Reported by ABC Gippsland See original POST HERE
Beach camel rides have become a new attraction in Lakes Entrance, but for owners Russell Osborne and Tara Lea, the camels are more just than a tourist attraction.
Mr Osborne’s first encounter with camels was a product of spontaneity and impulse decision making.
“I was lecturing at a university on the Gold Coast and my mother passed away. She did a lot of charity work for the Royal Children’s Hospital … so I decided I was going to do something for a charity including kids,” he said.
“So I came up with the idea of walking across Australia for Moira Kelly’s Children First Foundation.
“Camels are the most practical animal to do desert crossings, proven by early explorers, if they made it, that horses were no good for that sort of thing. And I wanted to walk — that was the most important thing. I didn’t ride the camels.”
For Mr Osborne, the camel was not only a practical choice for a desert trek, but its personality struck him as an ideal companion.
“In the state of Rajasthan in India, they are the symbol of love. I think the camel really shows that in their connection with human beings when treated correctly,” he said.
“One thing we’ve discovered over 20 years being with camels, the more gentle and more loving you are towards that animal the more they give you back in return.
“Our job as a cameleer is to remove the sources of fear to reassure it with trust and love. Beautiful animal, they want the connection with humans they enjoy that, and you get a lot from them.”
On his journey, Mr Osborne met Ms Lea.
“I was travelling around Australia at the time with my kids and came across a station [that] had cattle and sheep. I’d heard about this camel man and thought ‘Aw yeah, stinky camels’,” Ms Lea said.
“I come from the horse world [as a] horse trainer and I didn’t think much of it.
“The shorter version goes: I met Russell’s camels, fell in love with them, and then fell in love with him.”
Bringing the camels to East Gippsland
After their outback adventure, the camels were brought to live in East Gippsland and in January this year, they began their career as a beach ride attraction.
“We started a few days before Australia Day and had a great response from the community. A lot of people came down and shook our hands and congratulated us and thanked us for being there,” Ms Lea said.
“It’s a good thing for the area, it’s something unique. A lot of local businesses are thrilled to have us there.
“Lakes Entrance can get popular but also it’s such a hidden treasure, it’s such a beautiful part of the world.”
The start of the camel beach rides was bittersweet for the couple, as it was postponed after a family tragedy in December.
“We were expecting another little camel man to join out family and sadly he passed away due to a difficult birth at four days old, so he’s still very much part of our family,” Ms Lea said.
“After a couple of days … it was great to be out there on the beach, with the animals we love, [and] our other three children, hanging out on the beach all day seeing people laugh, really enjoy themselves — it was a positive thing for us to see that contrast of life to what we are feeling inside sometimes.”
For Mr Osborne, losing Noah at only four days old was an experience unlike any other, and one that opened his eyes to opportunities previously unseen.
“Something that came out of all that was there wasn’t much around for men who are grieving — fathers of infant death,” he said.
“So the wheels are definitely in motion inside my head as to how the camel can also come into play in helping set up or develop or assist any of the organisations or charities that help the men who are suffering from the loss of a child.”