A little known Australian bushranger with the strange moniker of Camel Toe Joe has been on my mind a lot lately.
He doesn’t feature in any historical records that i have seen ( in fact historians will tell you that he never existed at all ).
Plus if you search the web for any references to Camel Toe Joe you will see more than you bargained for.
I don’t think it is right for this Australian legend to remain virtually unknown to his fellow countrymen and the world at large so i have taken it upon myself to set the record straight and write all about his exploits and adventures to the best of my ability.
Joseph Markham is thought to have been born on or about the 2nd June 1831 at his families homestead on the banks of Lake Wendouree just outside of Ballarat Victoria.
His father Stephen Markham was a violent hard drinking man who also happened to be the local pastor.
From day one he completely ignored his responsibility as a parent leaving the upbringing up his son to his long suffering wife Betsy.
From the age of five Joe begin to run away from home to escape his fathers hard nosed attitude but he always returned when his stomach needed filling.
A poor student Joe struggled at school, he tried his best to get a good report from his teacher but his mind would wander and his eyes constantly gazed outside the classroom window trying to picture what lay over the hills beyond Lake Wendouree.
The teacher a mean old battle axe named Beatrice Coltrane would cane Joe for not paying attention and for fighting with the other children.
At home his father would beat his son in an attempt to rein in his wayward ways but Joe wasn’t to be shackled and be just your average schoolboy and a week before his 15th birthday Joe paced a few belongings, saddled up his fathers horse and rode off into the night.
It would twenty years before he saw his parents again.
Joe didn’t have any plans or ideas of which direction he should head nor for that matter what it took to survive out in the back of beyond.
But the horse seemed to know where it was going so Joe sat back and even though he was afraid the ginger haired skinny teenager rode high in the saddle like a nobleman on his way to meet the queen.
Every hour or so he would stop to rest his aching joints and to give the horse a well earned drink.
Up in the trees the Cockatoo’s and Galah’s were waiting for the sun to rise keeping an eye on the stranger in case he would leave any crumbs for them to swoop on come dawn but unfortunately for them Joe only had a small piece of sausage leftover from his last meal at home.
As he ate Joe also had an eye out for any danger from snakes plus from the native aborigines who were known to be hostile towards the white folk.
Joe rode into Bendigo on the morning of 29th July 1846 still unsure leaving home was a good decision but at the same he was determined to find his own way in life.
He tied his horse outside a general store that had a sign on the front door ‘help wanted enquire within’ but than he thought about his parents back home especially his father who Joe knew relied heavily on his horse so he untied the colt pointed back the way from where they came. ‘say hello to ma and pa for me boy’ then he slapped the horses rump.
Once he knew the horse was homeward bound Joe stepped into the general store to enquire about the job.
Noticing an old timer the counter he sauntered over’Hi mister my name is Joe and i am here about the job, i know that i am small for my age but i am as strong as an ox and i can work from sun up to sun down’
Joe has never worked a day in his life but he can lie with the best of them.
When no reply was forthcoming Joe had another look at the old man ‘Jesus he looks older than Moses, i hope he doesn’t drop dead before he gives the job’
‘Thanks for your concern young fellow, my name isn’t Moses and i can still rattle the bones of any of the young ladies in the whorehouse across the street’
My name is Clarence Denning the owner of this fine establishment, be here 6 o’clock sharp and we will see if a little runt like you can walk the work or just talk the talk’
Joe is still trying to figure out what ‘rattle the bones’ means so it takes him a few seconds to reply ‘Ah thanks mister but i don’t own a watch but maybe there is a rooster around these parts who could wake me up?’
‘I dont quite know how long i will be in town for because i have plans on becoming a famous bushranger one day’
Chuckling heartily Clarence told Joe that there is a room around back that he can use until he hones his bushranger skills.
Joe worked at the Bendigo general store for almost three years helping Mr Denning load wagons with sacks of sugar, flour and salt plus barrels of kerosene and crates of beer and whiskey.
It was hard work but Joe built up his strength and inner resilience, his hands bled and back ached a bitch but he never once complained.
Every night as he slept Joe dreamt about robbing banks, hiding out in the bush and maybe rattling a few bones himself.
His name would feature on the front page of every national newspaper from Melbourne to Sydney and all godforsaken places in between.
