Riding back to no normality

Riding back to no normality

When John Elliott and his camels arrived in Lakes Entrance a few weeks ago they were heading for Russell Osborne and Tara Lea’s property to take a break from their trek.

Russell and Tara have been running a business called camelconnection.com for eight years. They have just restarted camel rides on Eastern Beach after the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions.

Russell was a teacher by trade before becoming a cameleer.

His mother did a lot of charity work and when she passed away he decided to walk camels from Darwin to Melbourne, raising money and awareness for the Children’s First Foundation along the way.

It took 13 years to plan and prepare for this expedition, as at the time of making this life-changing decision he was an English lecturer on the Gold Coast and had absolutely no knowledge of camels and camel expedition work.

The amount of work and expenses involved to get the project going could easily have bought Russell a house in Darwin.

He contacted a number of charities he felt would benefit from such a journey and finally chose to support Moira Kelly and the Children First Foundation.

“The foundation captivated me,” Russell said.

“There is nothing more precious than the life of a child. Moira had saved hundreds of children’s lives and she was more than deserving of the effort required to complete the planning, preparation and the actual camel expedition itself.

“That is why it is called ‘The Darwin to Melbourne Thank You Camel Expedition 2008-2009.”

Much of Russell’s life had in many ways prepared him for a two-year journey through some of the harshest deserts in the world. Born in Melbourne, he completed his teaching degree at Frankston before living on an island off the coast of Arnhemland, Northern Territory, teaching in Aboriginal communities.

His teaching has taken him to the Gibson Desert, the Kimberley, various locations around Australia and about a dozen different countries throughout the world.

It was when he stopped teaching and was tour guiding with camping tours in Kakadu National Park and the Top End that he began his preparation to, as he describes, “totally change the course of life”.

“Finding a professional camel mentor was key to the success of the expedition,” Russell said.

After the expedition, Russell decided to start camel safari operations in South Australia. It was here that he met Tara and between them they felt a need for developing comprehensive camel handling education.

This has led the business to conducting training clinics in Mongolia, India, Thailand, the United States, as well as around Australia.

Most of the courses were suspended during the COVID-19 crisis, including their very popular camel handlers training clinic held in Broome, Western Australia, and the Australian Wild Camel Experience Course, but a lot of camelconnection.com clients are from many other countries and around Australia online so they are still studying camel handling and husbandry through their online courses.

Russell had been doing camel safaris until last year, in the Australian deserts, which were very popular.

“They were terrific fun, but both Tara and I wanted to focus on camel handling education and training as well as the camel beach rides, so we brought the camels back home to Lakes Entrance permanently,” Russell said.

Tara is from Gippsland originally and the pair decided to make Lakes Entrance their home to raise their camels and their children.

Lakes Entrance Camel Rides has started to become well known and Melbourne people had been travelling down to Lakes Entrance especially to ride camels along the beach and to stay for a couple of days.

This was attracting visitors who would go on to support the community in other ways.

Unfortunately, like many businesses, the combination of bushfires and COVID-19 has meant a huge financial hit on their enterprise.

“You’ve just got to keep on going, no matter what comes your way,” Russell said.

“It’s a bit like the very bad days when on expedition in the middle of a desert. Remembering how far you have already achieved before having to step back, you’re still way beyond the starting point towards your dreams and goals.

“Lakes Entrance and the surrounding region has so much to offer.

“Our aim is to make Lakes Entrance Victoria’s mecca for beach camel rides in a similar fashion the camel rides in Broome are to Western Australia.

“Everyone benefits when there are more attractions on offer for the tourist to enjoy. The support we’ve had so far from the local community has been outstanding.

“You’re a long time dead and I’ve never seen a hearse with a trailer,” Russell said.

IMAGE: Russell Osborne with camel riders on Eastern Beach over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. K302-5434