Muslim Australian Contributions : Bux Family as a Case Study By Samina Yasmeen

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Muslim Australian Contributions : Bux Family as a Case Study

By Samina Yasmeen

This paper was written by Professor Samina Yasmeen with the assistance of Zarlasht Sarwari and Natalia Saeed.  It only presents preliminary findings of a larger project. We are grateful to friends and descendants of Mohamed Bux for their financial support and provision of necessary data. We retain the final responsibility for any inaccuracies that may still need attention

The history of Muslims in Western Australia dates back to the 16th century when Macassars interacted with Aboriginal communities living in the northern parts of the continent. The interaction left an imprint on the state in the form of common words and expressions between the Muslim visitors and indigenous populations. In the 1870s, the pearling industry in Nikol Bay was sustained by employing Asian divers of Malay origin. Meanwhile, according to Pamela Rajkowski, Afghan cameleers arrived in Western Australia from across the eastern states. 'They crossed into Western Australia either through the far north of South Australia from Marree via Oodnadatta or from Port Augusta across the Nullabor Plain via Eucla and Ooldea’. The port of Fremantle provided the second point of entry for Afghans into Western Australia. By 1897, the total number of Muslim Afghans had exceeded 500. Since then, the state has witnessed a gradual increase in the number of Muslims: in addition to new immigrants, locally-born Muslims have also emerged as an important part of Western Australia, and especially Perth Metropolitan Area. According to the 2006 Census, 24 272 Muslims live in Western Australia: 7 712 or (31.9%) are locally-born Muslims. The total number of Muslims in Perth Metropolitan Area stood at 91.3% in 2006 .

While Muslims in Perth and Western Australia have a long history, their presence and links to the state have not been fully explored.  Muslims have lived here for generations and made their mark in the society. The Bux family and the descendants of Khwaja Mohammad Bux living in Perth are an example of this continued connection to the land of Australia, and more specifically the Northbridge area. They also represent the phenomenon of globalised links between diaspora and their active role in connecting lands far apart. While being very much a part of Australia, and the history of Northbridge and surrounding areas, they also make their presence felt in areas that became Pakistan after 1947. They are active participants in both Australian and Pakistani societies and provide a bridge between the two countries.

The history of their relationship goes back to around late 1880s or early 1890s when Khwaja Mohammad Bux arrived in Australia. He was born into a Kashmiri family that had settled into Lahore and was involved in silk weaving. He lost his mother at an early age and was brought up by his grandmother and step-mother. From the early age, he was motivated by an urge to discover the world around him. He travelled within what used to be the British India. Once in Bombay (or Mumbai), he found his way to work on ships that travelled along the Indian Ocean and European routes. During one of these voyages he came to know of Australia by an English Sahib in Somali land. That kindled a desire in him to go to the country ‘with gold mines’.

The process of arriving in Australia was interspersed with visits to other parts of the Indian Ocean, visits back to Lahore and to Mecca for Hajj. Guided by his desire to go to Australia, he opted to work on steam ships in Calcutta. Although the date cannot be confirmed, he got off a ship in Singapore to find his way to Australia. Aboard a ship crewed by Malays, he entered Australia through the port of Melbourne during late 1880s where he worked for a few months. Soon he left for British India to return to Melbourne again.

His third voyage brought him to Western Australia when he alighted at the port of Fremantle. He initially worked as a hawker in the port city selling silk handkerchiefs, vests and socks and made on average a pound per day. Soon he saved enough money and rented a shop in the City of Perth for ten shillings. He combined sales through the shop with hawking. In his words: 

At that time, I was the only Indian in Perth city. Apart from me, no Indian, Pathan or Sikh was to be found there.

