Issue 5 - June 1, 2009 enews home

Aboriginal workforce on track to reign in camel crisis

Mark Campbell is happy after a day in the saddle at
Hamilton Downs, west of Alice Springs

By Jason McIntosh

A new generation of Aboriginal stockmen and pastoralists could take a key role in the management of Australia's camel crisis, says Alice Springs based lecturer Peter Dempster.

The Charles Darwin University (CDU) trainer has spent more that three years working with Indigenous communities across central Australia and the APY lands of South Australia in a holistic program that sees men and women trained in core pastoral skills.

More than 100 students are working towards their Certificate II in Rural Operations.

The program taps into CDU's Katherine Rural Campus, stations around Alice Springs and within the community in a program driven and endorsed by community leaders and elders.

With an estimated 1.2 million camels roaming Australia and a population expected to double in nine years, Mr Dempster said industry experts and government agencies were viewing population control as an opportunity for a vibrant industry.

"If we can convince Australians to eat camel once a fortnight, this niche market has the capacity to create a major sustainable job-creating enterprise in the bush," he said. 

State bodies have recently agreed to cull 135,000 camels a year over eight years to  bring down the unmanaged feral camel stocking rate from 0.8 to 0.1 per square kilometre.

Mr Dempster’s comments were backed by camel expert Phil Gee, Senior Consultant, Large Feral Herbivores, Rural Solutions SA, who said he saw a bright future for the industry as long as it was managed properly. 
"A national industry might easily be created if some funds marked for control activity were directed into a marketing campaign,” he said.

Mr Gee said new infrastructure and training would be needed to manage the animals.

"It will require investment in new abattoirs that can handle the camels, yards and specific handling courses that help stockmen humanely manage these animals," he said. 

“Industry and government can join to create an economically and environmentally viable industry employing Indigenous people to help resolve the feral camel problem," he said.

Another keen advocate is Geoff Deans, who manages the SA-based Anangu Gateways program. Mr Deans works closely with the CDU students, local industry and community leaders and said core skills in the program were preparing them well.

“This is an example of a course that gives absolute foundation knowledge in modern handling skills, occupational health and safety, and literacy and numeracy. Working with these blokes, I can see them stepping up to the next level,” he said.

“Anangu people want to work and live on their lands, and I strongly believe a sustainable community enterprise like this is the way ahead,” he said.