Much like how the importance of Afghan cameleers in the Outback can be traced back over 150 years, evidence of Muslim involvement in civic life was documented in the Victorian city of Bendigo close to Federation.
Newspapers reported a large gathering in the city's central Rosalind Park in the early 1900s where prayers were held and speeches made, including by non-Muslim community leaders. It was an interesting historical event, given the context of regular racism against Chinese gold miners at the time.
In the 21st century, the contribution of the Muslim community is clear in Bendigo. The city's new $600 million hospital contains a host of Muslim medical specialists, while some GP clinics - particularly those in the poorest areas - are almost entirely made up of Muslim doctors.
There was rarely any indication that racism - organised racism, at least - was bubbling below the surface. But when a mosque was proposed in 2014, a small group of individuals sought out advice from the anti-Islam Q Society, which boasted stopping mosques being built in the UK. It set in motion a chain of events that resulted in an ugly race riot attended by hundreds, while Muslims locked themselves in their houses fearing what this movement was capable of.
Like most modern disinformation campaigns, this one can be traced back to social media.
Back in 2014, Facebook carried out very limited moderation of pages - and it showed. The lies on these anti-mosque pages flowed thick and fast. They described the mosque as a "mega mosque" that would be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere (it can hold 150 people for prayer, while South Africa's Nizamiye Mosque holds 6000), that the call to prayer will ring out across the city (it will be sent by text message), that Bendigo only had 25 Muslims (it's well over 300) and that the minaret would dominate the skyline (the mosque is in an industrial area close to the edge of town). That was just the beginning.
Q Society pamphlets were handed out at council meetings, where a Christian councillor of Sri Lankan heritage was continually heckled from the gallery and had mock Middle Eastern music played whenever he rose to speak.
Black balloons were also tied up around his house by an "unknown group" after the mosque was approved. It was proof of the racist nature of this opposition movement which continually cried "we aren't racist - Islam isn't a race", despite constantly alluding to the appearance of Middle Easten people and discriminating against an entire segment of society based on their faith.
While Q Society claimed it could use planning laws to stop mosques being built, this proved to not be the case in Bendigo. Appeals against the approval in the Victorian planning tribunal and the Supreme Court were - if it were not such a serious matter - comically bad.
But that wasn't the entire intention. This was an information war they were waging and, for many unsuspecting Bendigo residents, they were the target with hopes that they would pressure councillors and politicians. As Q Society faded into the background having set in motion this chain of events, leadership of this movement was absorbed by, somehow, an even more sinister group - the Melbourne-based United Patriots Front. With prominent neo-Nazis in its leadership, its social media posts were highly intimidating and had calls to action like burying pigs heads.
A local councillor - one of two who voted against the mosque - posted an image of female genital mutilation on social media and linked it to Islam, despite this being a cultural practice that transcends religion. Accusations of child abuse within Islamic communities were thrown around - a terrible irony when considering Bendigo's massive Sacred Heart Cathedral is viewable from almost every vantage point. The Diocese of Sandhurst had the second-highest rate of priests accused of child sexual abuse in Australia - victims who would see that church as an unavoidable daily reminder of their trauma.
The mosque debate was ugly, and each claim made by anti-mosque groups was easily refutable. The mosque was, and will be, a place of worship for a peaceful community. The ridiculous becomes the absurd when considering that Shepparton and Ballarat have had mosques for years without issue.
There are lessons in all of this.
Q Society deregistered themselves this week over fears the government's religious freedom legislation will make it a target for "hostile litigation" - itself an irony. But the ease with which it could tap into racial tensions in regional Australia shows how vigilant we must be in the face of vicious disinformation campaigns.
When an oft-marginalised segment of society is the target of this, it's our duty as Australians to protect them.
It could happen anywhere.
- Adam Holmes is a journalist with The Examiner