Since they bought their first camel 20 years ago, Gympie residents Rob and Bernadette Sutton have trekked 27,000km with their beloved dromedaries.

 Story Ken Eastwood  Photo Kerry Hewitt

When Rob and Bernadette Sutton got back from their last camel trip at the end of 2018, they couldn’t sleep in a bed anymore. The couple had just spent almost two years quietly crossing the middle of the continent, from east to west and back again, with their camels – a distance of 10,500km. “I just got used to a swag, eh,” Rob says. “The bed just felt too soft after sleeping in a swag for two years.” So, they rolled out the swag and have slept in that ever since.

Rob and Bernadette, in their late 50s, live an unassuming life in Gympie, Qld, and certainly don’t advertise their extraordinary adventures. They have a small block of land, and they pick up casual work in mining, sawmilling, aged care or whatever they can. Every few years they and their camels set out on serious outback adventures, relying on maps and a compass, usually without telling anyone. “We just sort of head off – I don’t like making a big thing about it in case I get up the road and something goes wrong,” Rob says.

Their love for long-distance treks with camels kicked off around 20 years ago, when Rob was working as an underground airleg miner and wanted something else to do in his life. He signed up with cameleer Phil Gee for a 14-day training trek, and then bought their first camel Blackjack (a camel that has now walked more than 27,000km with the couple). A few more camels followed, and after a few years of gaining experience in training and working with camels, in 2006 Bernadette and Rob quit their jobs, packed up the house and set off on a 4000km stroll to Cooktown and back. But tragedy struck just out of Mareeba, when three camels died due to eating Cooktown ironwood, which is extremely toxic. “It wasn’t until we talked to a vet that we understood what had happened,” Rob says. “You’ve got to be almost a biologist along the way and because you’re going into different country on the way, it changes.” 

After recovering from the tragedy, they regrouped and set out again three years later, walking 6500km to Melbourne and back on the National Trail. A few years after that they went for an even longer 20-month trip to Birdsville and the desert country, before embarking on their dual continental crossing at the end of 2016.

“The bigger the trip, the more I like it,” Rob says. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #133

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2020