23 May 2018

Mulga Bill's Bicycle points the way for Snowy Mountain's Brumby management

| Ian Campbell
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It's easy to understand the affection many have for the brumby, taken at Currango Plains in the Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: supplied.

It’s easy to understand the affection many have for the brumby. Photo: Taken at Currango Plains in the Kosciuszko National Park, supplied.

When it comes to the poetry of Banjo Paterson, I am more ‘Mulga Bill’s Bicycle’ than ‘Man From Snowy River’.

Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine…

It was a picture book in primary school that first introduced Paterson’s character to me, and as a father, I have relished reading it aloud to my three kids, sadly they are too old for that now.

This week, the connection and fondness many have for the brumbies of ‘The Man From Snowy River’ was recognised at the highest level, with the NSW Deputy Premier and Member for Monaro, John Barilaro flagging his intention to “protect the heritage value and cultural significance of the Snowy Mountains brumby.”

The Mulga Bill's Bicycle picture book, great memories! Photo: Booktopia.

The Mulga Bill’s Bicycle picture book, great memories! Photo: Booktopia.

“Wild brumbies have been roaming the Australian Alps for almost 200 years and are part of the cultural fabric and folklore of the high country,” Mr Barilaro said.

“The Minister for the Environment and I will introduce a Bill into the NSW Parliament that will recognise the heritage value of the brumby in Kosciuszko National Park and set a framework for protecting it,” he said.

Dubbed the ‘Brumby Bill’, the new laws will require Minister Gabrielle Upton to prepare a heritage management plan for the brumby, which will identify areas within the Kosciuszko National Park where populations will be maintained, and set rules around brumby management.

Mr Barilaro said the new laws will finally end years of speculation around aerial culling which was identified as one of the preferred control methods by the Government’s own Independent Technical Reference Group set up in 2014 to offer advice on the issue to the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

“The heritage management plan will specifically prohibit lethal culling of the brumby, aerial or otherwise, and will identify those areas in the park where brumbies can roam without causing significant environmental harm,” Mr Barilaro said.

“If brumbies are found in highly-sensitive alpine areas of Kosciuszko National Park, resources will be allocated towards relocation first, followed by re-homing, should population numbers grow too high.

“Kosciuszko National Park exists to protect the unique environment of the Snowy Mountains, and that unique environment includes wild brumbies,” he said.

The legislation will also require all future plans of management for Kosciuszko to recognise the cultural significance of the brumby.

Other changes will include:

  • The establishment of a Wild Horse Community Advisory Panel to advise the Environment Minister of appropriate management approaches for the brumby;
  • A research and monitoring program that scientifically informs future wild horse management plans;
  • A brumby count to gain a more accurate assessment of brumby numbers and where they range; and
  • A marketing campaign to promote re-homing and adoption of brumbies that need to be removed from the park.

In addition to the Brumby Bill, the NSW Government this week approved horse riding on dedicated trails within four national parks – Kosciuszko, Deua, Monga, and Mummel Gulf; following a two-year trial and monitoring, which according to Mr Barilario, showed horse riding caused minimal impacts where it occurred.

“I thank the community for its patience during the trial which ran from April 2014 to April 2016, and am pleased the study found the environmental impacts of the horse riding, which has been carried out on set tracks for years, were minimal,” Mr Barilaro said.

Cobargo horseman Richard Tarlinton was part of the trial and is delighted with the news.

“Personally it’s a wonderful feeling to be out there, for me it’s like going to church, you are there with god,” he told The RiotACT.

These trails were used in the pioneering days of colonisation in South East NSW and in many cases took advantage of existing Aboriginal pathways.

That shared cultural history is part of the magic of these routes for Mr Tarlinton, whose own family developed and used these trails in their own agricultural enterprise.

Mr Tarlinton acknowledges that having horses in a native environment like Kosciuszko, Deua, Monga, and Mummel Gulf National Parks comes with responsibility, “One of the main things you’ve got to do is stick to the tracks,” he says.

