“Camel Races in the Outback?”
“Did you know camels have two rows of eyelashes?” the friendly camel handler asked me, pointing to the camel’s long, thick eyelashes.
I knew nothing about camels until the day I visited Mparntwe, known as Alice Springs, when I lived in the Outback.
“It’s to keep sand out of their eyes,” he responded, wiping his own eyes for dramatic effect.
The Central Australian desert has sand dunes reputed to be the most spectacular in the world. To write this blog, I did a little research on the Central Australian desert to find out more about it. I learned that El Niño, a weather phenomenon that travels across the Pacific Ocean and brings heavy rain to South, Central, and North America does exactly the opposite in Australia. El Niño creates dryer than normal conditions, making the Central Australian desert ideal for dromedaries.
Camels were imported during the 1900s, mostly from India and Afghanistan, to provide transportation in the vast Australian desert. Even cameleers came from India and various Arab countries to handle the herds. Later, the train put the camels and their handlers out of work. The animals were turned loose in the desert, where they have thrived.
The Camel Cup was going on when we visited Mparntwe. The races were fun to watch. Maybe they made such an impression because I was young and carefree. Or maybe I was happy to see camels instead of the crocodiles and snakes at St. Vigeons Station.
Of course, I had to ride a camel. First, I learned to mount one. Safe to do only when the camel’s sitting, the camel handler instructed me to straddle it between the humps. Once I was mounted, he told me to grab the saddle and lean back to avoid ending up on the camel’s neck and then on the ground as my camel brought it’s hind legs to standing! He quickly urged me to lean forward as the camel raised its front legs to standing. Years later, I rode a camel in Egypt and found what I’d learned in Australia, I remembered perfectly – like riding a bike, you never forget.
Visiting Mparntwe and Uluru during my years living in the Outback was one of those adventures I thoroughly enjoyed. The energy, enthusiasm, and lively atmosphere at the Camel Cup surprised me, though the races were also taken very seriously.
Like the horse races at the Kentucky Derby or the Hipódromo de las Américas in Mexico City, a fast-speaking announcer hypes the race, keeping aficionados abreast of which horse is winning or losing. The Camel Cup now has announcers and all the paraphernalia to keep you informed where your camel ranks. When I visited the Cup, it was not that sophisticated yet.
Australia has the world’s last feral herds of dromedaries. They export them to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Fortunately, the Arab countries love their camel racing so much that not as many camels are going to the slaughterhouse or the butcher market.
All photographs are used in an editorial or educational manner.
Camels – Australia Tourism
Travel by Trans-Australian Railway across Australia by Boston Public Library licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Camel Cup – (Wikimedia Commons)
All other photos are by Kathryn Lane, using an iPhone
My blog about Australia is based on recollections of my life in the Outback as a young adult.
My Life in Australia – Installment 18 of this blog is brought to you by Tortuga Publishing, LLC
My own photographs of Australia are not only limited, but they are also old 35mm film in dismal condition. To make the series more appealing to the reader, I supplement with photographs that are similar to the experiences and locations I’ve described. I’m often dependent on pictures from the public domain and Creative Commons.
Note: Names of some people have been changed to protect their identity since this is not a memoir, but merely my recollections of Australia. The name of the cattle station where I lived was known as either St. Vidgeon’s or St. Vigeons. I use the first spelling in most cases, but on occasion, the second one comes in handy.