From outback racing tracks to the opera stage in Sydney for a spectacular production of Aida, Rod Sansom's camels have undoubted star appeal.
The owner of Oakfield Ranch Camel Rides, Rod and partner of 20 years Diane Gooley and their team of jockeys and support staff have just returned from the Queensland outback camel cup circuit with several trophies to add to a stacked cabinet.
Packing up and transporting a team of camels for the best part of a month has become a cherished part of Rod and Diane's action-packed year at the helm the family business based upon camel rides six days a week along Stockton Beach out of Biroubi Point, Anna Bay.
They have 90 camels and an assortment of horses, donkeys and other animals in training, another important part of their business in film, television and advertising projects as well as events such as Muslim weddings and festivals.
"I've trained camels for about 30 years, but I've been with animals all my life. I grew up at Oakvale Farm, (now Oakvale Wildlife Park at Salt Ash), my Dad started that about 43 years ago," Rod said.
"I always loved working with animals and training them and that's when we went into working, racing and the rides with camels."
The camel racing season kicks off in outback Queensland on the second weekend in July. Camels are brought in to compete from all over Australia beginning with a two-day Bedourie event (second weekend in July), followed by a three-day festival in Boulia (third weekend in July) and ending with a one-day event in Winton (last weekend in July).
Rod and Diane's team which included Matt Anderson from Dungog, locals Gina Brooke, Beva Brophy, Tegan Beck and Pete Shields, from Wollongong won the two main events the cup and plate at Bedourie and Winton.
At Boulia renowned as the Melbourne Cup of camel racing they finished second by a nose in the cup and also second in the plate.
"We first got into racing when we went up to Taro to provide rides for the public in 2017. We won a consolation final with one of our rides camels and it got into our blood," Rod said.
"It's great getting out in the desert. We race near the edge of Simpson Desert and you can see the sand dunes and wilderness out there."
Rod said breeding camels would be impractical as it takes it can take up to seven years from a female being inseminated to the calf becoming old enough to train.
"There's another two years of training on top of that," Rod said.
Instead they get wild camels from the desert or trained camels from other trainers.
"A wild camel in the desert can get for nothing, but we normally pay the land owners $300 to $500 as after they've run them in for collection," Rod said.
"A trained camel is worth a lot of money as there's a lot of work in training them. A trained one can be up to $10,000.
"All the males are desexed. They have a rut like a deer and they get pretty cranky so you have to desex them.
"You have to respect the camels because they are large animals. Kindness wins out in the long run, but you always need to be aware."
The family business has operated out of Anna Bay for 20 years and it is literally a family business with a son, daughter and two son-in-laws working for the company.
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