Outback MagazineOutback Magazine


A Desert Sands party

Story Pat Gillespie
Photos James McEwan

A Desert Sands partyCamel-racing is becoming as much a part of the outback's sporting and social activities as campdrafting and rodeos.

With a long and honourable history in the outback (they were introduced as pack animals in the 1840s), camels are finding a new purpose as racing steeds - and nowhere more so than in the far-western Queensland town of Boulia which each July holds its now-famous Boulia Desert Sands camel-racing carnival.

As usual, Boulia's population this year increased by more than 10-fold for the three-day carnival - Australia's premier professional camel race-meeting.

Competitors came from as far as South Australia to compete for $30,000 in prize-money. With legal bookmakers and the atmosphere of a professional horse-racing event, camel racing is no longer simply novelty entertainment. The winner of this year's premier race 2km race, Bedourie Lass, earned owner, Fred Gater, $6000.

A Desert Sands party

"Elspeth" with handler Peter Hodge and jockey Karen Field after winning a 1000m heat.

A good racing camel can win up to $20,000 in a racing season. As organiser Paddy McHugh points out, Boulia's $30,000 purse is more than offered at many bush horse races.

This year Boulia course veterinarian, Doug Cluer, who spent six years in the United Arab Emirates as a racing camel vet, conducted swabs on winners and micro-chipped camels to ensure everything was "above board".

The Boulia camel races are also a party. Over three days, crowds who travel from all over the country are treated to Fred Brophy's boxing troupe, belly dancers, fireworks and non-stop fun. A highlight is always the wild camel catching competition.

Two competitors are given three minutes to catch a wild camel, and hold its head and hump on the ground for three seconds.

There weren't too many injuries, just a few busted noses and a few stitches for the humans. But the pain was quickly eased at the bar. Story end

Full story and photos: Issue 19, October/ November 2001

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