Culture and camel racing in Tara

Queensland Events
CAMEL race organiser for the Tara Festival of Culture and Camel Races Lou Thornbury has an interesting relationship with these humped beasts.

“When I present the winners with their ribbons and trophies, I stand well back,” she says. “I don’t like camels very much. I am wary of them.”

Not that she’s had any bad experiences. But many punters probably have. At the races, held every two years in the small Darling Downs town 300km south-west of Brisbane, camels often go the wrong way during a race, or even sit down mid-run.

“Sometimes you start them off and they go so far and then turn around and head back,” Lou says. “So it’s best if you can race them towards their camp.”

Lou might do well to have a word with camel operator Lionel Keegan, from Capalaba in Brisbane.

Keegan has 14 camels, and at the last Tara Festival raced four, coming home with a few second places.

“People think camels spit and growl and bite, but they are pretty friendly,” Keegan says. “They all have different personalities.”

Keegan has been training, buying, selling and operating camels for the past 20 years. He also publishes a quarterly publication, The Camel Mag.

It all started when “a fellow sold me a couple of wild ones”, he says. “I trained them and thought, ‘that was pretty easy’.”

Keegan spends his days travelling around the countryside with his camels, working fetes, festivals and attending race meetings.

A few months prior to a race he puts his contenders on a special regime.

“We feed them a high-protein feed to rev ‘em up a bit, and put them on an exercise program where they trot for a few hours a day…much like a runner would before a big race,” he says.

“Some really love running. They’re the ones we use for the racing.”

This year he’s keen to see how young Suzie Q will do at the festival.

“We are going to give ‘em a surprise this time, with her,” he says. “She’s a real wild one, and this will be her first big race.”

Festival committee president David Gunther says the festival is a highlight for the town, swelling the usual population of about 1000 to 5000 or 6000.

“The festival has put Tara on the map,” he says.

“It’s a weird mix, but it works really well.

We don’t get culture out here much, so we try to get that culture during the festival.

We try to represent every continent.”

Food is in keeping with the theme (multicultural, not camel): “We encourage local community groups, who are the only ones allowed to serve food, to do a multi-cultural menu too, serving Mexican, Egyptian, Canadian...”

With only one motel and one hotel in town, accommodation books up fast. But don't worry - camping is available at the showground.

Tara Festival of Culture and Camel Races
When: August 1-2, 2009
Where: Tara
Contact: 07 4665 3366

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