Wednesday, July 29, 2009

They're getting the hump over camels

So today I'm thinking about camels. There's an item in the paper this morning about the camel problem in Australia, how they've got a million of them trampling around in the Outback, eating vegetation that the native animals need, making a mess of the waterholes and even wrecking air-conditioning units to get at the water inside them.

I've just been reading about camels, as background to some South Australian stories I'm writing and, like most Australian history, it's really interesting. The camels were brought in from India, Afghanistan and Persia in the early nineteenth century for transport through the Outback when it was being opened up for grazing, the Overland Telegraph line and the railway from Adelaide to Darwin, and the cameleers, casually all called Afghans (hence Ghan, the name of the train) accompanied the explorers on their epic expeditions. Once they were no longer needed, the camels were just set free, and established themselves very successfully.

I saw wild ones once on a 4WD expedition (in brand new Lexus cars with leather upholstery, fridges and 9 cup-holders each - and at the end they were far from brand new any more. My father would have wept) through the Red Centre, but mostly the ones I've got up close to are in the tourist industry. I rose uncomfortably early at Uluru for a dawn ride out into the scrub to watch Ayers Rock blush pink in the rising sun; the OH and I rode one along fabulous Cable Beach near Broome to provide the classic postcard shot against a colourful sunset over the Indian Ocean for heaps of people waiting with cameras; and on the latest trip, it was just the camel guy and me lurching through the bush at Pichi Richi in SA. Graham is a cliche weather-beaten, long, lean, laconic Aussie, but I managed to discover that he's the youngest son of 12 kids, 4th generation cameleer, a champion bronc rider at rodeos round the world and has trained racing camels in the Middle East. He was a bit distracted because his wife was away down in Adelaide with complications in her pregnancy, soon to give birth to their 3rd son, River. Brother to Malachai.

Riding a camel is less uncomfortable than widely believed, though the up and down bit is fairly dramatic; it's quiet, especially if you're used to the clatter of horse's hooves; and it's a good way to get close to the wildlife. And they don't spit - they projectile vomit, it's yellow and sticky, and can stain your skin for days.

>>> I’m trailing, er, behind a movie star’s bottom at a distance of just one metre, but I’m not bothering to play paparazzo. For a start Ned, who is wearing a rather unflattering little pooper-catcher, is a camel; and besides, there are more photogenic sights to point my lens at. The sunset, for one, which in Western Australia can be so eye-poppingly colourful that it deserves a fanfare of trumpets, and here on Cable Beach near Broome is exotically foregrounded most evenings by a string of ships of the desert.

I feel a little like a movie star myself as I sway along the beach high up on Connor’s hump while people from the wobbly line of 4WDs parked along the sand crouch and zoom and click away in quest of the iconic silhouette shot. It’s almost enough to distract me from the blaze of red and gold over my right shoulder as the sun slips away after another busy day of boosting the temperature up to 41 degrees. October in the Top End has even the locals complaining and looking forward to the Wet; but all through the Kimberley this year they are fizzing with impatience for something else as well. On 26 November (not till Boxing Day here in NZ) Baz Luhrmann’s much-anticipated epic romance ‘Australia’ is released and although it doesn’t get star billing, the Kimberley’s stunning scenery plays as big a role in the movie as do Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman...

[Pub. NZ Herald 18/11/08]

2 comments:

the queen said...

At this moment "Austrailia" is on my table, rented, waiting to be viewed.

Big Dot said...

Ummmm. What can I say? Lord of the Rings, it isn't. Unfortunately.

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