'The camel's back'
The Sunday Age M Travel 1 Dec 2013

The permit issue's sorted, and the camel train is once again padding back and forth on Noosa's North Shore, writes Kerrin O'Sullivan

Dancer, the 24 year-old camel carrying me, is nuzzing. Nuzzing, I've just learned, is the sound that camels make. "Nuuuuurrrr," rumbles from her black velvety mouth. Not quite a groan, it's something between a bleat and a bellow.

Yes, the camels are back. The permit dispute that resulted in a two-year absence has been resolved and Lyn and Dave Madden's camel safaris are once again trekking the soft sands of Noosa's North Shore.

One by one, we hoist ourselves onto the saddles of the kneeling animals. Linked by rope, our caravan of five is led by Lionel, a cameleer for a quarter of a century. The camels' ancestry, Lionel explains, derives from the one-humped Arabian dromedaries brought to inland Australia from Afghanistan in the 1840's to act as 'ships of the desert' for trade and transport.

As the lead camel, Dancer's role is to decipher Lionel's subtle hand signals, and the commands he gives in Arabic. She responds in a millisecond; Fatima and the other camels follow behind, Indian file.

"Dancer's short for Desert Dancer," says Lionel. "I hand-raised her."

Straddling their majestic beasts, a New Zealand couple declare they've booked as part of their "bucket list", having already ticked off snorkelling on The Great Barrier Reef and whale-watching at Hervey Bay. Camel-riding is a first for both.

We saunter along the open stretch of shore under a cloudless Queensland sky. Wind-swept dune scrub dots the sandy peninsula, its long spine a natural buffer between the sea and the lazy Noosa River. Sweet wattle, she-oaks and paperbarks protrude from clumps of kangaroo grass; a sea-eagle wheels overhead. On the seaward side, deep green breakers curl and froth. In the hazy distance, we can spy Noosa Heads. Facing north, the Great Sandy National Park spreads up the coast towards Fraser Island.

A fishermen casts his rod, angling for flathead, whiting, tailor.

"He's been there all day," says Lionel. A couple of lone sunbathers photograph the camel train as we pass.

As Dancer and I amble along, with the sun warming my skin, the rhythmic rocking has me reminiscing. The Bactrian camel I rode along Karachi beach and tethered to a palm while we barbecued prawns bought in a Pakistani fish market. A bushy-browed racing camel who hoofed it over Rub Al Khali's undulating dunes in the Empty Quarter, while spitting. And the gentle old soul who, tended by Wise Men, hobbled around a lake in urban Moonee Ponds one starry Christmas Eve, in a nativity re-enactment.

Returning, we follow the tracks of hoof-prints rutted in the sand. The camels get the sniff of home, and we rock and roll up a tussock-pocked sand-drift. Going uphill, I hang on to Dancer for dear life.

"Lean forward," Lionel calls, zen-calm.

Back at the base, Murray is waxing eloquent about his Bucket List safari.

Dancer interrupts with a moan. Yes, there's nuzzing quite like it.

© 2013 Kerrin O’Sullivan