A thousand lives : My time as a Camel farmer in Alice Springs

As soon as I arrived in Australia, Alice Spring was always on my mind. And yes, it seemed impossible to get there. And yes, it was at least 2 to 3 days of driving no matter where you started from. And then 2 or 3 days no matter where you wanted to go. It was in the middle of the red dust, forgotten by the Gods, lonely under the endless blue sky. It was the very heart of the Outback and it was for me. When I finally got there I got a job in a camel farm. Yes, Camels. It didn’t sound very Australian to me but apparently a lot of them are out there in the wild, from that time when they moved things with camels. Massive trucks ended up replacing them, and they were set free.

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Alice Springs, Australia

It was the Outback at its purest. My boss was a camel rider who always wore a messed up cow boy hat, spoke with that lazy crackling accent, moved in this careful wary way, and talked about the rest of the world like we just didn’t get IT.

I got this tiny metal house in the back of the garden, were mice would climb on my bed every night and I would wake up when they were smelling (or eating ?) my hair. I was sharing my bathroom with the tourists and the camel guys, and was always showering while singing loudly because there was no lock and I was letting everybody know that the bathroom was indeed occupied. My jobs were marvelous. I would wake up every morning and put a shitload of camel poo in a wheelbarrow, push it to the chickens and put that in there. I would then spend my mornings in a personal combat with the dry, nasty and inflexible outback earth, trying to dig up the weeds that were conquering everything. In the afternoon I was weaving smelly camel hair. And then for my all-time favorite : the douchebag bird. It was this 70 years old white cockatoo. The sweetest possible bird when the owner was around. Just loving and purring like a cat and snuggling under her arm and being adorable. As soon as the owner was gone though, that bird was just plain vicious. If I opened the cage to feed him, he would go for my feet and try to bite me. He always watched me in a careful way, looking where he could attack, going for the fingers if he was close enough, circling his food bowl, daring me to go in. By the end of my stay I would just throw the seeds through the bars and pour the water from the outside, insulting him under my breath while he was just giving me his satisfied smile.

But the camel farm gave me some serious Outback credit. Ridding a camel in the red sand at sunset, callused hands from working the shovel so hard, endless talks with Marcus about their aboriginal friends, red dust over all of my clothes that will never ever leave. For a split second, I was part of that forgotten rough world, and it felt powerful.

 

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