Uber Camel at Uluru
Having just had an enlightening and awakening cultural experience over the last few days at the Red Centre, learning about Anangu laws and way of life, and the stories of Tjukurpa, (The Red Centre Rocks) it was time for a peaceful trip on the 'ship of the desert'. But before you start looking on Google Maps for an inland sea near Uluru (Ayers Rock to the uninitiated) I'm of course referring to that magnificent beast of burden, responsible for opening up our 'Outback' in the days of exploration. Certainly the camel was our popular Uber ride in the mid 19th century, in advance of the telegraph lines into and across Australia's vast interior, prior to construction of the main north-south railway line between Adelaide and Darwin, and before the advent of the combustion engine and our main present day mode of transport, Toyota.
It was our last day at Uluru and what more befitting way to see the sun setting across the dunes, while gasping appreciatedly at Uluru and Kata-Tjuta in contrasting shade and highlights, than sitting legs well astride, some three and a half metres above sand level, aboard one of the weirdest animals known to man (and no doubt designed by committee) the camelus dromedarius.
But first let's find our cameleers and then carefully pick our camel. After all, we don't want to get an ugly one, do we? And so, late afternoon found us standing outside our hotel waiting to be picked up (by Toyota bus?) and be taken to our cameleer hosts for the sunset 'cruise', Uluru Camel Tours.
We learnt that the present owners have built the business up from 12 camels, when they took it over in 2011, to 60 working stock at present. Furthermore, Chris Hill has sourced most of these additional camels from the over one million, or so, feral camels currently roaming free around the Australian outback. These feral animals compete with cattle, damage fences and access to watering holes and seriously impact the bush vegetation. It follows that there is an expanding industry around the mustering of wild camels, typically by helicopter, motorbike or horseback, with the intention of promoting either game meat, camel milk products, live export, or, in the case of Uluru Camel Tours, their use in the tourist industry.
Having worked for many years in the Middle East as a young engineer, usually in various remote locations, I am not unfamiliar with the wild camel's well earned reputation for spitting, biting and kicking. I therefore tip my hat in appreciation to Chris and his staff of young cameleers, for breaking in and domesticating these potentially bad tempered animals. It certainly was obvious that the cameleer handlers on our tour had a bond with these working animals.
Next we were lined up in pairs and 'matched' with our camel. At this point it is worth noting that camels are typically capable of carrying approximately 400kg on their backs, at least twice as much as a pack horse, and a payload which most couples would come well below. Nevertheless, I understand that the occasional larger guest rider has been asked to sit on their own, in order to ease the burden on these accommodating even-toed ungulates (Google it!).
We were introduced to our mount, Genghis Khan, and thoughts of a wild ride immediately sprung to mind. But old Khanny proved to be a gentleman (or should I say a gentle-camel) with a mild temperament.
After we mounted into our steed's magnificent home-made saddle (a major feat on its own with my weary old joints), old Khanny rose from his knees to his feet, giving out a loud throaty gargling noise, not dissimilar to the noise emanating from beneath the 'dunnie' (toilet in your country), when attempts to flush are met by an effluent blockage. You can see that Greg (our own particular cameleer for the afternoon, on the right of the above photo) has a rather bemused expression on his face, and obviously has never quite got used to this throat expulsion during the laborious rise to action.
We were advised to also make friends with the camel immediately to our rear, and just as well that Stirlo (named after the Paramatta Eels former halfback, Peter Sterling, now a regular TV sports commentator) was muzzled (see below) as he took a liking to my Qantas Wallabies jacket.
Incidentally, don't be fooled by the long eye lashes, ladies. The majority of these camels were fellas, seemingly due to their capability for carrying load more aptly, and with less whinging (not sure if this translates across to human males or not).
Soon we were on our way and travelling across the desert dunes as if we'd been brought up by Bedouin nomads. It was soothingly quiet, except for the occasional commentary provided by Greg (on the leading camel) and the young lady guide accompanying us on foot. We learned about the camels' habits (seeing first hand what happens after they lift their tails), were educated on the bush vegetation in the general area, and the wildlife, as we travelled in relaxed luxury, giving in to the gentle rolling action beneath us ('ships of the desert').
We were reminded where we were by the ever present backdrop of Uluru (Ayers Rock) some 20 km to the south and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) approximately 60 km to the west.
The above photo shows us rolling along southward, with Kata Tjuta forming the skyline. The tallish thin trees (such as the two directly behind Genghis Khan and Stirlo) are desert oak, whereas the bushy clumps in the immediate background are mulga trees. The light coloured grass mid-photo is spinifex and the darker coloured grass in the foreground is buffel grass, first introduced to control erosion, but now considered a threatening weed.
We are so adept, here in Oz, at bringing in exotic flora and fauna species, initially well intentioned, but that subsequently prove to be some major threat or other to our natives (eg rabbit, cane toad, camel, lantana, broom, buffel grass, carp, feral cat).
Then, all too soon, the late afternoon/evening glow changed, and the desert scene before us became a dramatic stage of shadowy players lit by the glow of the sun now descending quickly below the horizon.
Before we know it, we had returned to base, demounted amid more throaty garglings, and made our way towards the Royal Mail Hotel and General Store for after-tour drinks and home made damper. On route, however, I couldn't resist peeping into the saddle room to see the rows of camel saddles, each made by Chris over a period of some 30 hours using his own antique specialist saddler's tools.
The walk back to the General Store had me unconsciously imitating John Wayne, as my legs had developed a distinct curvature like a chicken's wishbone. Nevertheless a couple of glasses of red wine sorted out my aches and pains and then it was time to buy our grandson a souvenir toy before we were driven back to our hotel.
If you enjoyed this romp around the desert and my brief introduction to the Aussie camel and Uluru Camel Tours, please read my previous blog, written in similar lighthearted and jocular manner, which provides more detail on the history of this wonderfully different animal, along with a smattering of my magnificent dad jokes. The link is as follows:
The majority of the photos illustrating this blog were taken by and remain the property of Ken Boddie, except for those showing both Bakti and Ken, which were taken by Saskia Wassermann, photographer with Outback Graphics.
When not researching the weird or the wonderful, the comical or the cultured, the sinful or the serious, I chase my creative side, the results of which can be seen as selected photographs of my travels on my website at:
The author of the above, Ken Boddie, besides being a sometime poet and occasional writer, is an enthusiastic photographer, rarely leisure-travelling without his Canon, and loves to interact with other like-minded people with diverse interests.
Ken's three day work week (part time commitment) as a consulting engineer allows him to follow his photography interests, and to plan trips to an ever increasing list of countries and places of scenic beauty and cultural diversity.