This was to be the beginning of a successful business career in Western Australia. Soon he was making money and was able to call his father, Amir Bux, and cousin to join him in Perth. The process of facilitating the arrival of his extended family members did not cease: he supported a number of other cousins who often worked with him prior to launching their own businesses. Khwaja Mohammad Bux, however, remained the most successful of the Bux family due to his sharp business acumen, high standards of business ethics and a willingness to take chances. This finally enabled him to rent a shop on Barrack Street which could accommodate all the merchandise he was selling in those days. He operated the Draper and Clothier Business from the rented shop on Barrack Street which in 1895 advertised sale of ‘an assortment of various articles and many Indian novelties’.  He also bought a block of land next to the shop and constructed another shop which he rented out. The business grew and he bought properties around the city area. Although at this early stage of research into the family history, we are not able to compile a detailed list of these properties, it appears that he owned property in Barrack Street, Pier Street, James Street and Mackie street opposite the Occidental Hotel.  By 1897 he also owned houses, probably including in the Mackie Street building that were rented out to various people. By 1898, Mahomed Bux was being mentioned in The West Australian as a ‘leading man among the Asiatic residents of the city’ .

During these years, he also brought his wife and a seven years old daughter to live with him in a house above a shop he had rented in Fremantle. The wife bore him two sons: one of them died at an early age but the older son studied at a school in Perth. As a practicing Muslim woman and in line with the customs of the days, his wife observed purdah and did not come out in the public. The practice got him into trouble when some neighbours reported him to the police for imprisoning a woman. Only when an English man well versed in Islamic law explained to the court did the judge dismiss the case. As narrated by his descendant, Sadiq Bux, the judge ordered that Mahomed Bux would take his wife daily for a walk at night!  The wife returned to Lahore and once again, although it is difficult to date, it appears that Mohammad Bux auctioned off his business on Barrack Street in 1899 to return to India. When ready to leave his ancestral place once again to return to Australia, he asked his wife to accompany him. She refused and suggested that he marry a second wife while she stayed back in Lahore.

Mahomed Bux married again at the turn of the 19th century. His second wife accompanied him to Perth and lived with him. She bore him a son in 1903 who was named after Mahomed’s father, Amir Bux, who by then had died in Australia in 1898 and was buried in Coolgardie.  The younger Amir Bux and his siblings were educated in Perth and their relationship with their step brothers and sisters remained amicable. According to the available records, when Mohamed Bux passed away in the 1920s (before September 1929), his estate valued at 16,000 pounds was divided according to “Mahommedan” law between his two widows, four sons and eight daughters .

Throughout the three decades of his life in Perth around the Northbridge area, Mohammad Bux retained his Muslim identity. He followed the Muslim practices, played a role in the building of the first-ever mosque in Perth, called the Perth Mosque at the corner of William Street and Robinson Street, and took pride in being a Muslim. After the court case which resulted in the French tenant being fined for housing ‘immoral women’, Mohamed Bux wrote a letter to the West Australian correcting the misperception about his religious identity. He objected to being called a “Hindoo”, ‘because he a “true Mahomedan” who believes in God, not idol worship’ . The pride in his Muslim identity did not cause him to isolate himself from the wider community. While the sheer requirements of running a successful business would have worked against such exclusionary tendencies, his own values prompted him to be an effective member of the society he lived in. One such example of community involvement was the contribution he made to the ‘Children’s Hospital Fayre’ held in April 1898 .

The spirit of serving the community also helped his country of origin. When back in Lahore, he helped build the Australia Mosque. He also realised the need for economic improvement of those unable to gain employment at the turn of the 19th century. Hence, he always willingly supported his relatives and friends who wanted to come to Australia and try their luck in the lucky country. The presence of a wide network of Bux family members around Australia cannot be explained without the pioneering role played by Mahomed Bux through his presence and business in Perth city.

One could argue that Mohamed Bux was one of the early examples of globalised Muslims who adopted new home lands but retained links with their countries of origin as well. In this capacity, he provided a link between two different cultures and ideas of how to live in multicultural environments. His descendants retained this special characteristic. His son, Khwaja Bashir Bux opened a bank called Australasia Bank in British India with a capital of 0.12 million rupees. The bank managed to raise funds and was the only fully functional bank at the time of Pakistan’s creation in August 1947. By the end of 1970, it operated 101 branches in the country. The bank was taken over by Allied Bank in 1974 which continues to operate in Pakistan . Khwaja Bashir Bux’s house in Lahore was also called Australia House.  

These cross-continental identities continue to exist today. The descendants of Khwaja Mohamed Bux are classic examples of Australian Muslims who live comfortably across different cultures bringing the best from their diverse identities and making their mark in the world.

