Aborigines take up camel hunting to tackle boredom and drug abuse

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 February, 2008, 12:00am

Aborigines in Australia's arid desert interior have hit on an innovative way of tackling the boredom and substance abuse that have ravaged so many of their communities - hunting camels.

Where their forebears pursued traditional prey such as kangaroos and monitor lizards, the younger generation is heading into the scrub to shoot plentiful dromedaries.

The camels were brought to Australia in the 19th century from what was then British India as beasts of burden to haul supplies for explorers, pioneers and prospectors. They became redundant with the advent of railways and motor cars, and thousands were released into the wild.

They adapted to Australian conditions and are now considered a pest, with about a million roaming the Outback, mostly in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Biologists say the population is doubling every eight years.

In the remote outpost of Kintore, a six-hour drive west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, Aboriginal teenagers venture into the desert once a week in search of feral camels.

Firearm licences are hard to come by, so the camels are mostly shot by one of the town's three police officers, who accompany the hunting expeditions.

'The first time we went out, we got three camels - two big ones and one small one,' said Farren Marks, 19, who like many young men in the community has no job.

'It makes me happy to go out hunting because I can bring back meat for my family.'

Like many isolated Aboriginal settlements, Kintore offers few job prospects and almost no recreational opportunities.

Boredom and frustration drive teenagers to crime, alcohol, marijuana and petrol sniffing.

The camel hunting initiative - which started six months ago - has injected hope into the outpost's disaffected youth.

So far 15 animals have been shot and slaughtered by a shifting group of about 20 hunters, the youngest just 13.

'The young fellows are pretty good at tracking the camels,' said Tom Holyoake, a white youth worker tasked with preventing substance abuse in the town of 300 people.

'When they find a camel they shoot it, butcher it in the field, bring the meat back and share it with their families.'