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History Of Camels In Australia


Camelids are believed to have originated in North America. One group travelled via the Northern land bridge at the Baring Straight and from there to the Middle East and Africa. Another grouping developed into Lamas Varieties as they moved to South America.

The first Camel in Australia was imported from the Canary Islands in 1840. The next major group of 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 eight days without giving water to the Camels. He later went from Bunbury Downs to Queen Victoria Springs, Western Australia (W.A.), a distance of 325 miles in 17 days and gave one bucket of water to each Camel after the 12th day. The 1891 expedition by Lindsay and Wells covered 510 miles in 34 days. They only gave their Camels 4 gallons of water each.

Camel studs were set up in 1866, by Sir Thomas Elder at Beltana Station in South Australia (S.A.). Stud Camel farms were also prominent in W.A. These studs operated for about 50 years and provided high-class breeders for the general population of Australian Camels. 

Working Camels bred in Australia were of superior quality to those imported. Imports continued until 1907, from India and Pakistan, as there was a need for large numbers of cheap Camels.

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 interior.

Camel teams consisting of approx. 70 Camels and 4 Afghans travelled between 20 to 25 miles a day in desert country. The teams would carry between 16 to 20 tons approx on their backs. A large bull Camel was expected to carry up to 600kg and the smaller beasts from 300-400kg.

Camels were used in Australia in the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line, carried pipe sections for the Goldfields Water Supply, the supply of goods to Inland Towns, Mining Camps, Sheep and Cattle Stations and Aboriginal Communities. Wagons hauled by Camels moved wool from Sheep Stations to Railheads, pulled, scoops in the construction of dams and ploughs and other implements on farms. The use of Camels was mainly used in the "Dry Areas" of Australia.

With the introduction of motorised transport in the 1920's, the days of "Working Camels" were numbered. Large herds of Camels were released and they have established "Free-range" herds in the semi-arid desert areas of Australia.


The estimated population of camels in Australia is 150,000 and 200,000 and are distributed through-out the arid interior of Australia. Approximately 50% in Western Australia (W.A.), 25% in Northern Territory (N.T.), and 25% in Western Queensland and Northern South Australia.

The Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory (CCNT) conducted, in 1993, an aerial survey in Central Australia. This survey indicated approx. 50,000 Camels through out the region, being 50% more than that indicated in a survey 8 years earlier. Individual Camels fitted with satellite tracking collars have been found by the CCNT, to roam over areas of 60,000 sq. km. and travel 50 km per day.

The worldwide population of Camels is thought to be 17 million in 1982, being 15 million Dromedary and 2 million Bactrian.

The above information was condensed from a report, STRATEGIES FOR DEVELOPMENT, prepared by the Camel Industry Steering Committee for the Northern Territory Government. 1993.  Resource information appears in, APPENDIX II on Page 57, of this document.



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