Camels – the Australian desert roamers & couriers

Camels as couriers and transporters

Afghan cameleers

Photo by the State Library of South Australia (find on Flickr)

Australia in the 19th century. No roads and a vast desert. Mail delivery and courier services were nearly impossible. Other means of transportation were ineffective. The perfect answer – to import camels. They were handled and cared for by the so called “Afghan cameleers“, expert Muslim cameleers that came from Afghanistan, Pakistan, British India and the Ottoman Empire. The first animal came from the Canary Islands in 1840. Their transportation capabilities were numerous:

  • Camels can go without water for quite a while.
  • Camels are almost uniquely brilliant at surviving the conditions in the desert wasteland.
  • They can carry an immense cargo – a full grown bull camel will bear up to 600 kg – what better courier to deliver your parcel?
  • A long lifespan and a long working life – a camel is old enough for small pack jobs at only 3 years of age, and would go on to serve at least until it’s 40.
  • Maintenance is quite simple – no need for shoeing.
  • Camels don’t need roads – their extremely large feet grant them the ability to easily walk over soft sand that would bog anything with wheels.
  • Out of the approximately 350 desert plant species, camels eat 325!

The Modern day transportation and the end of the camel couriers

By the 1920’s the need for camels and cameleers was dying, ironically, due to the Overland Telegraph and the Ghan railway, for which construction they have greatly contributed.