“The camel has a single hump;
The dromedary, two;
Or else the other way around,
I’m never sure. Are you?”
~ ‘The Camel’ (1936)
Camels walked defiantly into the arena, spitting, grunting, cursing and churning dust up into my lens as I stood on the inside edge of the track. A few settled at the starting line, a few didn’t – their riders clinging to their humps on full alert, trying to steady these recalcitrant beasts for the final race at the annual, madcap Alice Springs Lasseters Camel Cup.
There was a great turnout for the event. Onlookers stood expectantly behind barricades and people clung to rusted gates, cameras at the ready, while testosterone emerged onto the track in all shapes and sizes. I even spotted Australian actor Gary Sweet’s bald head glistening in the winter sunshine as I crouched under the guard rail and composed.
Of course I had to get some decent shots, especially as my mate Luke was racing. At one point I even considered entering myself, but as I’d only ridden a camel once before, I decided to give it a miss. Another friend of mine, Dusty – with about as much camel experience as me although slightly madder – was entering too. This was going to be interesting.
The pistol fired, launching these whopping, woolly warriors into action. Dust flew, whips cracked and voices rose. Luke drove Bull hard along the dirt and Dusty wielded his typical innocent fearlessness, muscling through the pack of feral ungulates the crowd were now wholly fixated upon. One camel made a retreat, some went fast, others slow. It was a bit like watching a pack of raucous five-year-olds play a soccer game.
As the camels entered the last turn, I crouched low to capture the action and felt their even-toed power rattle the earth. Neither Luke nor Dusty placed that day, but it didn’t matter. They had stirred up some dust, quelled some primal urges and had a bit of fun. Historically, that was what the camel cup was all about.
Alice Springs’ Camel Cup was born in 1970 after Noel Fullerton challenged his mate Keith Mooney-Smith to a camel race in the town’s dry Todd River bed. Noel Fullerton had his challenge published in the local paper, which read:
I have had a feud with Lion Keith Mooney–Smith for some considerable time and I feel it is time we settled it. So I challenge him to a duel, weapons being camels. Time and place I leave this up to him. That is if he is not chicken as he is getting that fat I doubt if he can sit on one; a good suggested time for this grudge race would be Centenary Celebrations….
Yours sincerely ‘Lion Noel’.”
Fullerton lost that day, but as half of Alice Springs had gathered for the race and were well entertained, plans were made to hold an annual event. And so the legend was born.
A rollicking day out
Today, the cup attracts people from all over the world. Nine races are held throughout the day, and if the unruly stars fail to entertain you, there’s belly dancers, rickshaw races, rides, food stalls, bars and even Mr and Mrs Camel Cup challenges. So if you’ve got an issue with someone – including your wife/partner – this is the place to sort it out.
One event that’s become popular is the honeymoon handicap. Here the husband begins the race before scooping up his bride at the halfway point and bolting to the finish.
Alice Springs’ Lasseters Camel Cup is held on the 2nd Saturday of July every year at Blatherskite Park, a section of the Central Australian Show Society grounds about ten minutes from the city centre. Gates open at 10:30am and the last race runs at 4:30pm. Entry costs $17 for adults, $38 for a family pass and kids under 12 are free. All proceeds go to local charity.