AT 6.30am with the temperature at 9 degrees and a stiff breeze blowing, 11 resilient riders and their hardy camels set off in the inaugural Australian camel endurance race, the Sheikh Zayed Camel Endurance Race.
The 120km race was run over two days around a 7km circuit on the banks and in the bed of the Flinders River, Hughenden.
John Richardson, Emerald took the major prize just 12 minutes ahead of his nephew, Rowan Richardson, with veteran camel trainer Glenda Sutton, Darwin, taking third.
The race carried prize money of $50,000 donated by Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed, ruler of Abu Dabbi and Sheikh of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Named in honour of the founder of the UAE, the current sheikh’s father, it is the feature event of the Arid Lands Festival.
It is not unusual that a western community like Hughenden would stage an Arid Lands Festival. What is unusual is that the idea came from the UAE.
Organiser and president of the Arid Lands Festival committee, Paddy McHugh, said the idea was suggested to him by a vet who was working for Sheikh Zayed.
The vet suggested that a festival in Australia incorporating a major camel endurance race may be a good idea.
Mr McHugh had been on one of several trips to the UAE delivering Australian camels to that Arab state and on his return decided to pursue the idea.
Sixteen months later the inaugural Arid Lands Endurance race for camels in Australia took off.
*Full story in this week’s North Queensland Register, out Thursday.