They remain very much part of the area surrounding Northbridge.  Of the older generation, Sadiq Bux and Azra Hodgkinson are examples of such Australian Muslims who have made their mark in Australia cultural landscape. Sadiq Amir Bux, son of Mohammad Amir Bux from his first wife who died while the children were very young, was educated in British India. As a young Muslim, he actively participated in the independence movement. His sister, Azra Bux who was born in Lahore in 1927, also played her role in the independence movement as a young student at the Lahore College. Soon afterwards, their father, Amir Bux, brought them back to Perth who would often return to the city he had left to be in Pakistan. His second wife did not wish to move to Australia, but he educated his children, both girls and boys, in Perth.

Once in Perth, both siblings made their contributions to the society. As a student at the University of Western Australia in the 1950s, Sadiq Bux befriended other students and played hockey. In the words of Hon. Justice Robert Nicholson, who met him during these early years, Sadiq Bux ‘was a friendly person.   He was not hard to get to know.’ The two were to become close friends as years passed by. Upon completion of his studies, Sadiq Bux married a young, attractive and energetic woman, Salma, who bore him two daughters and one son.  Together, the young couple played a role in increasing awareness of Asian culture among other Australians. They opened a restaurant, Kafe Khyber, with their friend, Ayub Khan. They also regularly hosted visiting dignitaries from Pakistan and invited other members of the society.  Unfortunately she died in the 1970s, and Sadiq married for the second time to a woman from Pakistan, Kasmina, who has a daughter with him.

Sadiq Bux was a founding member of the Australian Asian Association established in 1956 . He was President of the Association in the 1960s for two years . He became a life member of the Association in 1986 . Through this platform, he brought people of Asian background together while also providing local communities with an avenue for appreciating the diversity of Asian cultures. Sadiq Bux also encouraged contacts between the local community and people of Pakistan. As remembered by Hon Justice Nicholson, Sadiq Bux facilitated his stay in Pakistan when he visited the country as a member of the Law Association of Asia and the Western Pacific to report on the independence of Pakistan’s legal profession.

Sadiq Bux is also a pioneer in the field of halal meat business. His business, Halal Sadiq Services, was established in 1956 . It oversaw meat slaughter and processing along Islamic lines.  His business expanded and he exported halal meat to South Asia, the Gulf and the Middle East . Although later others entered the market, Sadiq Bux is still recognised for his services and the global links established between Western Australia and the Muslim world.

His sister, Azra Hodgkinson has left her mark on different ways as well. She married a local Bengali businessman, Haque, within days of her arrival in Perth in September 1951. From the arranged marriage, two children were born: Saif and Farida. Unfortunately, Haque died in September 1956. The question of inheritance of his multiple properties became the subject of a legal case, as he already had a wife in Calcutta. The judgement issued in the case, referred to as Haque vs. Haque, stands out as an early example of Australian courts dealing with Muslim inheritance law.

A few years later, Azra married Sid Hodgkinson who converted to Islam. She is known as Azra Hodgkinson and has another son, Hassan. Throughout these years, she has visited Pakistan regularly and identifies Australia as her home. In her words:

I love Australia; I feel Australia is my country. My father was born here and my ancestors they used to have the camel train. I love Australia and I love Pakistan. I have two countries actually; I’m a lucky person to belong to two countries.

She has been active in social welfare activities: she helped Meals on Wheels, was active in Darul Shifah to help Muslim refugees in the 1990s, and has played an active role in building a bridge between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians. Her contributions were recognised in the form of an award on International Women’s Day in 2000 by the WA Ethnic Communities Council. Azra received the Migrant Women’s Award, acknowledging her help to many people in the Islamic and the wider community.

The younger generations have been equally adept at bringing two cultures together. Imran Mohiuddin, Saif Haque, Madiha Bux and Aalia Bux, Adil Bux, Melissa Haque and Adam Haque (to name only a few) have lived and worked in Pakistan and Australia. They have worked in academic institutions, real estate and other businesses. The lack of time makes it difficult to deal with their contributions properly. But the fact remains that, as fifth and sixth generation Australians, they continue to make their mark on the city and the country, and beyond.

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