Meet the Forrest Gump-style camel trekkers

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Seven camels, three boys and a retired nurse have set out on a six-month cart trek from Central Australia to the east coast — and they’re hoping to gather a Forrest Gump-style band of followers along the way.

The team left the remote community of Hermannsburg, west of Alice Springs, last month, and plan to reach Taree on the mid-north NSW coast at some point over the summer.

Leading the charge is Barry Watts, a self-confessed “novice cameleer”, who worked as a nurse in remote communities for more than a decade.

He has been joined by 15-year-old family friend Josiah and twins Tyler and Tashiem, 12, who have spent the past few years helping him care for camels and build the cart.

The Shar Jem Gypsy Camel Trek — named after two of Mr Watts’ friends who died of cancer — has been raising money for World Vision along the way.

Mr Watts said it was only early days, but the team had worked well together so far.

“It’s been a fantastic journey so far and the boys are rising to the challenge,” he said.

“But it’s not easy some days … you’ve really got to think and work it through and work out how to get these camels to where you want them to be.”

The Shar Jem crew have wanted their adventure to be as inclusive as possible, and called for anyone who was interested to jump aboard the camel cart.

“We want to be a bit like Forrest Gump … we’re hoping that many people will come and join us,” Mr Watts said.

“Friends, family, strangers, backpackers — anyone is welcome to come and see us and be a part of it.”

A documentary filmmaker and a leathermaker were spending time with the crew as they passed through Alice Springs, and other friends were scheduled to join them in coming weeks.

Six months on the road

Mr Watts said the team aimed to travel about 15 to 25 kilometres a day, and would likely be on the road for more than six months.

“Once the camels get fit we’ll probably do a bit more, but we’re not in a hurry,” he said.

“We’re on camel time — whatever they’re doing, we’re doing with them.”

Mr Watts said one of the biggest challenges of the trek would be the icy desert winter.

“I think the dead of winter is going to be pretty cold and we’re in some pretty cold country,” he said.

“It’s just about having the tenacity to keep going, the ability to keep the camels in good condition.”

A whole new world

For the younger members of the team, the trek has been an entirely new experience.

Josiah said he was loving life on the road — a long way from his home in Newcastle — and he was picking up new skills along the way.

“I’ve never done anything like this; my first time in Central Australia was about five weeks,” he said.

“It’s all quite new to me. I’m still learning what to do around the camels but I’m feeling confident I can do it.”

Tyler said he had also enjoyed working with camels over recent years.

“I train the camels to not kick and to not stomp,” he said.

“I do that by touching them, patting them, rubbing them.”

He said he was looking forward to seeing new parts of the country.

Night time under the stars

Mr Watts said he had always had an inclination that he wanted to work with camels, but it was only realised when he moved to the red centre.

“When I pulled up in Hermannsburg in 2013, I saw an old wagon on the side of the road and I ended up buying it,” he said.

“These camels walked into the cattle yards at Wallace Rockhole wild, and I was able to purchase them off the local cattleman.

“We’ve got them this far and we hope to get them to NSW now.”

The cart, which doubles as the crew’s living quarters, has a fridge that is powered by a solar power system and, according to Mr Watts, they had everything they need.

At night, everyone rolls out the swag and sleeps under the stars — but not before someone pulls out the guitar or didgeridoo.

“We often sit around the campfire and we have a chat and we have a singsong … it’s beautiful out in the wilderness.”