Sony A7 R111

Camels + walking

The early explorer expeditions, such as the Horrocks Expedition to Lake Torrens (1846); Burke and Wills Expedition the Gulf of Carpentaria (1860); Warburton Expedition (1873); Gosse (1873); Giles (1875-6); Elder Expedition across western South Australia to the coast of Western Australia (1891-2); Horn Scientific Expedition to the MacDonnell Ranges (1894); Strezlecki Expedition to the Strzelecki and Coopers Creeks (1916); and the Madigan Simpson Desert Expedition (1939) used camels as pack animals as only these animals could survive the harsh conditions of arid Australia.

early am, Moolawatana Station

The early pastoralists in the Flinders Ranges, such as Thomas Elder at Belatana and Samuel Stuckey at Umberatana, to cart loads of wool from the remote sheep stations to Port Augusta, then returning with stores and fencing materials.

By the 1940s the cameleers and their camel strings had disappeared from the tracks and roads of inland Australia. Many had returned to their homelands after many decades in Australia. A few lived out their days here in Australia. Thousands of camels now roam free across central Australia, having been bought here by Afghani and Indian cameleers in the nineteenth century.

camel-saddle frame

All that remains of the two mosques at Marree is a replica of one of the originals and an an old, unused rail line dividing the town into the two segregated areas along racial lines, with the Afghans and the local Aboriginal people living in the north side of the town while the Europeans lived in the south.

walking the gibber plain to Mt Hopeless

Walking with camels has its own culture, heritage and traditions. The expedition explorers rode the camels and their cameleers walked. We walked and the traditional (Afghan) saddle frames on camel string carried our food in food boxes and water in cans. The explorers set up up tents, we swagged each night.

One difference is that our walking was not a long distance walk like that of Robyn Davidson in Tracks, which is an account of walking from Alice Springs across the deserts of Western Australia to the Indian Ocean using camels. Nor was our desire to do a long distance walk to test body and soul — eg., Ffyona Campbell’s walk from Sydney to Perth in 50 days in her The Whole Story: A Walk Around the World. Nor was it to undertake a pilgrimage in the sense of a spiritual discovery of finding oneself — ie., the wounded self seeking redemption through an ordeal. If it was more like a walking tour, it was unlike the English Romantic culture of rambling in the woods or across the land; or walking as organized hiking/trekking under the auspices of ARPA Bushwalkers.

If it was a walking tour, it was not undertaken because walking is virtuous, but due to the realization that the only way to see this semi-arid country that we did not know was to walk it in a small group supported by a camel string, cameleer and a cook. We could not walk this inaccessible country without carrying our own water, and permission was needed to walk through the private property of the various pastoral stations.

One thought on “Camels + walking

  1. Pingback: Captain Sweet in the Flinders | The Long Road to the North

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