By ERWIN CHLANDA
As the world capital of swags Alice Springs is a fitting place for three people to embark on an epic journey – and so is their mode of transport.
They are setting out to raise money for swags to be donated to homeless people around Australia.
The mission, Compassion Camel Caravan, is a 1800 km trek to Adelaide, in a camel drawn wagon.
Marie Asselin (pictured at right), Angela Parr and Kamahl Druesne (below, right) are supporting Swags for Homeless, an accredited Australian national charity, according to their website.
The swags cost $87 each. So far the three have raised enough for 100 swags – an ingenious design allowing the sleeping implement to be rolled into an attached bag, featuring a thin mattress with a thermal insulation and even a lockable pocket. They weigh just two kilos.
Kamahl says there are 108,000 homeless people in Australia. 40,000 people are living on the streets. This includes kids as young as 11. The task is massive.
The trio is starting from the ground up, building a wagon, lining up sponsors, accumulating supplies for the four months trip, including five live chooks (for fresh eggs) and a red heeler.
And of course, getting camels. This is where they couldn’t believe their luck.
They got six female camels from Ian Conway’s Kings Creek station, four of them pregnant. They spent two weeks breaking them in and transporting them to Alice Springs.
The problem was, the animals turned out to be too small to do much pulling: The wagon, fully loaded, weighs around two tonnes.
Enter a camel owner from Queensland, on his way to WA with two very large castrated bulls. They were too big for saddles, with massive amounts of fat stored either side of their humps.
The man just happened to discover the trio and their little herd at the Heritage Caravan Park south of the Gap, and asked if they wanted to buy the huge beasts.
You bet, they said. Next fortuitous surprise: both were fully broken in to harness and had been pulling carts for years.
In fact they are so powerful that the brakes on the wagon had to be beefed up. They are aged 15 and stand to live till age 45.
The route will be along old camel treks used by the Afghan camel drivers, via Oodnadatta, William Creek and the Flinders Ranges.
The swag idea came to Kamahl when he taught film making to troubled kids in Byron Bay. One of them turned in work of exceptional quality, he says, a thousand portraits of young people in the “pretty heavy alleyways of Kings Cross”.
It opened the eyes to him to the massive need in our rich nation, tens of thousands “living in cardboard boxes,” he told a meeting of the Rotary Club of Stuart this week, “1200 people sleeping rough in Adelaide, about 7000 in Brisbane”.
Kamahl says he’d recently spent time in Abu Dhabi. We don’t have any homeless people, he was told by locals.
If you find one, do you put him in a home? No, we build a house for him, was the answer.
The trek to Adelaide, of necessity, has a flexible schedule. There will need to be four or five days’ rest when a cow gives birth – fortunately, camel babies can walk almost immediately.
A vet has told them not to interfere with the births, just to let the mothers find a spot they like and do what comes naturally to them.
Less welcome interruptions may be from wild camels at the edge of the Simpson Desert, something Kamahl will take care of with a high powered rifle. He’s just obtained a shooter’s licence.
They are planning to walk five hours a day, covering 20 kms. The fodder will come from what nature provides along the road. Camels happily munch most grasses and shrubs in The Centre.
Feed is likely to be a bit more of a problem in the more densely settled areas “down south”. The trio has made an appeal to the Rotarians for some useful contacts.
Meanwhile a bond has developed between the three – all novices to working with camels – and the pregnant females: They love carrots and one has developed, as I discovered, the quaint habit of putting her big tummy right next to you so you can give it a nice rub.
(The Stuart Rotary club will hold a pancake breakfast, open to the public, between 8am and 9.30am on Saturday, August 2, at the Heritage Caravan Park, as a send-off.)
By ERWIN CHLANDA