“And you feed them chaff, so there’s no weed going into that area.”

Mr Barilaro says final arrangements formalising the horse riding trails in the four national parks should be ready by December 2018 when the consultation process and amended plans of management are complete.

The question I am left with – why isn’t that enough?

Why do brumbies still need to be allowed to roam free in sections of Kosciuszko National Park in order recognise and celebrate European history?

Brumbies at Currango Plains in the Kosciuszko National Park, taken May 19 2018. Photo: supplied.

Brumbies at Currango Plains in the Kosciuszko National Park, taken May 19, 2018. Photo: Supplied.

Speaking to RN Breakfast, Mr Barilaro said allowing a managed population of wild brumbies to stay in the park was recognition that there is a cultural connection to the feral horses.

“They have been part of that landscape for almost 200 years, part of folk law, the heritage, the culture of our nation, showcased at the opening of the Olympic Games and at the same time a connection to the Walers that went overseas for the war effort,” he said.

“What we are doing is enshrining in law that cultural and heritage connection to the Park.”

“We accept that those horses do have a right and a home in the Park,” Mr Barilaro said.

The Deputy Premier acknowledges that brumbies need to be managed in the park and has put his confidence in the new Wild Horse Community Advisory Panel to do that.

This week’s announcement points to a need for further science and study to guide the work of the Advisory Panel, howeve,r it seems much is already known; knowledge established in a large part by research commissioned by the NSW Government.

Southern Corroboree Frog withing Koscusizko National Park. Photo: NSW National Parks.

Southern Corroboree Frog withing Koscusizko National Park. Photo: NSW National Parks.

In August 2016, 41 Australian ecologists wrote to the then NSW Premier, Mike Baird calling for a rapid reduction in wild horse numbers in Kosciuszko.

“Horses are stock animals recently introduced and are not characteristic of this area, but threaten ecosystem processes, ecosystems, and species that are characteristic,” the letter said.

“Horses are not compatible with the primary goal of nature conservation in a national park.”

The group which spans 16 universities in Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania, urged the NSW Government to keep best practice aerial culling on the table in order to support the conservation of native fauna and flora.

The concerned group of scientists suggested around 600 brumbies might be a more manageable number as opposed to the estimated 6,000 living in Kosciuszko in 2016, but they stressed the need for a rapid decline in those numbers.

More recently, the NSW Threatened Species Committee, which is appointed by the NSW Environment Minister pointed to 23 plant species, and eight (8) animal that were “likely to be adversely affected by feral horses,” including the Southern Corroboree Frog, Guthega Skink, Alpine Spiny Crayfish, and Mountain Pygmy Possum.

“Habitat damage in streams, wetlands and adjacent riparian systems occurs through selective grazing, trampling, track creation, pugging (soil compaction), wallowing, [and] dust bathing leading to stream bank slumping and destruction, stream course disturbance and incision and sphagnum bog and wetland destruction,” writes Committee Chair, Dr Marco Duretto.

“Feral horses impact a wide range of ecological communities across the Australian Alpine region of NSW, a declared UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.”

Mountain Pygmy Possum. Photo: NSW Environment and Heritage.

Mountain Pygmy Possum. Photo: NSW Environment and Heritage.

The Deputy Premier has rejected suggestions that his government is ignoring scientific advice, telling RN’s Hamish MacDonald, “Part of leadership is finding a balance and I think we are finding a balance.”

“[We] are now finding a way forward through an advisory committee with a range of different stakeholders to work through the data, the information at hand, look for new data and look for new control methods,” he said.

One of the 41 concerned scientists who wrote to the government in August 2016 hopes the science will get a better hearing in parliament when the Brumby Bill is introduced in the coming days.

“If the parliament accepts the legislation then its a real slap in the face for NSW voters,” Professor Don Driscoll, from Deakin University said.

“Because their premier National Park is going to be degraded over the coming decades.

“There is no safe place to put these horses inside the National Park where they won’t have an impact,” Professor Driscoll said.

