History is defined as the study of past events, particularly those of human affairs and at this point in time we have a unique opportunity to represent the full diversity of perspectives through storytelling. Kuranda Seyit, a former graduate of the Certificate IV in TV Production and former Metro staffer on Changing Images Multicultural Film Festival, has recently completed a film titled Battle of Broken Hearts: History of Australia’s Muslim Cameleers.
The Battle of Broken Hearts retraces the steps of the early Afghan cameleers, and explores the amazing lives of some of these men and the many years of discrimination and injustice that many of the cameleers had to endure in a white Australia. The story is told through the words of historians and descendants of the cameleers. The film evokes what life was like for a Cameleer – their survival instincts, their religion, their relationship with Europeans and Aboriginal Australians, and the eventual decline of the industry.
For three decades Metro Screen has supported a diverse community of emerging talent, it’s always exciting to catch up with past alumni and hear their latest stories.
Where did the inspiration for “Battle of Broken Hearts” come from?
I’m Muslim. And Muslims in Australia get their fair share of negative press and often we assume that Muslims are relatively recent to Australia but not many people know that over a 150 years ago we gained a small but permanent Muslim population who contributed greatly to the building of the outback including exploration, construction and carting goods across the dry interior. So I wanted to highlight this episode of Australia’s history, mainly as a testament to their legacy.”
How long has it taken you to get this far?
We’ve worked on this project for over seven years, researching and interviewing the direct descendants of the cameleers. These men were not all Afghan because that was their collective name given to them by the Europeans, although they were mainly from Afghanistan others came from places like Baluchistan, Punjab and Rajasthan. We are at a final stage of the film but it needs some dramatisations and a bit of tweaking to get the film right.
What was it like making the film?
Well, with virtually no funding we had to struggle to get the production under way, so we did it in pieces, most of the film was shot in South Australia and in Broken Hill. We still need to pick up a few shots in West Australia. A lot of driving, kangaroos, emus and rough nights on the road, but most fun part was meeting all the Afghan Descendants and hearing their stories. We met some memorable characters like Bobby Shamroze and Mona Akbar, both advanced in age but full of life. Most traces of the cameleers have vanished today, although their houses of prayer still stand in some of the places where they lived such as Adelaide, Broken Hill, Marree and Perth. Once the original cameleers passed away their children lost most of their culture including practicing their religion. It was virtually impossible to preserve their religious identity because unlike today where we have many more Muslims in Australia and strong institutions and schools, the Afghans were usually working their camel strings in the outback while their wives reared the children with Christian values and beliefs.
So it’s been a while since you were at Metro Screen, how have things developed for your career?
Well, I haven’t actually made filmmaking my main focus in life. I am very passionate about human rights and humanitarian relief work, I have also worked in the multicultural community with capacity building and so on but I have also kept going with my film work too. The year after I graduated I made my first doco for SBS TV and that was just a lucky opportunity which came my way. It was called Always a Visitor and the film explored life of a Muslim migrant family in the western suburbs. I have also made a short doco for Dateline.
The team is currently calling for support to help cover post-production costs and get Battle of Broken Hearts ready for broadcast. If you’d like to help get this story on to television screens visit their Pozible campaign to find out more.