Riding a friendly camel along Perth’s shiny new waterfront development Elizabeth Quay, with Camel West, is the latest fun thing to do in this rapidly developing tourist spot. The sunniest of all Australia’s cities, you can now fly directly to Perth from London on Quantas, and, at this time of year the long sunny days and laid back lifestyle are a real attraction to winter weary Brits.
Jon Warren has taken a small caravan of wild camels, caught on the Nullarbor Plain, and trained them to take tourists on a ride through Elizabeth Quay, and along the Swan River foreshore. The cameleer was inspired to start the business about 18 months ago when he heard Perth was about to get a glut of new hotel rooms and tourists in the city would need something to do.
Camels formed a big part of Western Australia’s heritage and most of the camels from yesteryear actually came in through the port of Fremantle, and were used extensively in Western Australia from the late 1800s through to the early 1900s. Imported camels were used in early explorations like Burke & Wills, and they helped develop major infrastructure of the time such as the overland telegraph, the Ghan Railway, the Trans Australian Railway and the Kalgoorlie Pipeline. Camels were also used to open up much of the pastoral inland and by prospectors looking for gold until the 1920’s, when the motor vehicle and steam trains began to take over.
The camels in our Camel West caravan were called Blister, Big Red, Black Jack, and Mr Pink, and they were part of the largest population of wild camels in the world, before Jon rounded them up on a motorbike into a pen and picked them out as suitable candidates. Gemma, the lead camel in the train, is actually an ex racing camel, but luckily she seemed pretty laid back the day we took our ride and it was a steady walk all the way. The camel walking tour, is supervised by Jon and his able assistants, Ashlee and son Jack, and it takes you along the Swan River, through the canary island date palms, past the Bell Tower, through Barrack Square at Elizabeth Quay and back again. It lasts about 30 minutes and the new purpose built saddles are really comfortable.
Jon, our intrepid cameleer spent his early life on sheep and cattle stations where camels occasionally visited him. Camels are considered feral animals and no one actually owns them, so if you can find a mob of them and feel up to the job, in theory, you can wrangle one your very own! The camels we rode were only ten months out of the wild, but were already fully trained and had graduated from Camel finishing school in the Swan Valley, where they live out in the countryside. Jon’s aim is to bring Camels back into everyday Australian life and educate people on their amazing history, while showcasing beautiful Perth at the same time.
The large camel population in the wild is starting to cause a problem with the environment as camels are so successful at surviving in desert conditions and tend to eat everything, leaving slim pickings for the native wildlife. Consequently, alternative uses for these hardy ruminants are starting to emerge. Some camels are being sold back to the Saudis (who are big on camels) mainly for breeding, as the Australian population is largely disease free, but some may end up in camel racing or, if they are particularly attractive, camel beauty competitions at the camel festivals there. Here in Australia, some are being used for their milk which is good to drink and has properties which are beneficial for both digestion and ailments like IBS. Camel milk also makes a gentle soap and moisturiser which are great for skin conditions like eczema. Check out Dromedairy website for more details on camel products.
Camels are incredible animals – they can go for seven days without water and weeks without food, and they have earned their place here in Australia. Our Camel West gang certainly looked like they were a happy bunch, so if you are down under in Western Australia at any point, I can highly recommend a visit to Elizabeth quay and a spot of camel riding. Camel rides costs 45 AUD for an adult with concessions for seniors, students and children.