181 Sturt Street was a chemist’s shop bought by John S Cooper and also occupied by his son Sydney Cooper, a singer and chemist. Cooper sold the house in 1928 to Mahomet Allum, an Afghani herbalist and healer who migrated to Australia in the 1880s. It was later the office for Romani International Australia and the Australian Romani School of Gypsy Culture and Language.

Mahomet Allum

Mahomet Allum was born in Kandahar in the late 1850s. He was one of around 800 Afghan cameleers who worked in the Australian outback in the late nineteenth century. Allum first came to work in Western Australia in the 1880s as a camel driver, miner and trader before moving to Adelaide in 1928 and setting up his business as an herbalist at his home on Sturt Street.

Allum advertised his services regularly in Adelaide newspapers. One such advertisement described the house where he worked:

In the windows we read scores of testimonials and gaze up at photos of little children and of Eastern monarchs. Open the swing door, step across the ever-welcome threshold, and enter. Two grand canaries sing merrily to the patients awaiting their turn. On the waiting room table is a wonderful display of blossoms-poppies and the like. A young Australienne steps forward to announce our arrival…The sacred Koran, protected by rare satin, rests on his mantelpiece like a benediction. The atmosphere is like the man himself-wholesome and pure.

Many of the advertisements also emphasised Allum’s generosity and charitable works for the poor of Adelaide. As well as practicing alternative medicine, he also wrote numerous pamphlets on the subject of Islam. 

Allum was later charged with ‘imposture as a physician’ under the 1919 Medical Practitioners Act in 1935. His detractors described him as a ‘quack’ and a ‘faith healer’. He rejected these claims, saying that these were ‘abominations’ and that he practiced natural and non-invasive medicine without using modern drugs. Despite assembling a large group of witnesses for his case, Allum was fined £45.

Allum married one of his patients, Jean Emsley, in 1940 and the couple had a daughter named Bebe in 1941. He travelled between Australia and Afghanistan four times, and intended to return to Afghanistan permanently with his wife and daughter in 1953. It was reported in March 1954 that the 12-year-old Bebe had written to three Adelaide women with the news that Jean had died of smallpox whilst in Afghanistan with her husband, and that both Allum and Bebe had managed to survive the disease. Allum returned with his daughter in September 1954 because Bebe was unhappy living in Afghanistan.

Upon his return to Adelaide, Allum bought a house on Anzac Highway in Everard Park and 181 Sturt Street was re-purposed as a night club. Allum died in 1964 and is buried in Centennial Park Cemetery. 

Romani International Australia

In 1992, Nanyeta's Gypsy Taverne was opened by Marni Moroshovesti. The cafe specialised in Middle European Romani cuisine. The site was also used as the South Australian office for Romani International Australia, representing the 20 000 Romani people living in Australia. Following the closure of Nanyeta's Gypsy Taverne, the building became a residential dwelling.

By Vedrana Budimir, History Trust of South Australia

Uploaded 28 April 2015

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181 Sturt Street

Image: two story brick building with painted ironwork and veranda
Image: two story brick building with painted ironwork and veranda
Image: two story brick building with painted ironwork and veranda
Image: blue, oval plaque with white writing on yellowy-beige wall
Image: top of brick building with roof facade showing mortar and pestle

Mahomet Allum

Image: a man wearing a white turban
Image: advertisement showing a man wearing a white turban
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