It’s a trading of tools that few of us can fathom: from manning the wheel of mega yachts cruising around the French Riviera to where Warwick Hill is today, kneeling under a giant, cranky camel named Honey, attempting to attach a milking device.
- Warwick and TJ Hill swapped manning mega yachts for milking camels
- They built South Australia’s only camel dairy and trained a herd of wild camels
- Camel milk retails for about $20 a litre, and is known for its hypoallergenic properties
Mr Hill had to invent this milking device to fit his herd of camels as none existed, such is the rarity of his trade.
His is the only camel dairy in South Australia, and fewer than a dozen exist across the country, despite the fact Australia boasts the largest wild camel population in the world.
“They said you couldn’t milk wild camels, and we thought, that’s a good challenge,” Mr Hill said.
Dairy to be different
For Warwick and TJ Hill, moving to their little patch of paradise in South Australia was a no-brainer.
The pair first met at sea — Mrs Hill as part of a film crew and Mr Hill as the boat’s captain — and didn’t stop sailing until they started camel farming.
“It’s really different going from the conditions of a boat on the ocean to the land,” Mrs Hill said.
“I absolutely love being on the land; I’m really at home with it and really comfortable with it, and have always dreamt of having a farm next to the ocean.”
Mr Hill spent his youth catching wild camels on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in the Central Australian desert, learning from a respected elder who became a close friend.
“I’ve learned the language and learned the culture, and then started learning the skills,” Mr Hill said.
“Roger, my Aboriginal friend, that was his major skill set: tracking. I couldn’t believe it, at 80 kilometres an hour on a motorbike, he’d be following tracks that I couldn’t even see until I stopped and went, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a track here.’
Mrs Hill, a former camera operator and trained chef, brought her own specialist knowledge.
“I was catering to very, very specific diets and always looking for ways to feed them in a way that’s not going to make them sick, so when we went back to the desert to catch up with Roger, we met a couple who told us about camel milk,” she said.
“I was told that it was non-allergenic, that people with lactose and casein allergies did great with it and thrived on it.
“Given Warwick’s skills mustering camels in the desert and trucking and handling and training camels, and my interest in allergies intolerances, we thought, ‘My god, here’s a real dairy, a real milk that all of these people can actually tolerate.’
“There was no doubt really in our minds that we’d go ahead and give it a go.”
The challenges of ‘white gold’
But they did occasionally question their sanity while up to their elbows in camel poo after a 16-hour day, or in the middle of freezing winter night in their caravan on the block they’d bought without any power, sewerage or infrastructure.
To top off the challenge, they also built a 100-per-cent renewable dairy, utilising the wind and sun.
Camels can prove tricky and expensive milkers.
“They’re genetically basically designed for survival, not for large production of milk, so where a cow would give you 20 to 25 litres of milk in one sitting, these guys will only give us three to four litres,” Mr Hill said.
“For example, to milk 20 camels, you could milk 500 cows in the same timeframe.”
It’s why camel milk is sometimes referred to as “white gold”, fetching upwards of $20 per litre.
Interest piqued in Asia
Mrs Hill said they had no interest in being a huge operation, and would rather keep small to protect their lifestyle and quality of their product.
“The market you could say is a health market, as opposed to an everyday, on-your-Weetbix kind of market,” she said.
The Asian market is particularly interested, due to high levels of intolerance to cow’s milk.
Soon, the Hills will start shipping 100 litres of freeze-dried milk a week to Singapore. They have also had interest from China.
As for the lure of heading back to the high seas, the pair say they can’t be tempted, despite many offers.
And of course, there’s the extended family.
“We know the different quirks and traits of all of these camels,” Mrs Hill said.
“You really do become more fond and more fond of all of them every day.”
Watch Movin’ To The Country on ABCTV at 7.30pm on Friday, or stream on iview.