This week we celebrate International Day for Rural Women – the backbone of our nation. SheSociety were lucky enough to speak to local Camel Veterinarian, Margie Bale, who works 50 mins out of Brisbane at Summer Land Camels. Margie has been a pioneer in this emerging industry, most recently in a supported research project which saw the development of a new test to confirm pregnancy in wild camels.
Margie’s insight and ability to problem solve is changing this unique industry for the better and helping to bring recognition to one of the world’s most misunderstood animals. Her joy, humour and brilliant mind have ensured that Margie has been able to cope and adapt to her varied days working with these fascinating creatures who were just made for our Australian environment. Like many women, Margie’s career followed the traditional veterinary career path, until a chance conversation at the Ekka opened up a whole new world not only for Margie but also her family.
Margie will be the first to tell you that she was not one of those people who always wanted to be a vet. Growing up in Toowoomba she was always interested in science and knew she would pursue science in some way. As University loomed she was torn between Medicine and other fields of Science as her course of study and at the last minute decided on Veterinary Science. Once she reached University and met her fellow students she realised she’d found her tribe and hasn’t looked back.
Margie’s career began in Brisbane where, like most vets, she worked in a mixed practice. She worked here for twenty years and became more fascinated by large animals. Her next job was back at University working primarily in the Dairy Surgery. It was while she was on call at the Ekka that she was approached by Camel Farmer- Paul Martin. He asked, “ Do you know anything about camels?”
Margie did and explained she had worked with alpacas and camels as well as cattle and horses. This conversation was the start of her tentative leaning towards working with camels. Paul’s calls for advice were once a week, then once a day, then hourly. Margie was a busy Mum working full time and as we all know something’s gotta give. She wondered if she could possibly take the deep dive and specialise in this curious creature, who she found to be physiologically fascinating.
Now six years on working with camels, Margie is like most professional women doing a job she loves her way. Her children probably know way more about camels than they want to and are out on call in the dirt and dust more than they’d like but …. their Mum is around, with more flexible hours and now there are a different set of circumstances to juggle. Some days literally!
Test tubes flying off the work truck at school pick up time and transporting camel feet in an esky on a Jetstar flight to teach students at James Cook University are some of the more memorable and funny situations that Margie has had to navigate. She agrees that a sense of humour, ability to problem solve and a thirst for innovation in this new industry are all necessary to her job.
Margie’s problem solving abilities were put to the test when a farmer asked her to come out to a wild camel muster and determine which of the females were pregnant. This was physically impossible and dangerous so Margie put her thinking cap on and with a research project supported by Agrifutures Emerging Industry Program saw the development of a new blood test that can easily tell which animals are pregnant. The great thing about this innovation is that it’s not only quick and easy, it can be done off site. This means that farmers in Western Australia can send blood straight to her for analysis. This can be done in a lab but it is expensive, whereas Margie’s test is immediate and helps to standardise the process.
We have visited Summer Land Camels as a family and found our Australian feral camels to be so different to our preconceived impressions.They were so curious and loving with those big brown eyes and unique personalities. Asked to name the best things about working with camels Margie hesitates, “ That’s a tough one. Most people want to know the worst things. They haven’t been out here to see the camels and think they are pretty awful.”
She continues, “ To be honest I love the problem solving aspects and the constant need for innovation in such an emerging industry. Camels are amazing both physically and intellectually. They are more like horses than cattle. Even the wild ones that come from the bush have their own personalities. Now that we have learned to work with them and not against them it’s a game changer. Plus features like their feet, they have pads instead of toes, which are beautifully designed for their environment. So many great products come from camels. They are truly one of the most under-utilised animals. And once you name them….. that changes everything.”
We are privileged here at SheSociety to speak to some amazing Australian women who are leading the way in their fields. I could have talked all day to Margie Bale who is a Mum, scientist, industry leader and proud rural woman. We decide to say goodbye as her Guineafowls are getting restless and need to be let out. Speaking with a vet the animals will always come first. To meet Margie’s camel charges you can visit Summer Land Camels and see this unique Scenic Rim farm for yourself. Say hello to the beautiful Queenie and enjoy a camel milk cappuccino for me.
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).