Camels, like artists, have exceptional inner reserves. In her book 'Passion for the Possible' Jean Houston observes that creative geniuses have one thing in common. "They were each familiar with their interior world and believed that the ideas and images could spark their projects. Each has become an archaeologist of the mind, a spelunker in the cave of inner inspiration."

Unique Feet

Adaptive and Resilient

Special adaptations make the camel uniquely suited to desert life. Camels do not pant, and they perspire very little. Whereas humans being sweating if the outside temperature rises over 37C, camels can adjust their body thermostat as much as 6C to prevent perspiration, and thus water loss.

Because a camel's body temperature will often be cooler than the air temperature, a group of resting camels will avoid excessive heat by pressing against each other.

A camel's mouth is large, and filled with 34 sharp teeth that enable the creature to eat through rough thorny bushes without damaging the mouth's lining. They can be used to deliver a nasty bite as well, as many young Numec children will attend! A camel gulps food without chewing, later regurgitating the undigested food and chewing it in cud form.

The camel's nose can be opened and closed at will, to keep out sand and dust.

Camel feet are broad, flat, leathery pads with two toes on each foot. When a camel places its foot on the ground the pads spread, preventing the foot from sinking into the sand. When walking, the camel moves both feet on one side of the body, then both feet on the other. This may explain the camel's popular title of "ship of the desert" (the rolling motion is similar to the ocean), but also maximizes the ground a beast can cover with minimal energy.

Camels need very little water if their diet consists of good, moisture-rich pasture. Although they can withstand severe dehydration, a large animal can drink up to 20 gallons in ten minutes. No other mammal can accomplish such a feat, but the camel's unique metabolism enables the animal to store water in its bloodstream. A camel can go 5-7 days without food or water, and can lose a quarter of its body weight without impairing its normal functions.

Meet the Camel
Camel Stew

 

 

Even the camels perished!

Pottery model of a recumbent camel China, early Tang dynasty, 7th century AD Length: 18 1/2 inches, 47 cm Height: 10 1/2 inches, 26.5 cm Width: 8 inches, 20 cm

While almost every school-aged child in Australia knows something about the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition in the central outback in 1860 not so much is known about the role of camels during this expedition. Little is made of the fact that the camels were amongst the first to perish on this ill-fated journey. Given their reputation of being able to survive, even thrive, in the most inhospitable ecosystems this is nothing short of remarkable

A total of 26 camels, several originally imported from Aden in 1859 to perform in a show in Melbourne, were included in the 20-man, 23-horse Burke and Wills Expedition that set off from Melbourne in August in a bid to cross the unmapped continent from south to north. A picked team of four men, six camels and a single horse made the last 1,600-kilometer (1,000-mile) push from a base camp at Cooper's Creek, reaching the north coast in February 1861. But none of those camels - and only one man - made it back. Two of the camels were eaten, two were abandoned and two were destroyed when they became too tired to continue.

From the 1860's on, the immense value of the camel was acknowledged and thousands of them were imported to assist in exploration and freight haulage by rich pastoralists like Thomas Elder. Elder was knighted in 1876 for his importation of camels and his services to exploration, unlike his faithful Afghan retainers, and even unlike his active partner, Samuel Stuckey. Stuckey had gone to India in 1862 and again in 1865, and eventually landed over 120 camels at Port Augusta, along with 31 Afghan handlers. Included among them were two brothers, Faiz and Tagh Mahomet, who were to go on to become perhaps the most successful and enterprising Afghans in Australia, with huge businesses and camel studs.

The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back!

The colloquial expression of "one too many, (incidents) a final, harmful act, the last straw, the straw that breaks the camelís back" is widely used. It is possible that it was coined after the Burke and Wills expedition for there were many incidents that led to their final demise. However, two particular episodes 'broke the camel's back.'