Then on the morning of 14th September 1850 Joe’s life and the nations coffers were bolstered.
It was just another average Victorian morning, sunny with a chance of rain, the kookaburra’s and crow’s were greeting another day screeching and chatting amongst themselves.
‘Jesus who needs a freaking rooster with these noisy birds are around’ joe thought as he helped load the first wagon of the day, then the mundane was broken when Mr Denning noticed a cloud of dust approaching from the west.
‘Be ready to run inside Joe we might have ourselves some trouble’
Ten horseman rode into view waving their hats screaming at the top of their lungs ‘What are they saying Mr Denning?’
When the men hurtled past the store to became clear to all and sundry what they were excited about. GOLD GOLD GOLD
There is gold in them there hills.
Over the following months Bendigo was swamped with people from across the country and overseas all with one thing on their minds.
Strike it rich on the goldfields and go home a happy man.
After working his fingers to the bone in the general store joe has no great desire to go digging out in the goldfields under the blazing sun.
When he was a young boy his mother would read him about pirates robbing and pillaging out on the high seas.
They had names like Blackbeard, Calico Joe and William Kidd, names that have stood the test of time.
Joe knows that if he is to become a famous he will have to come up with a name fitting the position.
And as fate his last day that he worked for Mr Denning a suitable name was unwittingly thrust upon him.
While he was stacking the shelves with canned goods a commotion outside caught his attention ‘ Come take a look Joe’ Mr Denning called from the front window ‘Have you ever seen a camel before?’
‘Shit a shingle boss i don’t even know what a camel is’
‘There is no need to cuss young man come take a gander’
Joe couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw this large awkward looking animal with knobbly legs and two humps on its back trotted past the store.
Sitting between the humps was a man with a long black ponytail wearing a white dress.
‘Who in the fuck is that man Mr Denning?’
‘I told you before Joe that i want put up with any fucking swearing in my presence, but to answer your question i think his name is Mr Long who has come all the way from China to make his fortune like everybody else but he was railroaded by Samuel Carruthers, now the chinaman is now nothing than a cook and odd jobs man for Carruthers and his gang of thieves’
‘Carruthers is a mean nasty son of a bitch who owns most of the land around these parts, he exhorts money from the miners who dare search for gold even if they don’t encroach on his land’
‘Sounds like robbery to me Mr Denning plain and simple’
Then and there 19 year old Joseph Markham decided that when he becomes a bushranger he will teach Carruthers a lesson and give all the money back to the miners, less a finders fee of course.’
An hour Joe was sitting outside the store on a well earned break when he noticed Mr Long leading the camel towards him.
Once the animal was tied to a post Mr Long asked if he could buy some two sacks of salt and one sack of tobacco. ‘Sure thing Mr Long but before we go inside can i take the camel for a ride? Are the humps full of water or milk?
While he talked Joe began walking towards the tethered beast ‘Not so close, camel mean will kick’ Mr Long warned Joe but it was too little too late.
‘Sorry but i have never seen a camel before, it sure is ugly though, i bet it would scare the feathers from the birds and cause the roo’s to run for the hills’
The camel sensing that it is being put down by the camel waited until his antagonist was within range then without warning delivered an almighty kick that connected with Joe’s jaw but lucky for him it was only a glancing blow, if it wasn’t Joe would be getting measured for two caskets, one for his body the other for his head.
As it was the camel’s toe left a three inch long groove from hid bottom lip to below his chin.
The gash was looked puffy and swollen but at the same time was oddly alluring.
After applying fifteen stitches to Joe’s wound the town’s doctor offered some free advice ‘You will probably have a scar for life and if i were you i would give that camel a wide berth from now on’
Through his pain Joe managed a reply ‘Thanks for your words of wisdom doc but i intend on showing that camel that it made a huge mistake and i intend to teach it some manners’
Upon leaving the surgery Joe was confronted by a very apologetic Mr long ‘Sorry sorry for your injury, my camel did very bad thing, how can i make it up to you?’
Joe thought for a second ‘You can do two things for me and than we will be even’.
‘First when you leave here today i want to go with you and secondly i want to apologize to the camel for getting on it’s bad side’
‘Huong Long gave Joe a wary look ‘Please camel very dangerous, maybe you write letter and i give it to him?’
