As our feral camel population surpasses a million and control plans are put into place, Australia needs to decide whether the animal is an outback pest - ripe for the culling - or a valuable desert resource.

Story By Carly Crummey

As Ashley Severin and Lyndee Matthews tour the fence line, they have a rifle wedged securely against the centre console of the four-wheel-drive. Like cool water, it’s a staple they never leave the homestead without. It’s 42 degrees Celsius and any efforts to swot the flies out of the air-conditioned cab seem futile as more stubbornly charge in. The couple’s cattle property is “Curtin Springs” – about 100 kilometres east of Uluru – and it stretches nearly 405,000 hectares (more than a million acres). However, the fence line patrolled this afternoon is a mere 1.7km and forms a protective shield around one of the property’s limited water resources. This dam fence is about 1.8m high, has three lengths of high-tensile stainless steel cable – at least one rated to 3.8 tonnes – two levels of mesh, barbed wire at the base and concrete reinforced steel posts. At a cost of $40,000, straight-talking Lyndee says it is yet to be breached, but admits she isn’t totally confident it will stand its ground against a thirsty herd of feral camels in search of water. “Everything we do here is affected by camels and we have to factor camels into every business decision we make, like the way we structure our fences and even down to number of cattle we run,” she says.
The couple has run out of patience. In the past they were more lenient with the animals they found wandering the property, but the fact that they are still in the process of spending $400,000 to replace 140km of fence that was flattened three years ago means their tolerance has given way to a strict shoot-to-waste policy. “If we see two camels we shoot them, if we see seven camels we shoot them, if we see 35 camels we shoot them ... it’s not something we do easily, but I’m the one who has to come home and balance the books and I’m the one who has to find the money to do what we have to do,” Lyndee says.
Despite taking this hardline stance, Lyndee and Ashley are certain there will be a commercial camel industry in the future utilising feral stock, with its long-term viability dependent on the consistency of farmed animals. But there are several obstacles to clear first – one of the most imposing being the fact that camels are found in the country’s most remote areas and, Lyndee says, it’s logistically and financially difficult to muster and transport them to the nearest meatworks for processing for domestic and overseas markets.

This story excerpt is from Issue #70

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2010