To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about the Camel Cup. I was undeniably curious, but had the same conflicted feeling I get about horse racing; something’s off here.
That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy going to the races, because I do. I like the atmosphere, the fun of putting a (small!) bet on, dressing up, drinking champagne. But at the heart of the matter is the uncomfortable fact that we’re celebrating an event where animals are forced to do something they wouldn’t otherwise be doing.
Still, I did go to the Alice Springs Camel Cup. At this stage, my curiosity is stronger than my moral conflict.
The Camel Cup is a yearly tradition that started in 1970, when Noel Fullerton and Keith Mooney-Smith settled a bet by racing camels in the dry Todd River bed. It was such a hit that it blossomed into the annual event it is today, held at the Noel Fullerton Camel Racing Arena at Blatherskite Park—the southern hemisphere’s sole purpose-built camel racing venue.
It was an event like no other I’ve experienced, and I am glad I went. Each race is over in less than 30 seconds; if the camels don’t feel like running, the jockeys are supposed to lead them around the track to the finish line.
This doesn’t always work. Camels are known for being ornery and often stop in their tracks, refusing to go any further. We didn’t see any stubborn camels on race day, just a handful of camels that ran in a surprisingly graceful manner around the track.
And the somewhat less-graceful human rickshaw runners, of course.
I’d argue that the rickshaw race was more entertaining, followed closely by the children’s camel races. Don’t worry, the kids aren’t on real camels, just camel heads on sticks. Though from what we saw the potential for injury is only slightly less prevalent.
There is no betting at the Camel Cup, because it’s not an officially sanctioned race meeting. Punters can instead try their luck at the duck cup, which is a raffle-style competition that runs throughout the day. Numbered rubber ducks are tipped out of a cement mixer into a series of pools and if your duck crosses the finish line first, you win cash.
Our ducks didn’t break any speed records, but there was plenty of outback entertainment on offer.
Attending the Alice Springs Camel Cup:
- We purchased tickets in advance from the Elders Real Estate office in town. They were A$20 each and can also be bought at the gate.
- Drinks and food are available during the day: $5 wine is the bargain buy, XXXX Gold is $6.
- A free shuttle runs from town to the park; it even stopped at our caravan park (Wintersun).
- As mentioned, there is no betting on the Camel Cup! Tickets to the Duck Cup are $5 each.
- For more information visit www.camelcup.com.au.
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