THEIR giggling is infectious. So far, Matty, Aiden, Lee and Tartasha from Happy Valley have been patiently waiting until the usual boring stuff like adult conversation has been dispensed with. But the second that Mark Swindells appears with Chester, the camel, they find it impossible to contain their excitement. Mark, who co-owns and runs Uluru Camel Tours, just a few kilometres from the Ayers Rock Resort at Yulara, is going to give the four of them a ride and the anticipation is proving almost too much to bear.
Chester is just minutes from being let free after his day’s work when he is press-ganged back into action. It’s easy to see that he is one of Mark’s favourites. There are plenty of apologies for disturbing his almost-free time, and a couple of gentle pats as Mark puts back on the large, steel-framed saddle. But Chester takes it all in his stride and as he is led towards the large paddock, Matty, Aiden, Lee and Tartasha are enthusiastically tumbling up the metal stairs to the mounting platform.
Normally, four riders and just one camel means two trips. But on this occasion, when the four riders are pretty small, it works. Two up front and two in the back. It’s a case of simple mathematics. One by one, Mark swings the kids into their allotted place, calms them so there is no danger of them toppling off in their excitement, then he and Chester set off.
Mark and his partners Chris Hill and Richard Black bought Uluru Camel Tours about two years ago and have grown the business from five working camels to more than 45, creating a successful business that took out a prestigious 2012 Brolga Award. They catch the camels from the bush and train them so they can provide a unique experience for tourists, taking them through the desert from Yulara to Uluru. This year, as well as doing the tours to see the spectacular sunrises and sunsets over Uluru, they have added camel rides out to the popular Sounds of Silence experience, dining under the stars of the southern night sky.
But it’s more than a business when you work with animals. They’re not bits of machinery or equipment. “They are more like friends,” he says. “They have personalities just like people.”
At the end of the ride the kids are still laughing as they tumble back down the steps. Chester ambles off to join his mates relaxing in the sunshine. Off-duty at last.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and pay my respects to their elders past and present.