camel(S) of the day 21-11-2019

It’s easy to forget, if you’re interested in something, that maybe other people don’t know much of the knowledge that you take for granted.  Let’s take the camel in Australia as a case in point.

This is, as you can see, a house being moved by a team of camels.  It’s Kalgoorlie, in Western Australia, and was taken in 1928.  It’s from the William Fretwell collection, shared on Flickr by Donna Barber here.

You’ll note the chimneys of the Kalgoorlie power station in the background on the right.  I believe that power station is now the Parkeston power plant operated by TransAlta. I’d also have a guess that what is being moved is workers’ housing for either the power station or the gold mine there.  The gold mine is still working, by the way.



And the point is:

Australia was built on the work of the camel.  Not just houses, but railroads:

The Australian Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences has a great post on this from May 2015.  In that article Margaret Simpson notes that Europeans failed to master the art of camel-handling, with this being done by people from India and Pakistan.  Few apparently, were from Afghanistan despite ‘Ghan being the common description for them. 

Not just railroads, but exploration:

The Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition, Departure of the Expedition, A.H. Massina & Co, 1860,

National Library of Australia nla.obj-135906991

Not just exploration, but fuel supply:

This, from 1926, shows a camel caravan fully laden with petrol at Oodnadatta rail head:

Conditions for the cameleers were harsh, with three year contracts during which they were unable to bring their wives and children.  Once their job was done, most traces of them in Australian life were obliterated, with even their most prominent buildings turned to other purposes.  Most of the ‘Ghan drivers left Australia in the face of an increasingly racist society and legal system, which we’ll look at another time.

Tomorrow, though, we’ll look at camels in modern Australia, and especially at the Great Australian Camel Race.

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