OPINION: When first asked whether I’d be willing to ride a camel, I thought the show committee was having a laugh.

It was only when pressed further I started to realise they were serious – racing camels were headed for the Gunnedah Show and organisers needed a few punters to give it a go.

Before I could say boo, it looked like I was already drafted into the camel jockey nomination list.

My only prior experience with camels was as a spectator in Port Macquarie as sightseers saddled up for a saunter along Lighthouse Beach.

I’d barely even ridden a horse – bar a very quiet trail ride on Magnetic Island at the request of my wife a few years after an impulsive, 30-second ride on a Malaysian beach. This after a few too many beers with mates who bet us 50 Ringgit I wouldn’t ride that random horse being offered up for rides to gullible tourists. What I was not expecting was for the handler to give said filly a huge whack on the hindquarter to get it moving extremely fast in a short amount of time, to much amusement of my mates and beach-goers.

Back to the Gunnedah camels, the main instruction I remember from the camel coordinator, Rod, was “ride it like you stole it” lean into it, hang on tight and give the camel as much encouragement as you can.

Unbeknown to many in attendance, these were no ordinary camels on show at Gunnedah – these were retired racing camels trained for speed.

The blokes were in heat two, so we had the slight advantage – and I mean slight – having watched the ladies race in heat one. Some camels appeared faster than others but we’ve also been told several times by the camel handlers, success depended as much on the rider as it did the individual camel. I thought no one is going to pick the pink racing colour, so it’s a good chance as any of leading the field.

As we and other jockeys were led to the start line on the 200-odd-metre, impromptu camel racing circuit inside the Gunnedah Showground, I watched as the crowd grew in number, taking every vantage point to watch us rookie camel riders either bask in glory or fail spectacularly.

Out of the gates, my camel – which was named Bob by its owners – had the early speed. There wasn’t another camel hump in sight!

With enthusiastic encouragement, I praised Bob on his great racing thus far with gentle encouragement to go faster.

With the finish line only 20 metres ahead, Adam Pollock’s red camel appeared from nowhere on the outside rail. For a while, there was barely a camel whisker between us in the race for the lead but a final lunge by

Pollock’s camel was enough to secure the win which he described as “pure luck”.

I’ll admit I was more than just a little nervous about this race beforehand. But part of me wanted to prove to myself I could do it and last the distance – without falling off. I also wanted to show our two young sons that we can confront our fears, whether real or imagined, and be better for it. Because that’s what life is about, isn’t it? Giving it a go and seeing what happens!

I hope the show society brings back the camels in future years to Gunnedah – they sure were a winner in my books.

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