Sir – I am frustrated that the development of a viable camel industry in the Northern Territory is being held back by the Central Land Council (CLC).
With over 80% of the NT rangelands under Land Trust or Indigenous tenure and most of the wild camel herds ranging over these areas, after more than two years of lobbying, phone calls and emails I have made no progress nor received any constructive response from the CLC, to meet with them, to look at their support and positive involvement in developing a farmed camel industry.
The NT Governments’ recent study into the viability of a Central Australian multi species export standard abattoir, as an alternative to the helicopter shooting of wild camels, could not be not be justified until a regular and reliable supply of camels is available.
The report recommended farming, and it may take seven years to build up the numbers in controlled herds to provide processors the confidence to access the lucrative and existing overseas middle eastern markets.
Domestic markets exist for camel meat which is indistinguishable from cattle beef in taste and odour when cooked and with the escalating prices of beef in Australia this market could be developed, but is constrained because there is not a reliable supply of camels.
The NT Government has a vision to provide enterprise and employment opportunities in remote areas where few exist in Central Australia, except for mining and tourism: Wild camels are there and are a resource that could and should be utilized to achieve these goals.
Over the WA border near Docker River at Tjukurla, the Ngyattjatjarra communities have established a very successful camel harvesting and farming operation.
With the assistance from their Ngaanyatjarra Council, in addition to a camel company they have established a successful fuel distribution business, road houses, motel, campgrounds and community stores.
Back in the NT it is a different story with the reliance predominately on welfare or training for income.
Australian Government funded training organisations have not in the past delivered outcomes to provide employment security, as training it in itself is seen by many in remote communities as a job.
Few employment opportunities exist in these locations, with indigenous peoples’ past affinity with camels and donkeys for transport. They say they want to do work with the camels and not see them shot.
Community people tell me no-one listens to them and the CLC takes over when a prospective business partner approaches them, wanting to do something with camels on their Land Trusts.
In fact many operators are immediately discouraged by the onerous conditions put forward by the land councils, for any prospective joint partnership enterprise.
Contrary to what some CLC staff have said to me after the two NT Government sponsored camel meetings that yes, they do want to support the development of a Central Australian camel industry, I have formed the opinion that they do not. Their interest is more in eradicating camels.
The declaration of Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) over the areas where most of the camels are, seems to strengthen my opinion.
The Australian Government funded “Caring for Country” ranger programs could better be expanded to see the natural resource management benefits of fencing of water holes of cultural significance, provide alternative watering points for camels, horses and donkeys well away from outstations and communities and teach the rangers camel handling and mustering skills by experienced operators.
Camels are a resource and a symbol of Central Australia.
We have the best disease free camels in the world, we should all work toward promoting them rather than continue to see then them as a feral pest.
Alan Keeling (pictured at top)
Director of the Australian Camel Industry Association
Independent candidate for Namatjira
[ED – We have offered the CLC the right of reply.]