Muslim fishermen and traders from Macassar in southern Sulawesi had begun to visit Australia's shores by the 18th century. They sailed their praus from the eastern islands of modern Indonesia along the continent's north and north-west coast, fishing for trepang and trading for pearls and pearl shell with the local Aboriginal people. It was a relationship that lasted across many generations.
Over the centuries the Macassans left traces of their language behind in the vocabularies of the Aboriginal tribes they visited. Macassan ships and artefacts were also represented in Aboriginal art.
Remains of a Macassan fire place, Bremar Island, Northern Territory, 1974
NAA: A6135, K10/12/74/9
With European colonisation, the free and easy ways of the Macassan fishermen were bound to change. The imposition of customs dues, jealousy over the trepang trade and anti-Asian attitudes gradually severed the old historical links.
But the European ships brought other Muslims – as convicts, settlers and sailors. In the 1790s a group of stranded Muslim seamen were forced to make new lives on Norfolk Island. Several later settled in Van Diemen's Land. A number of Muslim convicts, from countries such as India, Oman and Iraq, were transported to the Australian colonies in the early decades of the 19th century.
Mary Lucille Jones, 'Muslim impact on early Australian life', in Mary Lucille Jones (ed.), An Australian Pilgrimage: Muslims in Australia from the Seventeenth Century to the Present, Victoria Press in association with the Museum of Victoria, Melbourne, 1993, pp. 31–48
Bilal Cleland, Muslims in Australia: A Brief History, www.icv.org.au