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Camel Trains

While paddle steamers were the main method of transport along the Darling, inland, bullock teams provided the main form of transport for early settlers and pastoral stations up until the 1880s.

Bullocks were hardier and more reliable than horses, but very slow.  A bullock team could take up to eight or nine weeks to make the journey from Menindee to Adelaide.

Camels made their debut along the Darling River with Burke and Wills in 1860, but these apparently cumbersome animals were slow to capture the imagination of the Darling River pastoralists.  In 1869 a caravan of 90 camels with 16 drivers made its way up the River carrying stores for Mount Murchison and some of the other northern stations.

In 1882 Cobb and Co. hitched a team of camels to their fortnightly coach to the gold diggings, and camel camps began to be established around the railheads at Bourke and Broken Hill and at commercial centres such as Wilcannia.

By 1900 there were around 500 camels used in this way in western New South Wales with Wilcannia and Bourke forming the main centres for camel trading on the Darling River.

Because no railhead had been built at Wilcannia, camel teams continued to provide an important trade function long after their importance began to decline in other areas.

Although the term “Afghan” has historically been used to collectively label the camel drivers, their countries of origin included India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The camels were imported from the northern parts of British India and most of the drivers were subjects of British India who travelled the northern trade routes.

Most pastoralists favoured camels over bullocks as outback carriers.  They could go for several days without water, could eat poorer quality pastures and their padded feet were suited to long sandy stretches and they could travel quickly over sandhills, creekbeds and stony plains as easily as a road.  Camel trains could travel much faster than bullock teams and could also travel better in drought times when feed and water were scarce.

By the 1920s the camel trains had almost entirely taken over bullock and horse teams as the main form of transport in the outback.  However, their sovereignty was short lived and in the 1930s road transport began to push its way into the Darling region replacing the camel teams and their Afghan drivers.