What usually comes to mind when we think of camels is the sandy deserts and nomads in the Middle East. Hardly would we associate these hardy animals with Australia or weed control.
"We live just on the edge of Toowoomba (aka 'Camelot') in a suburb called Mt Rascal. We actually live on top of Mt Rascal on about 120 acres (48.5ha) of land," says Michelle Stark, 46, a former high-school teacher in English and History, who now works from home as a module writer and course manager for Central Queensland University.
"We live on a large hill and the hillside is covered in weeds, such as lantana and privet. One day my husband, Joe, was talking to a friend who happened to own some wild camels that he used for weed control on his property.
When Joe saw how well they cleaned up all the weed, especially the lantana, we struck a deal with him and ended up with three camels."
Lantana is an invasive plant and privet is a serious environmental weed whose infestation threatens biodiversity. Privet pollen reportedly can cause allergic reactions and hay fever.
Another animal that can also effectively control the spread of weeds is the goat.
"We were thinking about goats but they are much harder to contain than camels as they aren’t very fence-friendly," Stark explains in her email, before describing a unique practice in the Land Down Under.
"There's an Australian bush tradition where you do a favour for a mate (whereby) money is often not the currency but you use gifts or trade to pay.
"We lent a friend some of our machinery and he determined the adequate payment was three camels.
"Joe, my husband, had expressed an interest in owning camels, and this friend happened to have some," says Stark.
So that's how they ended up with Sir Lancelot, Lady Guinevere and Roo Roo.
"They all have different personalities. Sir Lancelot is very aloof and watches us intently from a distance. He’s very proud and I don’t think you could ever get too close to him.
"Roo Roo was about six months old when she arrived with the other camels and since she was young, she was a lot more interested in us. She’s sweet, quiet and gentle. She will eat out of your hand.
"Lady Guinevere (Roo Roo’s mum) is sweet and quiet too but not as tame as Roo Roo. She has since learnt to eat out of our hand since she has had Merlin."
The young one – which they later named Merlin – had rolled under a fence and onto a rocky embankment, and somehow managed to crawl up and sit in the driveway.
It is the offspring of Sir Lancelot and Lady Guinevere, which had not produced any babies for six years prior.
Another surprise was when Roo Roo gave birth late last month. In keeping with the Camelot theme, this newest addition to the herd has been named Morgana.
And then there's Bella, whom Stark describes as the friendliest of the lot, which belongs to a neighbour and is friendly with her own camels.
"My favourite is Bella, even though my husband hates her because she’s hard work. Technically, she’s not ours.
"Our neighbour had someone ring him, asking if he wanted a camel that had been raised as a pet from birth.
"He rung us, asking if we would take her. We said no. So our neighbour took her and she hangs with our camels anyway.
"She’s a problem. She leans on fences so she breaks them, chews hoses and stands in water troughs and breaks them as well.
"She also chases machinery and motorbikes, so because of her size, she can be dangerous as she’s over-friendly. But she loves a good pat, and rumbles and grumbles when you approach, and is so happy to see you each day."
It is clear that Stark and her family have a connection with their charming camels. She describes her 18-year-old son Paul as a camel whisperer and says that Merlin is quite fascinated with him.
"Even though they are working animals, they are definitely our pets," says Stark.
"We have named them, and we interact with them and care for them. I think once you name them, they become pets, for sure."
According to Stark, camels are low-maintenance creatures.
"They are not very costly at all. There is plenty of weed to feed them. And they are fence-friendly, except for Bella.
"We just move them from paddock to paddock when needed. They are very self-sufficient, sickness-free and just easy to have around," says Stark, whose passion is travel.
"I had just started to dabble in travel when Covid hit. Maybe one day."
But for now, her camels keep her suitably entertained with their antics, and happily occupied when she isn't working.
Camels of Camelot a.k.a. Toowoomba, in Queensland, Australia
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