If you were driving along Lacmalac Road on Wednesday and happened to see a bearded stranger with a dog and five bull camels in tow, you could be forgiven for thinking you may have been seeing things.
The man in question is Western Australian John Elliott, who is undertaking a pilgrimage across Australia with his best mate Bruski, a cattledog cross Dingo, and his five wild bull camels.
The former playboy millionaire and self-proclaimed sex addict famously gave up his high-rolling life in Perth back in 2016 to chase something a little more meaningful.
“I found myself too reliant on money and business and that kind of lifestyle for happiness, so I made a decision to walk away,” Mr Elliott said.
“I just wanted to find different ways to feel happiness, success and achievement (and) somehow two weeks after that I was driving to Gippsland Victoria to learn how to tame and train wild camels.”
The 37-year-old donated his Audi R8 to charity, leaving his long-time girlfriend, selling his house and walking away from the CEO role at a successful insurance brokerage company he had built.
“I needed a change and didn’t want dollar signs to be the reason for my happiness anymore,” Mr Elliott said.
“In saying all of that, I would never have had one life without the other and I have a fond appreciation for both ways I have lived.”
After selling up, Mr Elliott drove across the country to Gippsland, stopping along the way and learning how to survive and prepare for the adventure that awaited him.
The entrepreneur saved four bull camels from the slaughterhouse and slowly but surely trained and prepared them for the 6000km trip that awaited the team.
While doing this, Mr Elliott was preparing, having special carriers made for his camels and stocking up on vital equipment, while he and his dog, Bruski, physically and mentally prepared.
“I was walking big distances and getting ready for the road ahead,” he said.
“One day I put a fit bit on Bruski and I walked 37km and he walked bloody 93kms; he just never stops going, he keeps me company and he is a pretty good alarm clock and door bell.”
The journeyman also had to prepare his camels, which would be carrying upwards of 800kg of equipment between them.
“Each camel carries 200kg of water, food and everything I need, so I had to make sure they were prepared and comfortable,” Mr Elliot said.
“Each day I load and unload about 1600kg of equipment and literally walk three quarters of a marathon.”
On April 11 last year, the trip became very real for Mr Elliott, as they left Coonar Beach, Queensland, making their way down south before arriving at Toowoomba.
It was at this telling point of the journey that plans changed, and the expedition west to Coral Bay took a 2000km detour.
“I instinctively turned left at an intersection in Toowoomba and 2000km later, I am here in Tumut,” Mr Elliott laughed.
The reason behind the change of plans was an easy one to explain for the now beloved east coast character.
“I started connecting with small towns and it just evolved from there and now I try and spend a few days in these communities,” Mr Elliott said.
“I come through town and I feel like I’m offering something to the people and they are so generous in return, helping with everything and giving me advice on the journey ahead.”
The traveller picked up another guest on the way, with 16-month-old Charlie joining his bull camel entourage that already included 11-year-olds Jackson, Ted and Aurthur and 12-year-old Bill.
“I saw him in a paddock one day and offered to buy him and the owner said if I could catch him, I could have him,” Mr Elliott said.
“Little did I know just how big the paddock was but after a few days of catching him and some training, he is now part of the group.”
The Western Australian now plans on heading down to Tasmania before trekking up to Alice Springs and back across west to Coral Bay.
“That is the plan at the moment but who knows, there will probably be other detours but while I am enjoying the trip, I don’t really see an end in sight,” Mr Elliott said.
Vagabonding about Australia does have its ups and downs though, something Mr Elliott has shared extensively on his website.
“It’s been great but you do get your bad days,” Mr Elliott said.
“For instance, coming into Tumut through the Brindabellas, I had a bad bout of gastro and the final day and a half was really tough.”
Despite all the challenges and adversities the cameleer has faced, he is happy to find a reason to make his adventure worthwhile.
“I started off without a why or a reason but after a skin check prior to leaving Perth, I knew what I was doing this trip for,” Mr Elliott said.
“I had a melanoma found on my back that had to be cut out and have since teamed up with Beard Season, raising awareness and detection of skin cancer.
“If I didn’t start this trip, I might have never had the check and who knows where I would be right now, so it was certainly an omen.”
During the arduous journey, followers and supporters of Mr Elliott are encouraged to donate towards Beard Season and share the story, in the hope that friends and family will make the effort to get checked.
In the meantime, Mr Elliott is entertaining visitors, while bunkering down at the Tumut Showground.
“The camels love apples and carrots and I have already had a few visitors come say hello,” Mr Elliott said.
“I will be here for a few days and plan on leaving Monday but that will all depend on RFS and what they suggest I should do with all the bushfires at the moment.”
If you are interested in knowing more about John Elliott’s story, or donating towards the Beard Season, visit https://www.johnelliott.com.au.