The best documented moment is when the party staggered into Cooper's Creek, only to find that the base camp had packed up and left just eight to nine hours earlier. Wills wrote in his diary: 'Our disappointment at finding the depot deserted may be imagined; returning in an exhausted state, after four months of the severest privation, our legs almost paralysed, so that we found it a trying task to walk a few yards.'

The men debated whether they should follow them, but they were too exhausted to attempt to catch up. Burke persuaded them that since they and the camels were all done in it was futile to try to follow. He was responsible for them heading towards the ironically named Mount Hopeless Station which was only 240 kilometres away instead of retracing 650 kilometres through dry country to Menindee. This decision sealed everyone's fate.

After a leisurely four day journey down the Cooper things began to go wrong. The party attempted to follow the course of the Cooper, but the multitude of small channels threading out into the sandy desert bewildered and defeated them. One of the two surviving camels, Landa, became bogged in mud by the side of a waterhole and had to be shot. Shortly afterwards the remaining camel, Rajah, showed signs of being done up. He began trembling and lightening his load did not make a significant difference. Finally he was so weak that he had to be destroyed. Within weeks both Burke and Wills were also dead.

There are no doubt many messages within this story but one is that artists need to stick together and be mutually supportive. Burke should never have split up his team and should have had clearer, written instructions about what was to happen at the base camp. Burke's rival, Sturt, on one expedition left explicit instructions that if dire circumstances neccessitated abandoning the camp, the men had to leave clear directions about the site of a new camp buried in a bottle.

Unfortuantely Burke was not so meticulous and the desire for glory clouded his decision making. The race to get to the Gulf first skewed his judgment and the final decision to head towards Mt Hopeless proved fatal. Most bizarre of all was the fact that Burke and Wills never left new markings or signs at the Dig Tree and so, when Brahe came back to check if they had returned, he thought the camp had been undisturbed. Was this a cruel twist of fate or plain stupidity?

What can an artist learn from the camel?

The camel is characterized by originality and adaptiveness. Camels are the international symbol of recovery because they represent strength and fortitude. The recovering creative would do well to cultivate the camel's adaptive behaviour and learn to be resilient if they are to restore the creative flow.

Camels, like artists, have exceptional inner reserves. To realise human potential individuals need to draw on the vast inner reserves which are available to them. In her book 'Passion for the Possible' Jean Houston observes that creative geniuses have one thing in common. 'They were each familiar with their interior world and believed that the ideas and images could spark their projects. Each has become an archaeologist of the mind, a spelunker in the cave of inner inspiration.'

The camel's unique metabolism enables the animal to store water in its bloodstream. A camel can go 5-7 days without food or water, and can lose a quarter of its body weight without impairing its normal functions. Creative activity typically comes in spurts and streaks and is rarely, if ever, continuous. What a creative person needs to understand is that, like a camel they can withstand dry spells. Dry spells do not mean the creative juices have dried up. It simply means they are just resting and incubating.

A camel has two rows of thick long eyelashes to keep out blowing sand. and they have a translucent (light can go through) second lid that allows light to go through, but protects the eye in mild sand storms. During a sandstorm the camel's nostrils can close down to keep out the sand. These adaptions make it possible for the camel to withstand particularly unpleasant conditions, the like of which battered and wore down Burke and Wills. Sturt's eyesight suffered from extended periods in the desert.

The feet of camels are large, flat, and round. This keeps them from sinking into the soft sand. Their feet have leathery pads and two toes on each foot that spread out when hitting the ground. The camel moves both feet on one side of its body, then both feet on the other, causing its body to rock back and forth while walking.

A further adaptation solely for heat is involved in the camel's ability to have a large fluctuation in body temperature (from 97.7 - 107.6 degrees F). During the day, its body acts as a heat sink, and during the cool night of the desert, excess body heat is dissipated by conduction

Obviously human bodies are not quite as adaptive but humans can adapt their daily habits and adopt some of their characteristic behaviours.

This template has used elements of the famous Burke and Wills painting by Sidney Nolan (1917ó1992) Collection Nolan Gallery, Cultural Facilities Corporation Canberra