Twenty years on from its first camel race, the tiny town of Boulia in Outback Queensland, with a population of just 230 people, is seeing more locals drawn to the business of camel racing, including partners, Dannileah Stewart and Ronnie Callope.
A strong field of locally trained camels will be at the starting gates on the 3rd weekend in July 2016, when Boulia’s four camel training teams mount up for the iconic Boulia Camel Races.
As Boulia’s new entrants to the camel training scene, Danni and Ronnie bring more chances for the home-ground field to take home the Boulia Cup, coveted as the ‘Melbourne Cup’ of camel racing.
Recalling her first encounter with camels, only 7 years ago, Danni admits she and her partner were “horse people” and thought that the ungainly camels were like “left over pieces that God threw together.” Despite themselves, Danni and Ronnie very quickly became besotted with the sport.
“The Woodhouse family got me started in all this,” explains Ronnie. “It was a couple of months before the (Boulia) camel races and Julie Woodhouse asked if I knew how to horse ride, because Garry Woodhouse was looking for a couple of camel jockeys. She said if you know how to ride a horse, that’s all you need is your balance. So that afternoon Garry had them saddled up. I thought it was a joke because I was looking for the full saddle like a horse, and there isn’t one with camels. And I thought we were just going on a steady ride to get a feel for it, but after a minute we were going for it and I have never looked back from there. They (the Woodhouse family) showed us how to break-in, the feeding, the training and everything you need to know about camels.”
Both with day jobs working for the local council, Danni and Ronnie’s spare time was spent jockeying for the Woodhouses and their excitement for the sport grew when they placed second and third in the Boulia Cup a few years ago.
Now trying their hand at camel training, the excitement and busy preparations are growing for the duo, now just 3 months out from their hometown Boulia Camel Races.
“We’ve been putting them on grain and feeds and hay – we’ve had no rain, there’s no grass and we’ve been constantly feeding them,” says Danni of the drought conditions in Boulia. “But at the moment they are getting on that green grass from the recent rain and they are starting to fill out really good.”
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Providing the camel’s condition is right, Danni and Ronnie will race camels ‘Spike’, ‘Marley’ and ‘Wason’, with Danni’s brother Bruce joining in on the family sport as jockey.
The last local to take out Boulia’s prized Camel Cup was second generation camel trainer, Tom Woodhouse with camel ‘Uncle Bob’ in 2014.
Danni says of their chances this year “I’m not expecting much from them being their first year – it usually takes a few years to get a good one.” While she’d love to see another local winner, Danni admits that South Australian trained camel ‘The Rock’, will be an interesting one to watch.
Their camel crew are about 5 years old and though this will be their first time at the starting gates, they were involved in the Boulia Camel Races a few years ago as the lively young recruits for the very popular camel tagging event.
Featuring on Saturday and Sunday’s program, the camel tagging sees fearless volunteers entering an arena, each with the mission of sticking a piece of duct tape onto a camel and again retrieving it. This, plus an action packed 4-days of family fun and events is why a few thousand visitors will flock to the Boulia Racecourse from 14 to 17th July 2016, in what will be the event’s 20th anniversary.
Keen local involvement in the races extends even to the business community, who have embraced the event from its inception. “One of the stand-out examples is the sponsorship from P & G Harris Road Contractors, who amazingly have sponsored the races continuously for the whole 20 years,” says Event Secretary, Shelley Norton.
Sitting on the edge of the Simpson Desert, Boulia beacons visitors to embark on an adventure deep into the territory of the legendary Min Min lights. With its cooler weather, there is no better time than July to explore the best of what Queensland’s Outback has to offer.