Camels were used by the NT Police until 1953. The last camel patrol was carried out was to the west of Finke in May 1953.
In that year Finke was a one man Station with probably the largest Police District in Australia. The district was bounded on the south by the South Australia Border; on the east by the Queensland border; on the west by the Western Australia border; and to the north by a line drawn seven miles south of Alice Springs. It was 220,000 square kilometres. Before 1952, the only transport was the camels.
On Monday 4th May, 1953 at Curtin Springs Cattle Station (about 300 Kms west of Finke) an aboriginal male named Barry Mutarubi speared an aboriginal female in the back .She had rejected his sexual advances and he had followed her out from the station when she was on a hunting trip.
Alice Springs Police were notified and they dispatched Constable Millgate and Native Affairs Patrol Officer Len Penhall to Curtin Springs by Landrover but the Barry had gone into the desert and they were unable to pursue him by vehicle. There was no petrol or settlements west of Curtin Springs
Alice Springs Police notified Constable Tony Kelly at Finke as he had camels on strength and with them he could travel in desert. He was to travel with camels and his two trackers (Peter and Stanley) to meet Milgate at Curtin Springs. Kelly spent one day getting the six camels in and loaded up. One camel was carrying water alone.
A Camel could travel about 30 kms per day travelling at 3.5km per hour. (If the camel agrees to this speed) They don’t like to hurry, they don’t like slippery ground or rocky country. The camel patrol arrived at Curtin Springs on the 14th May.
They spent the 15th interviewing witnesses and then drove to Mulga Park Cattle Station about 70 kms south near the SA where Barry had been seen. And the trackers travelled behind with the camels. They searched from here in the surrounding country and located some tracks belonging to Barry which indicated that he could have been travelling towards the Kelly Hills to the north-west. They searched this area and then headed back south-west to the foot of Musgrave ranges, checking water holes for Barry’s footprints without success. They returned to Mulga Park Station on the 22nd May. Ayers Rock and Mount Olga were checked by vehicle as there was a road to that area.
Waterholes were searched again without success and then the local aboriginals related that Barry had crossed the WA border
Decision was made to abandon the search as the suspect would return back to his country in time.
The Station Patrol return for that month by Finke Police showed 1,800 kms travelled. 500 of them by camels. This was the last major patrol on camels by NT Police.
In 1956, three years after, one of the Finke Police Trackers Stanley while at an aboriginal camp at Yuendumu recognised Barry Mutarubi’s tracks and told Constable Kelly. Barry Mutarubi was arrested for the killing at Curtin Springs and returned to Alice Springs.
AS RON 'BROWNIE' BROWN, mounted on his grey camel Pearl, swayed across the gibber plain in the sweltering heat of the desert, this sort of police patrol was already on the way out. It was 1951 and the roar of Land Rovers was heralding the swansong of both horses and cantankerous camels, which were then the key mode of transport in close to half of the Northern Territory's police districts.
Central Australia's Finke Police District was reputedly the world's largest beat. Spanning the remote space between Mount Dare station, Alice Springs and Mt Gosse in WA - passing Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), Uluru/Ayers Rock and Lake Amadeus - it dipped over the border into SA, where officers acted as Special Constables.
The camels were a practical choice to traverse the vast Red Centre, if not always a comfortable one. Contrary to popular belief, a camel's hump is not full of water; it is filled with fatty tissue that retains fluid, shrinking if the animal is unable to drink. This hardy feature earned camels the moniker 'ships of the desert'.