An exciting camel race was the centrepiece of Hughenden’s inaugural Arid Lands Festival, which promotes ways of living in dryland Australia.

Story By James Mcewan

Camel racer and sapphire miner John Richardson has a jewel in his front teeth and a twinkle in his eye as he describes the strategy behind winning the $14,000 first prize in the inaugural Sheikh Zayed Camel Race at Hughenden, 380 kilometres from Townsville, Qld. “It’s simple. Get out early and make them chase you,” he says. “It’s psychologically demoralising when you’re even a little bit behind in a long-distance race like this. My nephew Rowan took second place and we raced as a team.” John and Rowan were up against some of the best sprinters in camel racing, including Glenda Sutton, Judith Bullock and Don Anesbury. “I’ve been a sportsman all my life and you have to be cagey, otherwise your opponents will get away from you,” John says. “It might not work next year, but at least we won this one.” More used to the winner’s circle, Glenda Sutton, of Shepparton, Vic, was exhausted but excited about her third place on her young, untried mount ‘Chief’. “I ran with my camel for most of the race,” she says. “Chief’s only a four-year-old, so it would have taken too much out of him to carry me for the whole distance. He tends to walk a bit as he’s young, so running with him is the fastest way. I needed to settle him down.” When Glenda picked Chief out of the herd, he was wild and fiery and a terrible bucker. “I know now that he’s going to be an outstanding big camel,” she says. “He’ll be at his best when he’s seven, but he’ll do well in next year’s event.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #62

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2009