‘Don’t worry Mr Long i promise not to get to close’
On seeing Joe approach the camel flexed it’s muscles and wriggled it’s toes in anticipation of drawing more blood.
Joe stopped ten foot from the crazy beast ‘I am very sorry for calling you ugly but now i can see that you are even uglier than i first thought plus i just got a whiff and i have to say that you smell like a wombat has crawled up your huge arse and died’
Mr Long rushed forward pushing Joe out of the way of a massive golly of saliva the camel spat ‘You call that an apology? You crazy now you and camel are mortal enemies, like elephant camel never forget’
Once it had recovered from the insults the camel lowered itself to the ground and Mr Long climbed into the saddle then he urged the camel forward ‘You coming or not? And don’t get too camel or he will kick you again plus stay down wind because if he farts you will never remove the stench from your nostrils’
On the journey to the gold fields Mr Long told Joe that he came to Australia with his sixteen year old daughter Knot Fu Long with plans of striking it rich with gold so that they could return to china and live a happy life but that his plans were shattered by a very bad man.
Mr Long clearly distressed paused to catch his breath but Joe took pity on him ‘It is okay, my boss told me how Carruthers is ruling the gold fields with an iron fist but rest assured that when we arrive i will do everything in my power to bring him down’
Please Mr Joe Carruthers has many soldiers and if you cross him it will only make matters worse for Knot Fu and me’
I might be young but i promise you that when Carruthers falls from his perch he will be in no position to harm anyone’
Along the way the camel continually farted and belched whilst giving Joe the evil eye just daring him to come closer.
Joe ignored the camel and was relieved when just before dusk the three weary travelers arrived at the gold fields.
Looking around Joe couldn’t believe the size of the place and even at seven o’clock at night there was a hive of activity.
Gold fever was in the air and Joe almost stumbled from its euphoric effect ‘Father father over here’ Joe turned to see a young girl running toward them. Welcome back father who is the stranger with you? And what happened to his face?
Be quiet Knot Fu, this is Mr Joe from in town who came along for the ride plus he also wants to help us get from under the scourge of Carruthers and his soldiers’
Mr Long suddenly stopped talking and gazed over at a huge house on the far side of the fields ‘That is where Carruthers lives, Knut Fu and i are forced to live there as servants while he plunders the plot that i paid for out of my life savings, but it isn’t only me, all the miners pay Carruthers 10% and if they don’t pay or try and cheat well they disappear never to be seen again’
Joe is seething with rage and the gash on his chin begins to weep and pulsate.
The apprentice bushranger rubs the tender spot not noticing Mr long and his daughter whispering and laughing Hey Mr Joe i was just telling Knot Fu how the camel kicked you and well, here Knot Fu butted in giggling ‘You camel toe Joe’
And so on the evening of 3rd March 1847 the legend was born.
‘Where in the fuck have you been you old chinese cunt, do you think that i run my business on Peking time?’
‘Well let me tell you that i don’t now pray tell who is this boy with you, maybe he could help you and your scrawny daughter help to make my life more comfortable?
Joe eyed the old man astride his horse with contempt ‘My name is Joseph Markham and i am here to help Mr Long out from his predicament’
‘ Perhaps you would be kind enough to give him back his mining rights so that he can dig for gold free from greedy arseholes like you’
Carruthers face turned beet red his eyes bulging not quite believing what he just heard.
The burly 6′ 3′ two hundred pound stand over merchant doesn’t take kindly to anyone upsetting his apple cart ‘Look around you young man i have over fifty men under my command and this very second they have their rifles aimed in your direction’
‘Throw him in the stockade and perhaps as he rots away young Joseph will learn to keep his mouth shut’
Mr Long and his daughter can do nothing to help Joe as he is dragged away by three henchmen to an unknown fate.
The camel stamped his feet in frustration at the apprehension of his adversary who he has grown to admire because the little shit can take a kicking and keep on ticking.
Then things take a turn for the worse as his master and child are forced at gunpoint back to the big house.
Unnoticed by Carruthers or any of his soldiers the camel trots over into the undergrowth and almost immediately begins to formulate a rescue mission.
Chapter two coming soon.