Now there are close to one million of them and Australia's prolonged drought is causing some of the beasts to misbehave.
 
"In aboriginal communities they're just destroying things like toilet blocks where they can get a drink," says camel expert Peter Seidel.
 
"So they'll just smash an air conditioner or a toilet or a hand basin to get a quick drink."
 
Culling is one method of control, but it is costly.
 
Rounding-up camels in the
Outback is tough work
Not only that, it is wasteful. Camel meat is high in protein and low in fat, so Seidel is trying to export the animals to countries in Asia and the Middle East.
 
"At the present moment, camels are mainly viewed as being a liability because they are an introduced species. But they have the potential of being a very valuable resource," he says.
 
One problem though is that camels are found only in remote parts of central Australia, so the transport costs are high.
 
Garry Dann has been catching camels for 20 years and says it's tiring work.
 
"You gotta have plenty of patience, mate, that's for sure," he says.
 
"And the taxi fare to the coast which ever way we go is a damn long way, so there's a lot of sense in sending them out in a box and killing them as close to the source as we can."
 
Camel meat is high in
protein and low in fat
Dann runs a camel abattoir at Wamboden near Alice Springs. He processes about 20 camels a week for sale within Australia but to export that same meat requires an upgraded facility which could cost more than $2m.
 
"What we need to find is a buyer from overseas with a guaranteed market," Dann says.
 
"If they became partners in the investment then we'd have the security to get this industry up and running."
 
"It's good beef and we should be doing something with it, not shooting it and just laying there to waste."
 
Selling it as pet food is another option. The main source of pet meat in Australia used to be kangaroo although as another high protein meat it is now being sold more for human consumption.
 
But Dann says camel meat is also of too high quality to be wasted on pets.
 
"It tastes very good, very much like beef. A lot of people wouldn't be able to pick the difference."