Marcus Williams: ‘In 2020 my wife Julia who works alongside me at Pyndan Camel Tracks — behind the scenes — did something very sneaky. Together with a friend and talented author, Linda Wells, they put together an entry for the NT Tourism Brolga Awards in the category: George Dunne Award Outstanding Contribution by an Individual. I was shocked and honoured to win the award, and share it with another contestant.’
Julia Burke: ‘I wanted to put Marcus up for this award that honours an individual in the tourist industry. He started his business with only a few dollars in his pocket and much effort in training wild camels. He has worked tirelessly to share his joy of camels with people from all around the world. It’s unusual for our micro-business to take time out from our busy schedules and commit energy to applying for business awards. This time though, I felt it was super important to let Marcus know how much we value his efforts.
Keep reading below to see what we wrote in 2020. Sorry to give you such a shock, Marcus! You deserve the award.’
Marcus Williams – The camel man
Outstanding attributes of Marcus Williams include authenticity, honesty, loyalty and dedication. These attributes spill over into all aspects of Marcus’s life including his tourism business, the promotion of Central Australia and his engagement with the community of Alice Springs. Marcus’s belief in and commitment to family, community, the natural environment, and the promotion of cameleering are expressed through all facets of the way he lives his life.
Marcus has been running Pyndan Camel Tracks since he established it in 2000. True to his nature, Marcus started with a vision and a passion. His vision was for a business through which he could share his knowledge of and love for camels as widely as possible. As expressed in the Pyndan’s mission statement:
Pyndan Camel Tracks introduces people to camels. They can go for a one-hour ride in safety or come out to give them a pat. We introduce people to camels so that they can go away with a pleasant experience of meeting such a gentle large animal.
Along with his love for the camels, Marcus has a great respect for the middle eastern cameleers who came to Australia from the mid nineteenth century, to work with the camels and help build the nation. Through his business Marcus offers camel rides, a simple and enjoyable experience, and embeds promotion and education about camels into that.
Marcus started working with camels in 1982. He was apprenticed to Abdul Casley, an experienced cameleer, who started the first camel tours along the beach in Broome. For three years Marcus worked there, handling the camels, and leading the rides. In the late 1980s he had a similar role working with camels on the tourist trail, in Rajasthan, India.
In 1994 Marcus tracked and caught a herd of wild camels in the Simpson Desert, south of Alice Springs. He then herded them into an old, broken-down set of yards and broke them in using a lasso and ropes. After three weeks of camping in the desert with his new herd, he walked them into Alice Springs.
In 1995, Marcus was provided with a list, from the town council, of permits and registrations he would need to establish his own camel tour operation. Marcus had no money. Over the next few years, he worked several jobs and gradually ticked off the items on his list. Through the Lands Department he acquired a ‘special purpose grazing licence’ for a piece of crown land, approximately 10 kilometres from the centre of town, on the way to the airport. That became the ‘camel camp.’
In 2000 Marcus registered the business name Pyndan Camel Tracks (Pyndan) in recognition of the red pyndan country around Broome where he first met camels. He began offering rides down the Todd River, near the centre of town. In mid-2001, Marcus stopped walking the camels into Alice Springs (a return commute of five hours) and instead offered rides from the camel camp. The purchase of a minibus enabled the offer of free transfers to and from accommodation. In 2003, when the business was moved to its current location on 10 acres of natural desert landscape, off Ilparpa Rd, Pyndan had eight working camels.
Marcus is committed to nature and conservation. In 2010 Pyndan first qualified for ecotourism accreditation with Ecotourism Australia. In 2020 Pyndan was recognized with Green Travel Leader status that celebrates 10 years of Eco certification and a long-standing commitment to sustainability. Marcus displays his commitment to sustainability in many ways. Examples include the photovoltaic solar electricity system on the roof of the camel lounge that provides the power needs for the business as well as Marcus’s family home, the state-of-the-art composting toilet he has installed for tourist use and the page on the Pyndan website titled Eco-responsibility that provides an extensive list of all Pyndan’s efforts along with tips for travellers. The page also provides a list of some fellow Ecotourism accredited tourist operators in the region.
Marcus’s volunteer involvements in the Alice Springs community include both participation as a board member at the Red Centre BMX club, a RCBMX Club Official and an AusCycle BMX Regional Commissaire that officiates at regional level BMX events. He has travelled to Territory events to officiate. Marcus has been a member of the remote-control airplane club.
During the 2000s Marcus volunteered with BushMob, an Alice Springs-based service that helps young people, who are having issues with drugs, find self-respect, trust, courage and skill to have a good life through residential and non-residential programs. Marcus was a board member for several years and hosted BushMob, their clients and families on multi-day camping camel tours where Marcus mentored young people to handle camels.
Life Without Barriers Alice Springs, has been taking clients to Pyndan for years. Marcus welcomes those clients, with their range of physical and intellectual disabilities, to spend time with the camels, feeding them, patting them and being in their presence. He spends time with such visitors, supporting their engagement with camels, and asks for nothing in return.
Relationships for Marcus are about authenticity. As such, the networks that he fosters within the broader tourism industry have been created through building relationships, such as those with the front office staff at Tourism Central Australia. Not only do the staff phone him for bookings but also to discuss events and changes in Central Australia.
Marcus’s good standing in the community has been no more apparent than during the COVID era. During early lockdown times when no tours could operate, Pyndan started selling camel manure to the people of Alice Springs for use as fertilizer on their gardens. Prior to this, people used to pick up manure from Pyndan for a gold coin donation at most. He started selling it for $15 a trailer load and then $50 to generate income to feed the camels. The people of Alice Springs rallied. No one hesitated in supporting Pyndan in this way and people began actively promoting the manure sales on Alice Springs community Facebook pages, to support Marcus and his business.
Marcus, through Pyndan, is increasingly called upon to represent tourism in Central Australia. Visits by AFL teams and the Finke Desert Race winners and Grid Girls, training camel jockeys for the camel cup, hosting reality shows such as the Amazing Race (2020) and I Will Survive 2012, tournaments such as the Ingerreke Mountain Bike Enduro (2014) and a couple of visits by the Melbourne Cup (YEAR) offer just a few of the many examples of where Marcus is called upon to host people from high profile regional and national events and provide a photogenic backdrop to their stories. These all provide promotion for Pyndan and for Central Australia more broadly.
During the 2020 COVID lockdowns, Alex Barlow from local ABC radio interviewed Marcus about the effect of the lockdowns on his business and his attitude towards them. Marcus got choked up on camera and replied that he would rather make no money than have one person die from COVID in Central Australia. The video of the interview has been very popular and seen worldwide. This humane attitude is reflective of Marcus’s practice and reflects well on Central Australia. In the Pyndan Camel Tracks Marketing Plan it is stated that:
Whilst operating in a profit driven economy, Pyndan Camel Tracks has a commitment to ensuring that the one-hour rides remain affordable for the average Australian family.
Marcus is dedicated to quality improvement and keeping up to date with the latest developments in tourism marketing and operations. During COVID times when business has been slow, Marcus has taken the opportunity to participate in online training and webinars offered by ATEC, Tourism NT and Tourism Australia. He also keeps abreast of developments in Central Australia through his relationships with fellow tourism providers, staff at Tourism Central Australia and front-of-house staff at accommodation establishments around town. Marcus is a highly regarded member of the tourism community in Central Australia, known for his relaxed and straight-forward manner.
To learn more about Marcus’ journey listen to radio interviews by Joy Taylor of 8CCC from 2013: