Rhonda rides .Susie Q to her maiden victory
By HELEN JACK
IT WAS a jolt of a ride but Rhonda Maluta, of Boat Harbour, was thrilled to be the first-ever winner of a camel race run at Lismore's North Coast National Exhibition.
"I'm still shaking," said Rhonda.
Better known as the Lismore Show, the exhibition will run until Sunday afternoon and includes traditional flora, animals and produce competitions as well as new attractions like the Cock and Bull Music Tent featuring popular bands like the Romaniacs, The Black Train and Thrillbilly Stomp.
Rhonda said racing a camel was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity she could not pass up.
"I've ridden horses most of my life so I figured if you can ride a horse you can ride a camel," she said.
"The difference is I didn't have any control over the camel; all I could do was hold on because there were no reins."
It was a tight race. Five camels, with their jostling riders, careered down the track to a waiting bucket of feed nearly 100 metres away.
Rhonda took out heat one on the back of Suzie Q.
But the other camels, Dancer, Elly, Min Min and Toyota, were hot on their heels.
Seconds later they all happily had their noses in the feed bucket as their jelly-legged riders dismounted.
"It was the best experience and now I get to do it again because I am in the final," said Rhonda.
Camel owner Lionel Keagen, of Capalaba in Queensland, said his business had increased only minimally since equine influenza has hit the horse community.
"I've only got an extra five events it's surprising," he said.
Camel minder Vanda Franey, of Capalaba, said the camels were quite gentle and enjoyed the routine of racing.
"I would not do it otherwise," she said.
"I've gotten to know all their personalities and they know me now as well.
"It's surprising but they have very good memories and remember any little change in routine. Like the time I wore different pair of shoes that had little beads on them.
"The camels were intrigued and they all came over to stiff my new shoes."
Show secretary Janelle Hancock said the equine influenza epidemic has forced the cancellation of all horse events at this year's show.
"We've been used to filling the main arena with horses," she said.
"Horse events traditionally attract people early in the day, but this year we are expecting the crowds in the afternoon and evenings.
"This is the first year we have had a tent especially dedicated to music the Cock and Bull Tent organised by Jimmy Willing and there's a dedicated 88.9FM Dancing Stage."