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Camels

 
The 'Ships of the Desert' have a deep history in the Northern Territory and of course became a method of transport for members of the Northern Territory Police.
 
 
 
 
The last Camel Patrol in the NT is discussed in the November CITATION which you can read or downloaded by clicking this link.  
 
Left - Cover of November Citation magazine showing Penhall, Kelly and Millgate on camels
 
Citation is the flagship pulication of the NTPMHS - see tab in the left navigation bar
 
Below is a story written by Tony Kelly regarding that 1953 Camel Patrol.
 
Constable Millgate had been sent from Alice Springs with Les Penhall of Native Affairs to the scene of the murder at Curtain Springs Station. They found the suspect, “Barry” Mutarubi, had shot through towards the West Australian Border, but they could not pursue him by vehicle as there were no fuel supplies West of Curtain Springs.

On 4th May 1953 I was told to borrow a couple extra riding camels and to join the hunt at Curtain Springs. It took me until the 14th May to get there with the camels. I found that Constable Millgate had made no use of the Native Affairs vehicle to make enquiries so we left one Tracker with the camels at Mulga Park and drove to Ernabella Mission in South Australia, seeking information as to the suspect’s whereabouts, without success. When we returned to Mulga Park we went by camel to Ayliff Hill, just inside the S.A. Border, where the suspect’s tracks had last been seen. No new tracks were found there. The old tracks indicated Barry Mutarubi could have been heading for the Kelly Hills, back in the Territory to the North West, where he could have hidden out. We searched that area and then headed South West to the foot of the Musgrave Ranges, checking around water holes for tracks, again without success. We returned to Mulga Park on Friday 22nd May.

As there was a track suitable for a four-wheel drive to Ayers Rock and Mount Olga we checked the vicinity of the water holes in that area, again without success, and climbed the Rock, leaving our names in a depository on the top. We later heard from aboriginals that the suspect had crossed the border into West Australia. We decided to abandon the search, as the suspect would return eventually to his own country. I headed back to Erldunda with the camels. When I went on leave in March 1954, Constable Millgate took over at the Finke. He was provided with a Landrover so did not use the camels. I was posted to Alice Springs on my return from leave.

Some months later I had to return to the Finke. Geoff Millgate had sustained a broken an arm in a fight with Gilligan, an aboriginal. I had also had some trouble with Gilligan but I had convinced him to leave Finke and get a job on a Station. A Flying Doctor plane, a converted Tiger Moth was sent to bring Geoff to the Alice Springs Hospital. I travelled down lying on the stretcher in the body of the ‘plane, looking over the pilots shoulder. When I arrived at Finke the townspeople had subdued Gilligan and locked him in the Police cell. I escorted him to Alice Springs by train.

Stanley followed me from the Finke to Alice Springs, and I was able to get him a job as Tracker at the Alice Springs Police Station. In 1956 whilst still stationed at Alice Springs, I raided an aboriginal camp at Yuendumu at dawn one day, together with Stanley, in search of a suspect in another matter. Stanley recognised Barry Mutarubi’s tracks in the camp so I was able to arrest him as well as the other suspect. I had never seen Barry and would not have found him without Stanley. At his trial Barry’s lawyer pleaded provocation, on the grounds that the girl he had killed had called him ‘Karlu’ (erect prick). The Judge held that whilst words could not amount to provocation in our culture, they could in Barry’s so he sentenced Barry to six months for manslaughter. Norman's evidence, from the tracks, was that Barry had followed the girl, who was hunting rabbits. He had speared her in the back and then had intercourse with her as she lay dying. Of course this was all inference from the tracks Norman had found, he had not witnessed the actual events.
 
This link goes to his home page - the story is under Papers by Dr Kelly near the bottom titled 'Early Days and Camel Patrols ' and includes accounts of Finke, Alice Springs and Darwin.
 
 
The National Museum has produced an exhibition on the Muslim Cameleers of the Australian inland between the 1860's and 1930's.  Further details can be found at the Australian Governments Cultural Portal in regard to Afghan CameleersMany of the camels used by early cameleers have become feral throughout Central Australia
 
 
This contemporary video shows a group of camels harnessed for an expedition and is only to give people a closer appreciation of the animal as a beast of burden.
 

Camel Expedition

 
 
Police Camel Patrols are still being used in difficult terrain in Jordan.

Police Camel Patrols in Jordan

 


Another account of the camel patrols


Finke Police Camel Patrol 1953

Camels were used by the NT Police until 1953. The last camel patrol was carried out was to the west of Finke in May 1953.

In that year Finke was a one man Station with probably the largest Police District in Australia. The district was bounded on the south by the South Australia Border; on the east by the Queensland border; on the west by the Western Australia border; and to the north by a line drawn seven miles south of Alice Springs. It was 220,000 square kilometres. Before 1952, the only transport was the camels.

On Monday 4th May, 1953 at Curtin Springs Cattle Station (about 300 Kms west of Finke) an aboriginal male named Barry Mutarubi speared an aboriginal female in the back .She had rejected his sexual advances and he had followed her out from the station when she was on a hunting trip.

