A man named “Horrock” brought the first Dromedary Camel (Dromadeus bactrianus) to Australia on the 12th October 1840, at Port Adelaide in South Australia. It was the only survivor of a group of camels that was shipped from the Canary Islands, north-west Africa.
Two other camels arrived later that year and by the 1860’s, they were arriving by their hundreds, most were to establish the ‘Thomas Elder’s Beltana stud’ in South Australia, in 1866. They were also used for the increasing demand of the exploration and transport of ‘inland Australia’. The camels that were bred in these studs were more superior in quality that their counterparts in the camels native India and Pakistan, but the camels from these parts of the world were still being imported till 1907, because of the large necessity of cheap camels.
Over 10 000 camels were imported and along with them came the Afghan cameleers. The camels and the cameleers, whom became known as ‘Ghans’ (short for Afghans), received a mixed reception when they arrived.
Due to their adaptability to the harsh and arid Australian ‘outback’ environment, not unlike their native homeland of the Middle East, the camel was ideal for the ‘pioneer’ expeditions and was used by the early explorers, such as Burke and Wills, as well as Lasseter who went on to perish in the desert in search of gold.
Soon after, camels became a familiar sight across inland Australia. Without camels, early exploration would have certainly have been much more difficult, and almost impossible.
The camels carried supplies inland for the mining and sheep industries, aided the building of the ‘Overland Telegraph Line’, the ‘Canning Stock Route’, major fence lines and the ‘Trans-Australia’ and ‘Central Australian’ railways. But their ‘glory days’ weren’t long lived.
Outback police, boundary riders, and postmen continued to use the camels, but with the invention of motor transport and its introduction to Australia in the 1920’s the ‘Age of the Camel’ was at an end. Animals that were once sold for £50 or even £100 (about $600 and $1200 by today’s standards) were now valueless. Rendered useless, they were destroyed or released into the Australian wilderness.
Recently the longest north-south train route in the world was
opened. It goes from
Adelaide in South Australia, through to
Darwin in the Northern Territory. The train was called the
‘Ghan’ after the camels and cameleers that helped the early
explorers in their routing and navigating of the outback. The
train at full length stretches to being over 1 kilometre long.