Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Broome 4 - Red Camels and a sunset at last



Camels, lots of them!
 When I woke up I realised with a start that my little holiday was almost over and there were lots of things still on my to do list. For a start, though it was overcast and muggy, I needed to pick up a little something for the man who was feeding the cat, so I called in at the Court House Market which is held in front of the former Cable House on Saturdays and Sundays.

At the market - I never did find out what a frozen fruit thingy was. Shouldn't have had breakfast first!
It’s only a small market but there were pearls and handcrafts on offer, homemade preserves, honey, liqueurs made from native fruit, a variety of food, some clothes and coffee. The naturally dyed cotton and silk garments made by an Aboriginal group were very beautiful but pricey, an indigenous man was carving the nutlike fruit of the boab and a digeridoo could be heard playing somewhere in the background. My dog -walking friend from Gaunthaume  Point (Helen?), had a stall there and she introduced me to a couple who were about to move to Tasmania. I tried on some clothes, tasted some tea made from native hibiscus fruit and only managed to resist the temptation to have a mango smoothie or a ‘fruit thingy,’ because I had just had breakfast. I eventually settled on mango colada sauce for the lovely cat -minding neighbour and then headed off to Cable Beach.

Wills, the youngest camel, prepares for boarding
Have you ever felt like you were living a clich√©? You simply can’t come to Broome and not have a camel ride, especially as it was precisely the stunning images of camel trains against the sunset, so emblematic of Broome, which made me want to come here. They take place on the far side of the rocks and there are several operators identified by the colour of their blankets. The Blue ones don’t operate on Sundays and I hadn’t heard about the others, so Red Sun Camels it was. Though sunset camel riding is the most popular option, it is also the most expensive, so I took the pre sunset one, thinking that would allow me to get better pictures of the main event afterwards. I ended up being eternally grateful that I hadn't signed on for the longer ride, though I can hardly blame the camels or the operators. Other people seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely.

The orange camels make their way back - the weather has greatly improved
So how did the camels get to Broome? Wiki says that in the early days of exploration and settlement, camels seemed an ideal choice for the hot, sandy and often waterless interior. Though the first ones were imported from the Canary Islands in 1840, only one survived and they were subsequently brought mainly from India and the Middle East, along with approximately 15,000 Afghan and Pakistani cameleers (usually called ‘Ghans’ whether they were Afghani or not) to tend them. The first major expedition to use camels was the ill – fated 1860 attempt by Bourke and Wills in their race to be the first to cross Australia from south to north. [They succeeded, but died on the way back, but also through no fault of the camels].  
 After that, camels - mostly the single humped Dromedaries, were used extensively by pastoralists for heavy work and to cart supplies and bales of wool. They were also used by merchants to supply the outlying stations and to build the railways, unaware that they were sowing the seeds of their own demise. By the 1930's cars and trucks began to replace the camel herds and they were turned loose in the bush. By 2008, there were over a million wild camels in inland Australia, more than in any other country in the world and they were doubling every 8 -10 years, wreaking havoc on fragile native vegetation, competing for scarce water and threatening pastoral properties. During the long Millennium drought, many died of thirst and starvation.

Culls were undertaken despite considerable opposition from the public. Some wound up as pet food, some became part of the live export trade and were ironically sold back to the Middle East, and a few ended up on the tables of gourmet restaurants. Now there are still around 600,000 feral camels of which about half are in Western Australia. It's likely that the first camels came to Broome with the pearlers, but camel related tourism didn't really take off until the 1983 when a man arrived from Darwin with six camels. Red Sun Camels has been going since 1991.

The red camels begin their trek

The camels kneeling in rows for tourists to board look well cared for and sanguine enough about their fate. It surely it beats being turned into pet food or even gourmet steaks. Four year old Wills (as in Bourke and Wills, not the other one) behind me at the end of the line and the youngest of the pack, lets out the most heartrending cry - a cross between a bellow and a bleat. He doesn’t yet have the nose plug by which the camels are “steered.” It looks painful, but I’m told that it’s no worse than piercings.  Tunku, my appointed camel is also one of the younger ones but I can barely get my thighs around his back. I also get a bit of a shock when he lurches to his feet and I see how far it is to the ground.
The camels do a leisurely lap of the beach. It’s only half an hour, but by that time, my posterior is numb and my back hurts. I can't imagine going thousands of miles across the desert on one, even with the padded seat. Perhaps it's because I ruptured a disc a couple of years ago, something I had almost forgotten about until now. Getting off was the worst. “Just swing your leg over the handrail” indeed! Though I did eventually manage to get off, I never did go back to take more pictures. I was too busy nursing my sore butt, but I did ask one of the girls if ‘cameleer’ had been on her list of preferred career choices as a child.

Red Camels heading back
 The sunset lived up to its promise on this occasion. It comes early here – 5.45 today, and the times are posted each day at the hostel. Alas, the equally popular “Staircase to the Moon” phenomenon only works on full moons in the ‘dry,’ so I have missed out on that for this year. There’s only one more on the 15th of October. There was however, one other unique to Broome experience I wanted to try, so I returned to the hostel until the Picture Gardens opened at 8.30. In a nice touch the girl I'd met at the cafe the day before, handed me a pie. "Sorry," she said, "They were two for the price of one yesterday and I didn't know."

The real  lightshow begins once the sun slips into the sea
 After taking a taxi back into town because the bus stops at 7.30, I seated myself in one of the deckchairs at the cinema. I didn’t last long. Nor can tell you much about the movie, except that it seemed a lot longer than 123 minutes. There was simply no position in which I could sit or lie without feeling twinges, but the setting was lovely and at least I had seen the world’s oldest picture garden in operation.


Afterwards the whole sky erupts in a blaze of colour

Still recuperating, I spent the last morning having a swim, consuming or giving away my remaining food- you end up with some novel concoctions at this stage, and reading all the women’s magazines – who got hitched, who got ditched, who had a baby bump and what they were wearing. It’s a sign of the times that I have never even heard of most of these people, much less care about what they are up to, with the possible exception of Princess Mary, who happens to hail from Hobart. Then it was back to Perth where it was still cold and raining. I really enjoyed my little break - worlds away from everyday life.

Last conscious memory - warm glow of the outdoor cinema at night

P.S. It's 30oC in Perth today. The warm weather must have followed me down

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