Queen of the camels

Rachael Woodham crosses the line to win the Uluru Camel Cup. Picture: ASH ATTRILL.

By Jessica Anstice

Gembrook’s Rachael Woodham has taken out the Uluru Camel Cup.

Ms Woodham has been a familiar face among the ‘camel people’ for about 20 years when her camel racing days started at just 16-year-old.

“I was actually trying to get out of school and join the transport unit at the army,” she said.

“The transport unit’s mascot is camels and they had camels at the army base – they asked if I could race those.

“I fell off three times in my first race meet, but I kept getting back on and everyone would joke and tell me to get some velcro to keep me on my seat.”

From there, she learnt how to hang on better and has raced professionally since.

“You don’t race with reins so you really have no control of the direction. There’s a little handle you hold on to,” she added.

“If the camel hates the race, there’s nothing you can do – it’s just going to walk off the track.

“I yell, scream and whip but some camels are good at running and some are not. If they don’t want to run they’ll just walk or they’ll turn around and go the other way.”

Ms Woodham described camel racing as “crazy” and said she does it because she loves adrenaline, the people and the competiveness.

For Ms Woodham the racing is as much about the fun of attending the outback camel riding festivals as it is the thrill of riding a camel which can run almost as fast as a racehorse.

“The speed is quite similar. A camel can go as fast as a racehorse, or very close to but not for a long distance,” she said.

“The camel races are usually 400-600 metres. The maximum that they would race them is 1500 metres.”

The Alice Springs, Uluru and Boulia are where the three biggest camel races are of the year.

“I’ve travelled around Australia for camel racing. The races are mostly at little outback towns that no one has ever heard of and it’s the biggest event that that town has that year,” she said.

“I’ve got to race at the major racetracks like Randwick in Sydney at massive events. The festivals usually get a huge crowd.”

It seems camel racing will run in the family after her 15-year-old daughter, Charlee, competed in her first race at Forbes in NSW this year.

“It was an eight to ten hour drive up there so the whole way we lectured her to just hang on,” Ms Woodham said.

“It was extremely stressful from my end because I don’t even know if she can hang on to a horse well.

“I told her ‘don’t whip, don’t try to win, just be on your camel when you go over the finish line please’.”

But it’s not all camels and racing, Ms Woodham keeps busy with her business Unlock Real Estate in Gembrook.

And camels aren’t the only animals that Ms Woodham has a soft spot for; she also has a horse and a donkey – which was given to her as a sales commission.

“The donkey was the best commission ever. I once put a saddle on him and his halter and jumped on,” she said.

She added, “It didn’t end well.”

Ms Woodham has just undergone a knee reconstruction so racing it out of the question for the next three months, but she plans on getting back on the hump next year.

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