Domesticated camels were first introduced to Australia in 1840 to assist with transport, cartage and development of the arid interior (McNight 1969). Although the role of Muslim cameleers in this process is now well established, much less is known about Indigenous use of camels in the settler economy. In part this is because of the amorphous, small scale and often invisible nature of such activity, which took place on the margins of European settlement and in more remote areas. Yet ‘camel work’ has provided diverse opportunities for Indigenous people to engage with outsiders in a range of socio-economic settings. People also adopted the camel for their own use. At the same time, the introduction of camels has had implications for Aboriginal land use, management and issues of sustainability. Today, apart from a relatively small number of camels kept as pets, there are few domesticated camels on Aboriginal land. There is, however, a rapidly expanding feral camel population. In areas of high camel density there is also increasing concern over the negative impacts of camels on the environment (Edwards et al. 2008). Partly as a result of such concerns the Federal Government has announced significant funding for the management of the impacts of feral camels on the remote environment. It is thus timely to consider the changing nature of Indigenous engagements with camels in desert economies. This paper will use photographs and draw on ethnographic and archival sources to explore this theme. In doing so it will consider ecological, cultural, political and economic factors that have influenced, and continue to influence, Indigeneous adaptations, social relations and transactions involving camels.
Carrying a heavy burden: camels and the transformation of Indigenous economic landscapes Vaarzon-Morel, P, Indigenous Participation in Australian Economies: Perspectives from Anthropology, history and material culture studies National Museum of Australia, in conjunction with the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Faculty of Arts, Australian National University. National Museum of Australia feral camel