'The day my partner went and bought 11 wild camels'

Wayne Morris from Camelot Dairies taking some of his herd for a walk. Photo: Camelot Dairies/Facebook

Wayne Morris from Camelot Dairies taking some of his herd for a walk. Photo: Camelot Dairies/Facebook

Wayne Morris had 20 years' dairy farming behind him and had taken a break from the land to work in a macadamia processing plant, when the camel idea kicked in.

Shrugging off the farming routine and early mornings outdoors hadn't come easily and so he and partner Melanie Fitzgibbon, a school teacher, had been thinking about how they could get back to dairying in some way.

As soon as he heard about milking camels, Wayne knew that was what he wanted to do.

"He came home the next day and said I've just bought 11 camels – I thought he might have just bought one but no, he got the whole herd," Melanie recalls.

And so began the couple's love affair with the highly misunderstood goliaths of the Australian desert – and a Gympie region food story that continues to evolve.

That was all back in 2014 and a lot a has happened in the three years since.

One of the smaller members of the Camelot Dairies herd.  Photo: Camelot Dairies/Facebook

One of the smaller members of the Camelot Dairies herd. Photo: Camelot Dairies/Facebook

Their original herd was owned by farmers in nearby Bauple who kept the camels there while the couple looked for a place to lease.

"Our eight acres wasn't going to cut it," Melanie said.

They secured a patch, moved the herd and a year later travelled to Birdsville to look at a bull camel to buy. If they thought their original 11 were wild, they hadn't seen anything.

And yet, while these camels had had very little human contact, and didn't even know what a water trough or a feed bucket was – Melanie was struck by their grace and gentleness.

"I had imagined some Jurassic creatures running around but they were just standing there."

Her heart sank when the owner told them whichever camels they didn't buy would be heading for the abattoir.

She and Wayne took a lunch break to discuss their pending purchase.

"He looked at me and said we're taking them all aren't we?"

"Yep."

"They're just like giant Labradors," Melanie says of her camels. Photo: Camelot Dairies/Facebook

"They're just like giant Labradors," Melanie says of her camels. Photo: Camelot Dairies/Facebook

And suddenly it was real; they were seriously dairy farming, albeit with slightly bigger beasts than the bovines Wayne had previously worked with. Camelot Dairies was launched.

The couple have been milking for just over a year now and distribute their pasteurised camel's milk – and a new feta cheese – to health shops and providores around south-east Queensland.

They are regulars at festivals and food events – including Regional Flavours in Brisbane this weekend – and have discovered a growing agri-tourism side to their venture with crowds visiting the farm on the second Sunday of every month. Bookings are essential at camelotdairies.com.au  

"They're just like giant Labradors really," Melanie said of her unusual herd.

"We had two girls here on the weekend and they actually just sat down with them for a couple of hours and were patting them, and one of them said to me it was the loveliest thing she'd ever done."

They're highly intelligent and they each have their own personalities, she said.

"There's been a lot of awful things said about camels but most of that is untrue – you would have to be horribly unkind for them to become angry, they're just so laid back.

"Wayne will take them for a walk up the road to graze on the side of the road, no lead, and when it's time to come home he'll turn and say 'come on girls' and they'll follow him home.

Melanie said camel's milk has a lighter flavour and lower fat content than cow's milk, and was regarded as a good source of vitamin C, magnesium, iron and calcium. It is also significantly lower in lactose than cow's milk.

Camelot Dairies is one of just three camel dairies in Queensland.

"It's a new industry. It's lovely to be on the ground floor of something that people are embracing," Melanie said. 

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