Red dirt race

How a coastal gal got hooked on camels

The Western Star - - RURAL WEEKLY - . KIR­ILI LAMB kir­[email protected]­ral­

YOU can hear the fond­ness, the con­nec­tion in her voice as she speaks of the quirky camels that have come to shape her youth.

Kyrra­ley Wood­house came into camel rac­ing and rid­ing by chance: a young, state-ranked pony club showrider from Cess­nock in the Hunter Val­ley, she was asked to help out with an ex­hi­bi­tion race at Cas­tle Hill by friends op­er­at­ing camel rides at Birubi Beach, north of New­cas­tle.

That led to her first com­pet­i­tive race at the Mar­ree in a north­east­ern South Aus­tralia race event, which in­cludes the Aus­tralian Camel Cup.

“They were a week out from com­ing on the camel rac­ing cir­cuit, they needed an­other jockey, and I was well, ‘I’ll come if you like’. And I met Tom in Mar­ree,” Kyrra­ley said.

Tom Wood­house is a Bou­lia camel trainer and han­dler, who has been work­ing with the an­i­mals since child­hood along­side his fa­ther Gary.

Find­ing that com­mon bond with camels, Kyrra­ley, now in her early 20s found her home in the Out­back, marrying Tom, and shar­ing in the work of the fam­ily busi­ness, Wood­house Camels.

Wood­house Camels of­fers camel rid­ing and wagon tours around Bou­lia’s Burke River area, and at spe­cial events like the up­com­ing Big Red Bash Fes­ti­val in Birdsville.

The quiet of the trail ride ratch­ets up a gear when the camel rac­ing sea­son kicks in across western Queens­land and Mar­ree, in north­east­ern South Aus­tralia each July.

It’s a crazy sport that draws crowds of thou­sands. And at the heart of it, one of na­ture’s oddly stately crea­tures, pos­sess­ing their own in­de­pen­dent spirit – the rac­ing camel.

“They’ve got to be a lit­tle bit mad, just like the jock­eys that de­cide they want to ride them!” Kyrra­ley said.

She said the camels used for rides were per­fectly suited to the task.

“They are nor­mally pretty good, but still not re­ally quiet,” she said.

“It’s good for the rac­ing camels: all of our rides camels are ex-rac­ing camels, so they’re used to the crowds.

“All the work that gets done on them to be rac­ing camels makes them re­ally good quiet rides camels, a bit like a re­tired race­horse makes a good show horse. They’re used to all the at­mos­phere. Not much phases them.”

While the racers get an ex­tra pro­tein boost for en­ergy and stamina around race sea­son with some ad­di­tional grain fod­der, the an­i­mals are fairly easy care, a non-fussy browser full of that desert re­source­ful­ness, eat­ing gal­vanised and goats head burrs, prickly trees, spinifex and other grasses.

The Wood­house fam­ily runs around 30 camels, at dif­fer­ent

stages of train­ing and ac­tiv­ity. Come race sea­son, the rac­ing camels in the herd come in for some big events.

The sport comes with that make-do spirit that de­fines life out in ru­ral re­mote Aus­tralia.

Kyrra­ley said if there isn’t a reg­u­lar rider avail­able, one is found read­ily enough.

“If we need other jock­eys we’ll try to find them. There are enough jock­eys on the cir­cuit that we can share around a bit,” she said.

“If not, there’s a lot of sta­tion peo­ple that can ride horses, bulls and stuff. They have nor­mally got enough bal­ance that they can hang on enough, they are usu­ally able to ride the camels.”

Kyrra­ley said her best win had been the Win­ton Cup in 2014, but she hoped one day to claim the Bou­lia Cup.

“The Bou­lia Cup is the big­gest deal, be­cause it’s over 1500m, so that’s a long race,” she said.

“It’s re­ally try­ing on the jock­eys and the camels. You’ve got to be very fit for that one.

“The best I’ve come in that is a third.

“It’s al­ways fun, but you can’t re­ally walk straight af­ter it.”

Whether she wins or not, Kyrra­ley said it is a sport she loves.

“It’s quite an adrenalin rush, it’s re­ally good fun. They are smoother when they gal­lop than a horse, but it is a bit of a harder ride be­cause they have such a big gait.”

Kyrra­ley’s favourite camel is an ag­ing gent named Mario.

“Mario’s been rac­ing for over 10 years. He’s also one of our rides camels and wagon camels. He’s very multi-pur­pose,” she said.

“I love him. He’s a big puppy dog, he’s just a big sook.

“Come race day he still

some­times wants to be a bit grumpy, but it’s race day, and he knows his job. You can take him out the next day and put him in rides and he’s just fine.

“He’s close to be­tween 15 and 18 years old. So 10 years rac­ing is quite a long time, es­pe­cially to be still pulling in rib­bons, too.

“He still comes third and stuff, no longer wins. He’s won the Mar­ree Cup, won a few sec­ond places in the Bou­lia Cup – not with me on him un­for­tu­nately.

“He’s prob­a­bly get­ting a lit­tle slow now, but I haven’t got an­other favourite yet, so he stays it for now.”


RAC­ING AWAY: Camel jockey Kyrra­ley Wood­house rid­ing her favourite camel, Mario.


RAC­ING AWAY: Camel jockey Kyrra­ley Wood­house rid­ing her favourite camel, Mario.

TEAM EF­FORT: Tom and Kyrra­ley Wood­house run camel car­riage rides both around Bou­lia, and at var­i­ous camel events. The car­riage is be­ing pulled by two of their best car­riage camels, Mario and Golly.


Kyrra­ley and Tom with Shan­non, one of their lead camels.

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