Society Spotlight: Russell Osborne

By AG Staff 2 December 2013
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AG checks in with the bloke we call The Camel Man.

WHEN RUSSELL OSBORNE TOOK a train of camels on a 6500 km trek, he raised awareness for the Children First Foundation, and discovered a passion for camels that he doesn’t think will leave him any time soon.

We checked in with Russell to see what he’s been up to since the October trek.

What did the Society sponsor you to do?
The Australian Geographic Society were a terrific help with the expedition by supplying funds for much needed equipment. They also featured the expedition in various publications for awareness of the expedition but also for awareness of the work of Moira Kelly and the Children First Foundation.

It was because of such help that we received, many more people now know of the Children First Foundation and the lifesaving and life changing work they are involved with. So many people who we met along the journey saw the Australian Geographic sign on the side of the saddle bags and commented they would be purchasing Australian Geographic to read the story of the expedition and of the updated as to the expeditions progress and the end result of the success of the expedition.

When we were talking with these people we had absolutely no idea that Trishna and Krishna were to be separated as we arrived in Melbourne. “What a fantastic present for the twins upon their separation”, one of the expedition supporters commented as we arrived at the Royal Children’s Hospital where Moira Kelly was looking after the newly separated twins. I guess they were right, after all, how many people get to have eight camels and two ordinary Aussies, who have walked 6500kms through some of the harshest country in the world to say thanks to their ‘Mum’  after a major and world first operation of it’s type operation giving hope of a long life?

Without major sponsors like the Australian Geographic Society, the expedition wouldn’t have been possible as we were self funding as much of the expedition as possible.

Where does this enthusiasm for camels come from?
My enthusiasm for camels came purely from organising the expedition. It was obvious to me when I got the idea of the expedition over thirteen years ago that camels were the only animal who would be able to complete the job and carry all of the equipment needed, water, food etc. At that time I knew nothing about camels and most definitely nothing about expedition work, deserts, the harshness of the Australian outback and the logistics required to organise a camel expedition.

What I have discovered since getting further involved with camels when organising the expedition was that camels are an incredibly unique animal. As described to me by many, “A horse designed by a committee.”  How positively true. They have great benefit to the human population in so many ways, not only as some of the best animals to work with but also in more practical ways when we consider the issues of an increasing feral herd problem in the arid zone. After all, many Aboriginal communities don’t have access to industries or job opportunities and an emerging feral camel industry involving mustering catching / trapping transporting and shipping or dressing the animals for either human or animal consumption would allow for these types of opportunities to present themselves to the desert Aboriginal people.

Now I see the camel as a gift that was left for us to enjoy their company, if working with them, but also as opportunity as a resource of protein, leather , fat  and other products to benefit the human condition. They are suited to the Australian environment and when we consider the potential effects of global warming upon  the arid zone, I see a future in farming the camels when the conditions become unsuitable for the farming of the traditional beef and sheep sources of protein.
Tell us a bit about the camel “invasion” of last year, and your take on it?
I have recently come back from a months work in Docker River where the supposed “invasion” occurred and the world media’s attention was focused. From a camelmans perspective I was able to seek the evidence of the camels movements and the impact they had from the evidence left behind. Not only are their scats evidence of occupation of an area but also the effects camels have and in what intensity they were in from which trees were affected and how the trees were affected.
The movement of the camels came in from the northern section of the town and the bulk of the camels were approximately 700 meters away from the community. There is a house about 500 meters away from the community and close to the area where the camels had congregated. The famous photo of the baby camel sucking on the door knob was taken at this house. As you got closer to the community the evidence showed less and less camels got this close to the community and in the town itself, I couldn’t see any evidence of the camels reaching this far in the populated areas of the community.

I was shown a bore which was dug for the camels 9 kms away from the town and I was also shown maps of the area where future bores are to be dug in preparation for this type of event to again occur.
The men of the community indicated to me that they wanted to sell the camels and make money, be employed in the mustering and trucking of these animals out of the arid zone. The women were just glad they were able to go out bush now as the size of the herd that came to Docker River prevented them from collecting bush tucker and other ceremonial functions.

Four livestock and meat works companies had made offers to remove the animals for processing but this didn’t occur as they hadn’t been given permission to access the lands or the community.
Many studies have been undertaken over many decades by scientists, anthropologists, economists and the like with pretty much the same result. A more recent one which Desert Knowledge’s completed at a cost of $15 million didn’t say much more than what has been said before and had some blatant discrepancies which were designed to demonise the camel but were false and misleading sources of information.

The overall truth still remains, whilst these studies are continuing to be funded and discussed, the camel population is increasing at a rate of an extra 80-140 thousand camels per year on a expediential growth pattern and something does need to be done to assist in the management of the feral camels numbers. We will experience camels coming towards communities in the future to seek water during the dry times of the year and their numbers will be increasing in these types of events.

Since the United Nations has already declared the world to be protein deprived, we are in a fantastic situation to redirect the funds from the studies, which have had decades of regurgitating the same material, towards setting up the infrastructure for systematic removal of the camel from the arid zone to be tagged and pastoralised and finally processed for human benefit. After all, it’s not rocket science. We have sent men to the moon so what is stopping us from removing animals from one area to be placed into another area to benefit mankind. Sure there are logistical issues to overcome but my firm belief is that Australians are capable of far greater than the result we have seen from a massive culling exercise which benefits no-one.

Incidentally, 3604 camels were slaughtered in the Docker River cull. Reports of seeing injured animals who were not shot dead instantly have been made to me and local information of increased numbers of feral dogs and cats and flies in the culling zone and beyond has also been relayed to me. If this is the case, what of the native animals and their future? We are capable of better than that and I hate the idea that the rest of the world now have the option of referring to us Australians as being rich, fat and stupid. After all, if this was any other country on the planet, chances are there would already be an effectively operating camel industry, utilizing this gift and valuable resource.