By Derek Schlennstedt
When the starter pistol goes off at the Alice Springs Camel Cup, anything could happen.
As Gembrook resident and professional camel rider Rachael Woodham describes, camel racing requires a particular set of skills, and quite a bit of courage.
At what’s commonly considered the Melbourne cup of camel racing, Ms Woodham took first place at the Alice Springs Camel Cup, on 14 July.
“Basically you just make a lot of noise, whip and hope for the best,” she said.
“You don’t have reins like a horse which has also has bit so you can control the horse.”
“With a camel there mouth is too soft, you can’t do that, so they have a nose peg, an earring in the nose, but you can’t pull on that so you can’t really pull a camel up when it’s full speed, it’s just going to go wherever it wants.”
This mayhem and madness is what attracts thousands of people to the Alice Springs Cup every year.
For Ms Woodham the racing is as much about the fun of attending the festival as it is the thrill of riding a camel up to speeds of 60 km/h.
That thrill started from a very young age.
“When I was 16 I wanted to join the army,” Rachael said.
“I was working with my parents’ animal farm at Albert Park Lake and the army happened to be there with their camels.
“Camels are the mascot for the transport unit in the army so I went up and had a chat to them and they asked if I wanted to race them.
“At the first race meet I fell off every race; ended up with black eyes and bruises from head to toe – it was a painful weekend, but it made me better at holding on.”
At 165 centimetres tall, Rachael has raced for numerous camel racing teams all over the Australian outback, and in that time has won a plethora of medals and trophies.
While Rachael is kept busy with her business ‘Unlock Real Estate’ in Gembrook, she still finds time to race and every year makes it back to the Alice Springs cup.
“I‘ve only done Alice Springs the last 4-5 years, whereas I used to do the full circuit,” she said.
This year’s win at Alice Springs cements her second win in a row at Alice Spring and she hopes to back it up next year.
Of course she couldn’t take all the glory and commended her beast of burden ‘Golden Nuggets’ who she said was just as much responsible for the win as the rider.
“It was an easy ride for me, didn’t have to whip yell or scream and he stayed on the inside line,” she said.
“He won every race he was in.”
Ms Woodham said she hoped to defend her title and make the hat-trick by returning to the Alice Springs Cup next year.
“Yeah I’ll give it another crack,” she said
“I just love it; the adrenaline, the holiday, the people and of course the camels!”