The first camel in Australia was imported from the Canary Islands in 1840 by Horrock. The next major group of 24 camels came out in 1860 for the ill-fated Bourke and Wills expedition. The first time the explorer Giles used camels he travelled 220 miles in 8 days without giving water to the camels. He later went from Bunbury Downs to Queen Victoria Springs (WA), a distance of 325 miles in 17 days and gave one bucket of water to each camel after the twelfth day.
Camel studs were set up in 1866, by Sir Thomas Elder at Beltana Station in South Australia. These studs operated for about fifty years and provided high class breeders. Working camels bred in Australia were of superior quality to those imported. Imports continued until 1907 from Palestine and India as there was a need for large numbers of cheap animals.
An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 camels, imported into Australia between 1860 and 1907, were used as draft and riding animals by people pioneering the dry interior.
The camels brought into Australia were almost exclusively the one-humped camels (Camelus dromedarius) which are found in hot desert areas and are highly suited to the climate in Australia. Only about 20 of the two-humped camels (Camelus bactrianus) normally found in cold deserts were imported into Australia.
The very big camel teams in Western Australia and the Centre consisted of 70 camels and 4 Afghans. Normally they travelled between 20 and 25 miles a day in desert country. The teams would collectively carry between 16 and 20 tons on their backs. A large bull camel was expected to carry up to 12 hundredweight (600 kg), and small camels from 6 to 8 hundred weight (300-400kg).
Central Australia used camels in the construction of the Overland Telegraph line, the supply of goods to Alice Springs and to cattle and sheep stations, missions and Aboriginal communities. Camels hauled wagons loaded with wool to the railhead at Oodnadatta, pulled scoops and ploughs to build dams or perform other heavy jobs.
Most of the camels were released in the mid 1920s, when motor vehicles began operating in the central areas of Australia. They established free-ranging herds in the semi-arid desert areas of Australia.
In the late 1960s renewed interest occurred in camels and by 1970 Australia had two camel tourist businesses both operating in Alice Springs. 1971 saw the inaugural Lions Club Camel Cup race in Alice Springs. There are now several camel races held around Australia. These races are over about Ikm as compared to the long distance races (10km+) in Saudi Arabia. There are now many camel tourist operations in every state of Australia.
The slaughter of camels for human consumption commenced at Alice Springs in the 1980s.