his time travelling around the interior of the country visiting Indian Muslims on their rounds, for nearly all of them were hawkers.

Several years later, in 1928, Fazal Deen of 299 Exhibition Street, applied to bring Lal Shah again. Fazal Deen, on investigation, was found to be a substantial property owner with a good bank balance. However when informed that there was already a ‘Mohammedan priest’ in Melbourne, Sayed Ameer Shah, Mr Deen replied that “…he does not belong to his (Fazal Deen’s) faction but to another faction altogether. Deen further stated that 22 Mohammedans make his place their headquarters when they return to the city after their country excursions.” Nearly all of his congregation “spend the greater part of their time hawking about the country.” On 9 October the Minister regretted that he was unable to grant the desired authority in this case. By that time racial and religious tolerance was weaker and the Muslim population had declined.

Over in Western Australia, Mohamed Hasan Musakhan was still in action, defending Islam from attack. The impact of the Great War upon his thinking, and probably that of many other Muslims of the time, was reflected in his response to an Islamophobic article in the “The Western Mail” in 1926. It carried an article stating that “Islam’s paradise lies in the shadow of the sword.” After quoting relevant verses from the Quran on the importance of tolerance and peace, Musakhan quoted warlike passages from the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke, to which he attributed the bloodthirstiness of the Christian countries. He wrote of their huge investments in the production of weapons “for the destruction of human life and property”, the evil nature of which had been demonstrated “by the last earth-shaking European war”. He went on: “The Christian weapons of destruction cut deeper and reach further than the sword of Islam. The Moslems never attempted to invent such deadly weapons of war. The Christian nations have surpassed all followers of other religions in the fighting ability in the name of peace, paradise and civilization.” He concluded with a widely held opinion amongst Muslims; “It is generally observed that Christians fail to see the beam in their own eyes whenever they attempt to attack or ridicule the religion or empire of Islam.”

A year later he is in print again, welcoming the inauguration of Canberra and mourning the decline in his beloved industry that had occurred between 1901 and 1927. At the time of federation, the camel was of sufficient importance to permit him to present a riding camel to Her Highness the Duchess of York and Cornwall while she was visiting Perth. He now wondered whether their royal son, present for the inauguration of the new city, “…would perhaps be moved by the significance of the absence of the “ship of the desert”, as a means of locomotion in Australia.”

During that time, Musakhan himself had moved from mainstream Islam. In a letter to General Pau and the French Mission visiting Adelaide in 1918 he presents himself as spokesperson for the Muslim community and separately identifies himself as representing the Ahmadia community. There is no evidence that the significance of this sectarian development was understood at the time by other Muslims in Australia.

Pearling and White Australia

At the time of Federation in 1901 Australia was leading the world in the pearling industry. Broome, with its many Malay inhabitants, produced 80% of the world’s pearl shell. The pearlers, originally Malays from the Dutch East Indies, then increased by numbers of Filipinos and Japanese, were indentured to their employers. This method of employment, similar to slavery, was going on certainly until the 1940s. Abu Bin Draham, brought to Australia by North West Pearlers Pty. Ltd. in 1918, applied for registration under the Aliens Act in October 1941. He was recorded as “indentured to Owen.” Pearling is extremely hazardous and claimed many lives. It was an industry which, despite the immigration laws of the time, was not regarded as suitable for ‘white men’.

Although there were voices raised to end this reliance on ‘coloured labour’, the industry fought back. Reports of the sessions of the Pearling Commission in 1916 show how strongly industry opinion supported the status quo. There was even a suggestion, delivered by the Mayor of Broome to a civic reception for the Pearling Commission, that the North-West should secede from Western Australia and become a Federal territory “with an administration in touch with local affairs” Witness after witness before the Commission warned that the end of Malay, Japanese and ‘Manilla Men’ divers would kill the industry. One master pearler, Mr Tilly said that it would be possible to work the pearling grounds from the Dutch islands but if that was done it would be the end of Broome as 95 per cent of the shell came from outside the territorial limit. It was clear that English divers were not able to do the job. Mr Hugh Richardson, pearler and managing partner of a major firm, said that if the pearling industry was destroyed by the inability to employ ‘coloured’ labour, “nothing would be left to Broome but the supply of a few inland stations.”

As expected, exemption from the Immigration Restriction Act was granted but the Japanese became the most favoured divers. In 1908 of 165 licensed divers only one was a Malay. Malays were forced into taking employment as boat-builders, labourers, cooks and wharf-labourers. In 1911 there were in Australia, 2191 Malays of whom only 99 were females. Although most were still engaged in pearl-shelling 238 were in agricultural jobs and 311 in shipping. Not many attained economic independence. In 1921 of a total of 1860 Malays 1207 were wage earners, 14 employed labour and 131 worked on their own account. An official report presented to the Governor General in 1916 noted that the population of Broome stood at 2,700 of whom 2,200 were “Asiatics” principally Japanese and Malay. It noted “notwithstanding the preponderance of Asiatic races the population is singularly law-abiding.”

> Between the World Wars