Liz Martin’s My Territory, My Life, My Story, launched today by Alice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan at the Road Transport Hall Fame, is brimming with entertaining and sometimes amazing anecdotes, one of which Alice Online is pleased to publish today with Liz’s permission. Liz’s memoirs, uncommonly rich in remembered detail, are ” a journey … that will take you deep into the buffalo and trucking industries, the eye of Cyclone Tracy, some illegal barramundi fishing, the snap of a crocodile’s jaw and the making of the iconic national National Road Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs.”
This particular adventure took place in 2000 when Liz was helping run the Mecca Date Farm, then a popular Alice Springs tourist attraction.
Wild animals were not something I took lightly, but certainly weren’t something I was petrified of either. That was until I met this particular beast of the bush. A rutting camel, for the uninitiated, is a sight to behold. Male camels have a mating season called the rut. This is when the males chase the females in oestrus. During the rut, which can last from a few weeks to up to seven months, the bull camel produces copious amounts of stinking, smelly, bubbly foam from his facial occipital glands, and if that’s not bad enough he also covers himself with his own foul-smelling urine. Usually this is accompanied by an excessive swelling of the testicles (and in this case that is an understatement). He is so focussed on mating that he forgets to eat, and this can cause a camel to lose up to a third of its body weight and it is not unusual for clumps of fur to fall out. It really is a disgusting mess, made all the worse by the fact that a bull camel in rut will bolt, kick, spit and bite, and have no problems taking you out if it thinks of you as either its competition or target.
In its deranged search for humpy love, nothing is safe. A rutting bull will even kill a rival bull camel’s calf, forcing its mother to come into heat so it can mate with it and produce his own offspring. This is known as the strong gene approach, or survival of the fittest, and is similar to what lions do in the African jungles. Couple this dangerous and erratic behaviour with the irrationality and unpredictability of a rogue bull camel, and it truly is a recipe for disaster. We can be thankful in this instant that no unsuspecting or innocent tourist got caught in the fray. The morning in question arrived and we were all up early doing our thing. I was doing the oils and waters in the buses and Marie busily baking the six dozen date scones she did each morning, when Debi arrived for work in the grounds around 8am. As she fiddled around the kitchen making herself a cup of coffee she casually mentioned that on her way to work she was chased by a huge male camel charging down Norris Bell Avenue. It had tried to mount Debi’s car, and as it was heading away from the Hall of Fame we did not worry about it any further. We then went on to chat about what was in store for the rest of the day, only to be interrupted a few minutes later by the phone ringing… and its Sandra on her mobile.“I’m stuck in the car at the back of the Hall of Fame and I can’t get out because a camel is trying to rip the roof rack off the top of my car, and that’s not all”
“ It’s trying to have sex with my car, ” she continued. She started going into explicit detail about its fiercely frothing mouth, erratic behaviour and engorged appendages. Sandra drove a Mitsubishi Star Wagon at the time, so it was no small camel to be trying to rip her roof rack off. “Get out the other side and run for the door.” I told her. Vehicles could be parked within a few feet of the back door, so it wasn’t a long run but of course. She’d have to spend some time actually unlocking the door before she could get in. I was still wondering if it was April Fool’s day when Sandra called me back. “Get out here and run for the bloody door yourself”, she says. So, I figured she was pretty fair dinkum about the seriousness of the situation.
Out into the Date Farm grounds I went and asked my mad mate Debi, our resident camel expert, what would be the best course of action to take. As I mentioned She had actually already told me that there was a rutting camel. When Sandra had passed her going the other way to the Hall of Fame, the camel turned its attention to her car and chased her to the back door of the Hall of Fame and wouldn’t let her get out her car. After a couple of phone calls to her (other camel) people, Debi reported that a rogue rutting camel of the worse kind had been relocated from another property to a paddock just down the road from us and must have escaped.
It had, and in fact was the one Debi had passed a little earlier. Sandra rang again, and after a few more expletives we knew she was still stuck in the car. Forget the drunken sailor, what do you do with a sex-crazed camel? Who knows? We certainly didn’t, and it would appear no-one else did either. We rang the RSPCA, the Council and all sorts of Government Departments, and finally, after many unfruitful calls, I literally had to beg the Police to send someone out. My concerns were not only for Sandra who was somewhat safely entombed in her vehicle, but we had no fence-line along our perimeter in those days and tourists would be pulling up by the carload any minute. As soon as I had confirmation from the police they would send someone out I jumped in a mini bus and went out to see first-hand what all the fuss was about. There’s not many things that have stopped me dead in my tracks in my life. The sight of that camel trying to mount Sandra’s car, her ashen white face within, and the amount of stinking snotty foam one camel can produce was simply nothing short of amazing. Unfortunately I made the mistake of pulling up straight behind Sandra and the camel assumed I was competition for his object of lust, and charged my car head-on with a ferocity I have never seen before or since. It then proceeded to tear my side mirror off and head-butt the windscreen several times. It did not break it but left trails of bloodied foam and snot as it did so. Then, just as I was seriously starting to panic, completely without rhyme or reason, something further out in the yard caught this beast’s attention and I was forgotten in a blink of its murderous eye. Sandra and I, talking on our mobiles by now, watched as this monstrous beast charged, straddled and started humping a small acacia bush in the grounds. It must have moved in the breeze or something, because this huge bull camel was literally having sex with the tree.
