WHEN Alex Tinson sat down for a schooner with a stranger called Heath at the Augathella pub, deep in the Queensland outback, never in his wildest dreams did he think it would turn into a lifelong job with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
But that’s exactly what happened for the then 33-year-old, who tells how his life went from a veterinary clinic in Tweed Heads, to working for one of the wealthiest royal families in the world — just from having a beer.
From mountain lions walking around on leashes like pet labradors, to security officials standing guard with “massive machine guns” — life in the Middle East was a far cry from his Australian world.
For Alex, the opportunity was a mere stroke of luck.
Typically, his days would be spent tending to animals at his northern NSW practice, which he co-owned with friend and colleague, Doug Cluer.
But one day, a call out of the clinic lead him to a property where he was required to castrate six camels.
“The truth is, I never went out looking for camels. They came to me,” he writes in his new book, The Desert Vet.
“It’s not every day your average small-town vet gets asked to remove the testicles of a camel.”
The owner of the animals, Paddy, was a camel fanatic, and after getting to know Alex — asked him to be a part of his work-in-progress project, The Great Australian Camel Race.
“It was 1988, and was going to be country’s largest ever camel race,” Alex told news.com.au..
“Paddy asked if I would act as the vet for his camels he was entering, but instead I sold him on the idea that I should be the vet responsible for the entire race.”
During the Great Camel Race, Alex was tracked down by Heath — who explained his relationship to the royal family of Abu Dhabi.
“He had been sent to find me by ‘someone very important’,” Alex said.
Heath’s mission was to find Alex, and offer him the job of making the Prince’s camels the fastest in the world.
“I had never been out of Australia,” Alex admitted.
“It was a big decision. But the last thing I wanted to do after the adrenaline charge of the Great Australian Camel Race was to return to my old life in Tweed Heads,” he wrote.
So, with the offer in hand, Alex convinced his pregnant wife Patti about a new life in the oil rich country in the Middle East where camel racing is huge.
A few weeks after his third daughter was born, Alex was on his way to work for the Crown Prince, and his young family would join him in a few months’ time.
“I guessed it would be something like working for the Queen of England,” he said.
Being escorted out of business class at the arrivals terminal, Alex was served coffee out of golden teapots and cups in a room for VIPs. It was his first taste of working for royalty.
“[At lunch] we took our seats at a table replete with the finest foods of the Arab world,” he wrote.
“I had just started to feel comfortable in the exotic setting when ... I could see something quite extraordinary.
“An Abu Dhabi business figure in customary white robes — with a mountain lion on a leash.”
Initially, the job was a blank canvas — but the end goal never altered.
For the Crown Prince, having the fastest camels in the world wasn’t about the hundreds of thousands in cash prizes, or the Bentley’s and Ferraris that came with a win.
Having the best camels in all of the United Arab Emirates was a sign of power — and it was Alex’s job to make sure that wish came true.
“The Middle East is the world’s biggest film set, and it’s incredibly exciting, but you have to produce the goods for your boss,” he said.
“As long as you’re doing your best and pushing the boundaries, you’ll be OK. Otherwise, they will go onto someone else.”
When Alex arrived, the Crown Prince was sixth on the UAE camel race ladder, a standing he was desperate to improve.
“Abu Dhabi’s camels overall weren’t going so bad, but the Crown Prince needed to improve his standing,” Alex said.
“Sometimes he’d win, but over the year his camels didn’t shake up so well, and so it was up to us to bring his camels up to speed.”
While the days were long, Alex and his team were determined to raise, train and breed the best racing camels in the world.
“The trainers especially work insane hours,” Alex said.
“If they get more than two hours sleep a day I’m amazed.”
But the lack of sleep would pay off if it produced a winner.
“They [owners] get a lot of money if they win, and that is given to the trainer,” he said.
“It’s all very prestigious. If the camel wins, the owner gets hundreds of thousands, a fancy car, which is passed on to the trainer, and he spreads it around with the other trainers.”
While the work was hard, the now 61-year-old admits that working for a Prince, who became the Emir of Abu Dhabi in November 2004 after his father’s death, definitely came with its perks.
“Working for a prince, obviously he is very generous,” Alex said.
“But once the Crown Prince became president he was very busy, and I didn’t get to see him as much later on.
“Working for the royal family is different to working for a company. People in important position have camels, so that gives me a lot of lustre and privilege I guess.
“You see some amazing things, and they really are very generous people.
“But if you look after them, they will look after you.”
The Desert Prince is now available from selected book stores.