A local newspaper notice attracted my attention. Did I read that correctly? A camel farm excursion? Here is the true story of my expedition into camel territory.
I’d heard about camel milk and wanted to know more, so I contacted the organiser National Seniors secretary. Of course, they had me at “camels” but when I see meals included, I’m there. The itinerary read “East Coast Coach depart 9am and arrive Summer Land Camel Farm, Harrisville, morning tea and guided farm tour. Lunch at Commercial Hotel (adjoining Thirsty Camel bottleshop) before travelling home via scenic route 4pm.” Hooked and booked!
On boarding the coach, I was given a warm National Seniors welcome, and on disembarking the coach 45 minutes later, the first thing I noticed was the vast blue sky over Summer Land Camel Farm. A rolling vista spread out around me. In the distance the smudged outline of the Scenic Rim, part of the Great Dividing Range, and in the foreground hundreds of camels! It was an odd sight, camels of different sizes grazing in the paddocks, until I realised they were at home in the landscape.
Now, first let’s clear up some camel falsehoods. Camels do not spit but alpacas do. Camel footpads are better suited to protect vegetation than cows and horses. Of course, it’s common knowledge that a camel can walk over a hundred kilometres without water and carry heavier loads than a horse. But did you know that they are excellent swimmers? Who’d have thought but it’s true.
We strolled to the beautiful old Queenslander homestead where a spread of fresh scones, homemade jam and cream awaited. Then we realised what we were eating. The white fromage cream I dobbed on my scones and the milk in my coffee were not from a dairy cow but a camel. Delicious! And, as we subsequently found out, very good for our digestive tract. Camel milk is like an immune boost, an anti-inflammatory which can benefit our gut, skin and hair.
I loved meeting the camels at the fence, talking to them as they blinked their long eyelashes, obviously assessing if I had anything edible in my hand. When they saw the camera, I believe they actually posed, holding quite still while I took full advantage of this photo opportunity. See the camel on the right smiling! Everything was peaceful and the air smelt fresh. No camel aroma wafting on the breeze. Then my models wheeled away to check out an inviting dust bath.
In Australia we have dromedary camels, one hump. The dromedary is the smaller of the two species of camel and female gestation period is 13-14 months or around 410 days. I saw a baby camel, 24-hours old, all spindly legs, wobbling and flopping yet determined to stand. I asked if I could sponsor a camel, an adorable critter to watch grow up. Not yet, but one day this may be possible. In the meantime I joined the Summer Land Camels Club and harbour happy thoughts of riding a camel on my next visit.
Our group walked to a vast shed where the cheese, cream and milk are tested and processed. We sat in the breezeway while Jeff Flood, biochemist and immunotherapist, delivered an intelligent, informative and heartfelt talk on all things camel. Even biomes got a mention, and Jeff is very open about the farm operations. I wished my school days had involved such an absorbing field trip.
A passionate cameleer from a farming background, Jeff Flood is CEO and co-founder of Summer Land Camel Farm, the largest of its kind in Australia. Apart from playing rugby and completing several scientific degrees, he discovered that the immune protein and nutritional content of camel milk has healing benefits, showing positive results when used to treat his young son’s eczema.
Then onward to the open-air camel dairy, where we learned the long road to milking. Camel milk and by-products are not high volume in Australia but its the largest commercial-scale camel dairy operation outside the Middle East and the third largest of its kind in the world. Jeff and co-founder Paul Martin are training wild camels, breeding, researching, testing and pioneering the way. Not only for Australia but the rest of the world. Why can’t camel milk sit in the fridge next to other beverage flavourings? Camellatté has a nice ring to it.
Jeff is concerned for the welfare of camels and told us some horrible yet true stories of the brutal decimation of the wild camel population in Australia. The camel is a neglected animal among the policymakers. Incorrect data is perpetuated to this day, mainly through ignorance and government propaganda.
During the tour, it became obvious to me that camels have been given a raw deal. They are well-suited to our Australian climate and in some ways more beneficial than imported European farm animals. A bit of racism involved here? Camels do not have top teeth yet they like rugged food; they can eat feral weed plants such as prickly pear and they don’t need lush green pastures to thrive. During drought years, companion-herds of camels and cows survive better. Camels can act as watchdogs, they have the intelligence of a six year-old child which is greater than a dog. Plus they can take you on very, very long walks!
Back at the homestead, we enjoyed some taste-testing and Summer Land Camel Farm staff excelled with their hospitality. Unlike almond milk or soy milk, I had an instant attraction to camel milk. It suited my palate without the “I’ll get used to it” phase. Being lactose-intolerant, that’s a blessing. I perused items for sale; from camel milk and cheeses through to soap, hand-cream and artwork by Fiona. If you forget the Esky, cold bags can be purchased for a nominal amount and my Camel Persian Feta and other goodies were safely tucked away.
Time to head off down the road and partake of a pub lunch at the Commercial Hotel in Harrisville. After our meal, we strolled around the small township. I looked left and right before crossing the road but it wasn’t really necessary.
The coach swayed gently as we headed homeward, and I was pondering this enjoyable day out when my thoughts reached a conclusion. I had looked into the eyes of a camel and seen a friendly, interested gaze. I think the world needs more friendly interest in camels. And more camel milk in coffee!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
FARM & CAFE OPENING HOURS:
Mon-Sat: 9am – 3pm
Sun: 9am – 4.30pm
Closed Public Holidays
8 Charles Chauvel Drive
Harrisville QLD 4307
Café menu: https://summerlandcamels.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/SLC-Homestead-Cafe-MENU-FEB-2018.pdf
Investor enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Further reading: https://camel4all.blog/2018/05/15/the-camel-milk-story-theme-of-the-world-camel-day-2018/