I kid you not, and trust me – it was not a pretty sight. The poor little tree was all but demolished in the process. Somehow the tree recovered and went on to live another day, and ten years later it is still referred to jokingly, by those in the know, as the “camel rooting bush”, and is every bit as revered as its distant cousin “the singing bush.” Exhausted by his mammoth efforts with the acacia bush, the camel stood still for a few moments, and, as fate would have it, that was when the police car drove in. The policeman within took a long hard look at the camel, and a long hard look at Sandra and I were still locked in our respective vehicles, and a second long look at the putrid but still motionless camel. He shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, got out of his car and strolled casually towards us, his baton in hand. He parked about 20m from us and the camel is another 100m beyond that, standing uncharacteristically motionless, recovering from his orgy with the acacia bush. What is it they say about sex? A good one’s like a marathon? Well that camel had just won the grand prix of all marathons.
“Don’t get out of the car,” yells Sandra “ Stop – he’ll kill you” I yell simultaneously.
“Calm down ladies,” he said, continuing to stroll towards us. It was one of those “I’m the policeman here and I’ve got everything under control so don’t you go worrying your pretty little heads” type of swagger that only a man who thinks he’s in control can master. Only thing was, he forgot to tell the bloody camel to calm down too. It stood there and stared just long enough for the unsuspecting policeman to get halfway between my car and his. The roar that came next is impossible to describe. I’ve never heard anything like it.
Nor the sound of thundering of hooves, as this crazed animal put the policeman in his sights and charged. Guess whose swagger turned into the longest strides in the history of mankind as he made it back to his car, just in time to slam the door as the camel made contact. The impact made the ground move and blood pour from the camel’s nostrils. The snotty foam streaming from the camel’s face turned a rather pretty pink, which was distinctly at odds with the beast’s temperament and was rather surreal to witness. This didn’t slow him down any though; he was in rut and was prepared to fight to the death. Obviously, the police car, like mine, was being viewed either as competition or a potential mating partner.
“I think we’ve got a problem,” came the understatement of the year from the policeman, who proceeded to ring for back-up, his baton lying unattended in the middle of the yard. It had been abandoned in haste only seconds before. By now tourists starting to pull up in the car park and we needed to get Sandra into the building so she could forewarn people of this very real danger. The policeman offered to reverse his car up the ramp a hundred yards or so to distract the camel while Sandra got into the building.
To attract the camel’s attention away from Sandra he told me he would put the siren and lights on in an attempt to get the camel follow him. So, here was the police car reversing up the ramp with siren going and red and blue lights flashing. Camel magnet is all I can say. In less than a blink of that murderous eye again, this huge bull camel decided the police car was no longer an adversary but a potential object of passion. The police car was to become its next conquest, albeit an unwilling one. The blue and red flashing lights were crunched in an instant as the camel bit savagely at them while trying to climb unceremoniously up the bonnet to mount the car. In his frustration the camel kicked just about every panel, smashing the headlights, tail lights and side-mirrors, bumper and anything else it could gets its mouth around or hooves into. Camels copulate with the female in a sitting position while the bull straddles over her. There was no mistaking this bull camel was trying to straddle the police car just as it had done to the acacia bush fifteen minutes prior. There is no sight in this world like a camel straddling a police car. It was making feverish robotic humping motions, but kept sliding back off the car only to repeatedly kick and snort its way back on top again. I dread to think, I truly dread to imagine, the sight the policeman would have had through his windscreen.
Fortunately, it did not take the camel too long to reach its climactic conclusion again, and it was in recovery mode when the second police car finally arrived. By this time Debi had also come to assist us with our rescue and was parked at the back entry, unknown to us at that point. Even she of local camel mastery fame was stuck for words at the sight she had just witnessed.
Debi’s a bit of a wild woman. I always referred to her as my feral friend, as she was every bit as wild as the camels she trekked across the outback. Her bush-basher, an old HQ ute which hadn’t seen a rego sticker for years, was camel-bashed to the point we always wanted to enter it in a feral ute competition, because it would have won hands down. It had taken years to get it in “that good” a condition she would tell us, every dint and bite mark an exciting adventure of it’s own. In just sixty seconds the camelling of the police car eclipsed even her legendary escapades.
This time we managed to get our act together. Debi had opened the gate on the paddock across the road, and the two police cars and I sandwiched the camel between us and maneuvered it into the paddock, a distance around 250 metres. Once we got the camel in and the gate safely shut, we drove back the short distance to the Hall of Fame where we all disembarked from our various vehicles to inspect the damage. The stench was horrific, as foam, blood, snot and camel urine drizzled from everything in sight. With the exception of the decimated, much-mated-with acacia bush, the police car was by far the most damaged. It looked a sad and sorry state with its crunched red and blue lights, smashed headlights, dangling side mirror and crumpled bumper and a variety of dints and scratches. All the policeman could do was walk around it shaking his head. His name eludes me all these years later, but I do remember him making the comment that this was not what he’d join the police force to do and I recall I distinctly detected he was only half-joking.
“How the hell am I going to explain this?” he said to no-one in particular, while surveying the somewhat extensive damage to his vehicle.
“Tell them a camel fucked it,” laughed the latter policeman to arrive on-site much to the amusement of his offsider, who launched into a fit of nervous giggles, during which we all couldn’t help but have a giggle at the irony of the statement. It had been a pretty stressful hour or so (was that all it was?) and we were all relieved it was over and that damage did not extend beyond vehicles and of course the rooting bush.
We’ve had a few experiences with camels over the years, but this one constitutes the best yarn and I’ve dined on it many a time in the years since. And, yes, I swear, the last thing I really did hear as I drove away that day was the policeman saying into his radio: “But sir, a camel really did try to fuck my car.”