Alice Springs Police were notified and they dispatched Constable Millgate and Native Affairs Patrol Officer Len Penhall to Curtin Springs by Landrover but the Barry had gone into the desert and they were unable to pursue him by vehicle. There was no petrol or settlements west of Curtin Springs

Alice Springs Police notified Constable Tony Kelly at Finke as he had camels on strength and with them he could travel in desert. He was to travel with camels and his two trackers (Peter and Stanley) to meet Milgate at Curtin Springs. Kelly spent one day getting the six camels in and loaded up. One camel was carrying water alone.

A Camel could travel about 30 kms per day travelling at 3.5km per hour. (If the camel agrees to this speed) They don’t like to hurry, they don’t like slippery ground or rocky country. The camel patrol arrived at Curtin Springs on the 14th May.

They spent the 15th interviewing witnesses and then drove to Mulga Park Cattle Station about 70 kms south near the SA where Barry had been seen. And the trackers travelled behind with the camels. They searched from here in the surrounding country and located some tracks belonging to Barry which indicated that he could have been travelling towards the Kelly Hills to the north-west. They searched this area and then headed back south-west to the foot of Musgrave ranges, checking water holes for Barry’s footprints without success. They returned to Mulga Park Station on the 22nd May. Ayers Rock and Mount Olga were checked by vehicle as there was a road to that area.

Waterholes were searched again without success and then the local aboriginals related that Barry had crossed the WA border

Decision was made to abandon the search as the suspect would return back to his country in time.

The Station Patrol return for that month by Finke Police showed 1,800 kms travelled. 500 of them by camels. This was the last major patrol on camels by NT Police.

In 1956, three years after, one of the Finke Police Trackers Stanley while at an aboriginal camp at Yuendumu recognised Barry Mutarubi’s tracks and told Constable Kelly. Barry Mutarubi was arrested for the killing at Curtin Springs and returned to Alice Springs.


Early Police Camel Riders
 
Early Police Camel Riders
 
   
AS RON 'BROWNIE' BROWN, mounted on his grey camel Pearl, swayed across the gibber plain in the sweltering heat of the desert, this sort of police patrol was already on the way out. It was 1951 and the roar of Land Rovers was heralding the swansong of both horses and cantankerous camels, which were then the key mode of transport in close to half of the Northern Territory's police districts.

Central Australia's Finke Police District was reputedly the world's largest beat. Spanning the remote space between Mount Dare station, Alice Springs and Mt Gosse in WA - passing Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), Uluru/Ayers Rock and Lake Amadeus - it dipped over the border into SA, where officers acted as Special Constables.

The camels were a practical choice to traverse the vast Red Centre, if not always a comfortable one. Contrary to popular belief, a camel's hump is not full of water; it is filled with fatty tissue that retains fluid, shrinking if the animal is unable to drink. This hardy feature earned camels the moniker 'ships of the desert'.
 
 
 
Research
 
The Northern Territory Library has a subject guide on Camels and Cameleers;  The text below is particularly relevant.
 
Australian mounted police on camels : "mounties with wide powers and duties : constables with the world's biggest "beats" : men who patrol thousands of square miles, London, Thomson Publishing, 1949.
PAM 363.232 AUS   
- as of 2013 copy held in NT Library - not for loan.
 
 
 
Tack
 
The museum holds a number of items of Camel tack that were used in a commemorative camel trek in 1987 from Darwin to Adelaide - The Bicentennial Police Overland Camel Expedition.  It arrived in Adelaide at a minute past midnight on January the 1st 1988. 
 
If anyone knows the history of that trek or the gear please contact the museum.
 
This Quart Pot holder was used to attach to horse saddles but was pressed into use for the Camel Trek.   It generally contained a tin pot that would hold a quart (quarter of a gallon or just over a litre) of water.
 
 
Australian Geographic ran a story on NT Police Camel Patrols on June 15, 2010.  The short text is set out below or via the link above - visit their website for the full story and image gallery. 
 
(image from Australian Geographic image gallery - see link above)
 

Patrolling the wild outback on camels, the Finke Police District officers of the Northern Territory, were the far-reaching arm of the law.

 
Photo 1 - Constable Ron Brown, officer in charge of the Finke Police Station in central Australia, with his son on a camel and an Aboriginal tracker. Ron and other offices used camels in the 1950s as a means of patrolling far-flung outback areas.
 
Photo 2 - A camel train being loaded in the bed of the Finke River, Northern Territory. Camel mounties often patrolled rugged, isolated parts of Australia this way.
 
Photo 3 - Constable Ron Brown (centre) was a camel patrolman, an officer-in-charge of the Finke Police Station in Australia's Northern Territory. His 'beat' touched the borders of three states: South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland. It would typically take him three or four months to complete his annual patrol.
 
Photo 4 - At the Hermannsburg Lutheran mission, camels are saddled by Mission locals in the bed of the Finke River in the Northern Territory, with Quaritnama rock face in the background.  
 
Photo 5 - A camel loaded with supplies awaits Constable Ron Brown for annual patrol, Finke Police Station, Northern Territory in the central part of Australia.
 
Photo 6 - Constable Ron Brown, officer in charge of the Finke Police Station, was the only camel patrolman left in the NT, shown here with his wife and son.

Photo 7 - Constable Ron Brown about to leave Finke Police Station for his annual camel patrol of the NT, 20 January, 1949. Here , he's shown in sand dune country, typical of his beat. A Northern Territory policeman was Warden of Mines, Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Collector of Public Monies, and Inspector of Stock and Protector of Aborigines

 
 
 
Other Camel History Links at Australian Geographic
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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