You could almost say it was love at first sight for John Hardy.
All it took was for the majestic ship of the desert to stand on its powerful legs and sway its body into motion and he was transfixed.
Instantly drawn to an intriguing, and uniquely beautiful creature.
“I was 18 when I rode my first camel,” John recalls.
“As soon as it stood up with me on its back I knew I was going to do something with camels.”
But it would take years for the cameleer to find a career that would allow him to pursue his passion.
John was born in the tropical north of Queensland in Mackay, and just after his 17th birthday, would begin his journey as a modern day gypsy.
He hitchhiked to the then called Ayers Rock and spent nights sleeping under bridges and in the back of burnt out cars.
He had the stars for company and the bush as a companion until he decided he’d seen enough of the sun burnt land.
“I thought I’d go mining and head overseas,” John says.
He wound up in the mining town of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia with pockets full of cash and an insatiable thirst for alcohol.
“Really I got into camels because I wanted to stay out of pubs,” John says, laughing.
“I needed a hobby and something else to focus on and I didn’t like licking stamps or playing football.”
He noticed a small camel farm on the edge of the highway in Coolgardie and struck up a deal with the owner.
“I said ‘Listen mate, I’ll help you, if you help me’.
“I helped him break the camels in and he taught me all about them.”
John spent hours out-smarting wild camels, copping bruises and scratches from the magnificent beasts.
But he enjoyed nothing more than roving the outback on camel-back.
“You could go riding around the bush for hours, and they’re so quiet that kangaroos and emus would come right up to you.
“When camels are trained they’re like a faithful dog.”
Omar, one of John’s first and very loved camels, with his mammoth head, white legs, golden body and large mane, would spend hours sitting by his side at the camp fire.
Underground in the mines, John lost his first name and gained a new identity as “Camel”.
His wife followed suit and soon became “Mrs Camel”.
After years of being a miner John opted for the ultimate sea change and with camels in tow he headed to Port Macquarie, in northern NSW, determined to start a camel-riding business on the beach.
But things did not go according to plan.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” John says. “It felt like going through a divorce, I felt terrible.”
After eight years working with the mentally disabled, a very stressed John called the then owner of the camel business in town.
“I asked him if I could borrow a camel for the weekend to go for a ride and de-stress,.
“He said ‘No, but I’m selling the business’.”
Before he knew it, John was fixing-up old saddles and finding new camels for his operation.
The rest is history, and today John’s dream of working with camels has become a reality.
“It’s by far the best job I’ve ever had. Seeing people’s faces when they get on the camel for the first time is just priceless.”
And though the wage may be slightly less impressive than working underground, John says the change has been more than worth it.
He spends everyday revelling in the joy others receive from gliding along the beach on the elevated back of an exotic animal.
Most importantly, John says, he is able to do exactly what he wants to be doing.
“Life’s just too short to get stuck doing something you don’t love.”