first camel in Australia was imported from the
Canary Islands in 1840 by Horrock. The next major
group of 24 camels came out in 1860 for the
ill-fated Bourke and Wills expedition. The first
time the explorer Giles used camels he travelled
220 miles in 8 days without giving water to the
camels. He later went from Bunbury Downs to Queen
Victoria Springs (WA), a distance of 325 miles in
17 days and gave one bucket of water to each camel
after the twelfth day.
Camel studs were set up in 1866, by Sir Thomas
Elder at Beltana Station in South Australia. These
studs operated for about fifty years and provided
high class breeders. Working camels bred in
Australia were of superior quality to those
imported. Imports continued until 1907 from
Palestine and India as there was a need for large
numbers of cheap animals.
An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 camels, imported into
Australia between 1860 and 1907, were used as draft
and riding animals by people pioneering the dry
The camels brought into Australia were almost
exclusively the one-humped camels (Camelus
dromedarius) which are found in hot desert areas
and are highly suited to the climate in Australia.
Only about 20 of the two-humped camels (Camelus
bactrianus) normally found in cold deserts were
imported into Australia.
very big camel teams in Western Australia and the
Centre consisted of 70 camels and 4 Afghans.
Normally they travelled between 20 and 25 miles a
day in desert country. The teams would collectively
carry between 16 and 20 tons on their backs. A
large bull camel was expected to carry up to 12
hundredweight (600 kg), and small camels from 6 to
8 hundred weight (300-400kg).
Central Australia used camels in the construction
of the Overland Telegraph line, the supply of goods
to Alice Springs and to cattle and sheep stations,
missions and Aboriginal communities. Camels hauled
wagons loaded with wool to the railhead at
Oodnadatta, pulled scoops and ploughs to build dams
or perform other heavy jobs.
Most of the camels were released in the mid 1920s,
when motor vehicles began operating in the central
areas of Australia. They established free-ranging
herds in the semi-arid desert areas of
In the late 1960s renewed interest occurred in
camels and by 1970 Australia had two camel tourist
businesses both operating in Alice Springs. 1971
saw the inaugural Lions Club Camel Cup race in
Alice Springs. There are now several camel races
held around Australia. These races are over about
Ikm as compared to the long distance races (10km+)
in Saudi Arabia.
The slaughter of camels for human consumption
commenced at Alice Springs in the 1980s.