Many of you loved our recent travel feature by Perth adventure woman Sue Glasfurd, in her mid 80s, who loves roaming the nation in her caravan, often with just her small dog for company. Sue’s been on the move again, this time to the Red Centre, for a camel race! Sue filed this report:
I’ve always wanted to go to the Uluru Camel Cup. This annual event has been going for ten years and at last I was going! So it was that I organised a small group of friends to join me.
Two arrived in a caravan, two arrived with tent and swags, and one arrived by plane landing at Alice Springs and then by coach to the Camel Farm camping ground. That made six of us in total, all intent on having fun and making our fortune.
To attend the event there was the usual entrance fee, then camel money needed to be purchased. Nothing could be done without camel money.
If we needed to bet, it was camel money we had to flash. If we wanted food or wine, camel money was required. If we wanted to purchase articles from the shop, again, camel money . Easy. Just go to the money changer and then we can throw camel money around like there’s no tomorrow.
More than 2000 from all over Australia descended on Yulara to attend this camel-fest, to watch the red dust fly as the camels raced around the track – an event like no other, a full moon, stars brightly twinkling in the sky and the mystical and colourful shape of Uluru as a backdrop in the distance.
Now, I know a fair amount about horses and horse racing, that they are a majestic looking animal, that they’re intelligent and swift of foot, I know their form, their different breeds, their idiosyncrasies.
I am even not too bad at horse breaking with one on the go at the moment. My grandfather and great grandfather on my mother’s side of the family, the Dandaragan pioneering Roberts family, were breeders of race horses. One was even a winner at the Melbourne Cup during those early days, but of camels I know little. Perhaps I should have paid heed to my father’s side of the family?
My grandfather from this side of our family, Duncan John Glasfurd, was Chief of the Camel Corps in Somalia some time before World War One. That proves he would have known about camels!
Not only did he know camels, but he was famous in his own right as Director of Military Training for the whole of Australia just prior to that War. He was sent by Lord Kitchener to do that job. Then when the war started, he was sent to Mena in Egypt.
There he organised the training encampment for all those young Aussies who had excitedly signed up for a big adventure that was to become a disastrous war, nothing but hell on Earth. Again he rode and was in charge of training camels. Then on to Gallipoli as a Staff Officer for the Australian General Bridges, later becoming a General himself, but still retaining his love of camels.
And yet, with all this, I know nothing of camels.
Prior to placing a bet, I decided to check the ungainly creatures out, so wandered through the saddlery area and out to where the camels were stabled. It seems that camels are made of many left over parts of other animals all thrown together at random. Sometimes one and sometimes two humps, knobbly knees, legs that go every which way, paddy feet not hooves, shaggy coat, a face only a mother camel could love, a mind of their own, big grinding yellowed teeth, spit that could be shot out like a cannon ball at anyone they happen to dislike. Yes, that is a camel.
I checked them out, all males, albeit with two important male parts previously removed. All of them, it seemed to me, far to sleepy and dopey to race – just sitting there in the dirt grinding their teeth sideways and smiling to themselves. However one did take my fancy, a sneer on his lips, two wild eyes, a trifle frisky, with a nice manly name, Abdul.
While camels have a reputation as Ships of the Desert, and can travel for kilometre upon kilometre without water to drink, from what I witnessed, racing them can prove a horrible nightmare for handlers, trainers and riders – but they make wonderful viewing for spectators.
At last, the camels were in stalls behind the starting line, then they were off. Abdul was proving himself, the sneer on his lips becoming more pronounced. He was flying, the finish line just metres away, my fortune was to be made.
Then horror of horrors. Abdul’s feet came to a sudden grinding halt. His jockey used the padded whip, to no avail. Abdul just turned towards the following camels, let out a roaring bellow, and decided enough was enough . So much for all that camel money I expected to rake in.
The event was full of characters, full of real outback fun, with whip cracking, camel poo throwing competition, fashions of the field and so much more, as the Red Centre kicked on well into the night.
Just to keep the weekend fun at a high level, the following evening was also to be a night in full swing, a night like no other, as we all were to attend the Camel Ball. Told to “frock up and rock up”, this is just what we did.
My younger days coincided with the era of rock and roll, and the hip swaying Elvis Presley of whom my mother looked upon with horror, as he was bound to turn a young girl’s head. Songs in those days had beat and usually told a story. One song I particularly liked was a song about a fellow who was ready for love and as such was dressed in a white sports coat with a pink carnation. Now I will have you know that my friend who had flown to Alice and coached his way to Yalara is a rather charming and debonair fellow. He arrives at the ball, and how was he dressed? Frilly white shirt, a white sports coat, and a pink carnation in his jacket’s button hole and wearing deep pink matching pants, all enough to take an old girl’s fancy!
Therefore I refer to him as Lover Boy from here on.
The ball was held outdoors on a brick paved area surrounded by the never ending dusty ground. The night was cold but there were randomly placed, cut down 44 gallon drums containing roaring fires for warmth. Chairs surrounded these fires for seating. Lover Boy, being a rock and roller from old, boldly hit the dance floor, proudly showing off his moves and grooves. Immediately he was surrounded by the Red Centre’s available and not-so- available chicks.
Oh well, I thought, one can’t win ’em all, and so it was that I spent most of the night sitting by the fire with the rest of our group chatting and sipping wine, eating food bought from the food vans, and it was excellent food for food van food, while Lover Boy rocked on.
All too soon the night was over. But what about the camel money? We still had unspent camel money. Maybe just maybe, we could swap it again for real money? Not possible, the money changer insisted. Oh well, live and learn, I thought, but nevertheless I was determined to get the better of them. The following morning, when I had Lover Boy all to myself, I suggested we drove back to the Camel Farm where I could spend my money at the Camel Shop.
“Oh no, Madam,” (always be aware that if one is called Madam there is an ulterior motive), “Camel money may only ever be used over the weekend of camel racing.”
And so it is that I now have a wallet full of useless camel money, the only consolation being that all profit from the weekends events was to be given to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.