Wild horses: pest or poem of the Alps?
Many moons ago a bush poet of some repute penned a powerful poem. A bush ballad that has reverberated down through the ages.
It captured an era of colonial pastoralism. Pitted European immigrants against the harsh natural elements of an ancient environment. The Australian bush. It’s a poem that, with the passage of time, has benefited from a hint of nostalgia, a splash of mystic, gaining cultural prominence in a contemporary world.
The author was Banjo Patterson. The poem was The Man from Snowy River.
Echoing the vernacular of the time, painting picturesque word pictures, Patterson skilfully created metaphors of rugged stockmen set against an unforgiving landscape. He conjured a mountain story of courage, endurance, tenacity. The poem reflects values of mateship, lending a helping hand. It’s a tale of triumph.
As bush ballads go, it beautifully reflects the elements of an enduring romantic notion. A folklore of the bush. Little wonder it still resonates today.
Banjo’s poem tells the tale of a horse-pack pursuit, recapturing a colt that had been enticed to join a mob of wild horses. History tells us that at the time Banjo penned this poem, these feral horses were seen by pastoralists as a scourge upon their livelihood, a curse competing for feed, marauding their precious livestock.
They were seen as a serial pest.
The newspapers of 1896 reported the plight of struggling pastoralists pitted against pillaging feral mobs of wild horses. A common phrase ‘off with the brumbies’ reflected domestic livestock hopelessly lost.
Drastic measures were deployed to respond to the feral horse menace of 1890s, brumby’s throats were slit by skilled stockmen, horses shot on sight, roped, corralled, captured. A menace of the mountains ruthlessly dealt with.
This reality is a far cry from the dreamy, wistfulness image conjured by a romantic ballad. Let alone any sense for animal welfare.
Fast forward 130 years. These feral descendants continue to wreak havoc upon this ancient landscape. Rather than luring Banjo’s imaginary ‘colt from old Regret’, wild horses are destroying the mountain home of the endangered Corroboree Frog, impacting directly upon the integrity of our drinking water.
The science is crystal clear. Their damage is perverse.
Today, within Kosciuszko National Park, thousands of feral horses have been afforded legislative protection. The mountains are calling and we must care.
Brett McNamara is with ACT Parks Conservation Service.
Article also appeared on 13 March 2019 in The Chronicle