Recognising the significance of a “brumby culture” in the community, the ecologist is keen to see alternative ideas explored.

“Cultural affiliation with horses is widespread around the world, including in the US, Spain and many South American countries, Professor Driscoll said.

“Australia is no exception, epitomised by the poem ‘The Man from Snowy River’ by Banjo Paterson.

“Culture can be celebrated in a range of ways. We don’t celebrate the Gallipoli landing using actual violence, we don’t celebrate anniversaries of the moon landing by sending astronauts there,” he said.

The Mulga Bill Bicycle Trail established by the Eaglehawk community near Bendigo is a good example of celebrating culture, and along the lines suggested by Professor Driscoll.

If our cultural celebration of the brumby is to include horses left to roam the Snowy Mountains then evidence suggests we need to accept that the Southern Corroboree Frog and Mountain Pygmy Possum will perhaps go the way of Mulga Bill and his bicycle and end up in Dead Man’s Creek.

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Capital Retro5:52 pm 02 Jun 18

Meanwhile, south of the border, down Mexico way :http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-02/victoria-to-remove-feral-horses-brumbies-alpine-national-park/9827936

NSW may have to build a wall to keep their protected brumbies in.

justin heywood5:43 pm 24 May 18

And where are The Greens on this?
Their environment spokeswoman says that numbers should be reduced, but not by shooting.

She doesn’t say what an alternative method of culling them might be, but given the rugged nature of the country up there, I’d be interested to hear what method she thinks might work.

As usual the Greens want something unachievable – they arent Interested in an outcome, just in claiming the moral high ground.

Capital Retro8:21 am 26 May 18

They insist on “cat-free suburbs” though.

There’s a reason people in his electorate refer to him as “The member for Barilaro”.

These horses are feral pests that should be eradicated from the region.

However they are of cultural significance to many Australians and unfortunately that trumps conservation.

We allow our indigenous peoples to hunt dugongs and sea turtles on the basis that it is part of their cultural heritage, despite the risk to those species.

It would be racist to not extend similar protections to our cultural heritage.

justin heywood8:58 am 24 May 18

There is no equivalence between indigenous people hunting a few dugongs and the massive destruction wrought in the high country by the many thousands of brumbies up there. It has to be seen to be believed.

Except it isn’t just a few. According to news reports it is thousands a year and a black market trade exists on their meat.

And of course there are the endangered turtle species which are hunted or have their eggs “harvested”.

Many of these dugongs and turtles are killed in barbaric ways. Similarly brutal treatment of the brumbies would result a public outcry and legal action.

I’m not saying the brumbies should be there. I’m saying they are part of our cultural heritage. If it is reasonable to get rid of them because of the harm they do to the environment, then outlaw hunting of dugongs and sea turtles.

If one culture can be forced to change because of ecological reasons, then the same arguments should apply to all cultures.

justin heywood9:47 am 25 May 18

Yep, I see your point, and largely agree. But imagine the sh!#fight if whitefellas tried to ban the traditional practices of slaughtering dugongs and turtles. Would any politician ever have the courage?

If we talk in terms of what is feasible, the removal of brumbies should be a no-brainer. Protecting them is unbelievable stupidity. A look at the comments here tells me that I’m just one of many to have seen the damage they have done.

They should be eradicated from the wild, to protect the environment.

Capital Retro3:15 pm 23 May 18

Next thing some politician will see a cuddly “Bambi” and make deer part of our “cultural fabric and folklore”.

There are thousands of feral deer around Canberra now, happily tearing up the fragile ecology along with feral goats and pigs.

They should go, along with mountain bikes.

This decision of the NSW Government to allow the horses to stay in the Kosciuszko NP is beyond belief. It is a decision based on the myth of ‘heritage’. Just because something has occurred in an area for many years does not make it an appropriate action to continue. I have witnessed the destruction of creeks by wild horses in the park, and have photos of the horses that did the destruction.
If we are going to base environmental decisions just on ‘historical heritage’ then I suggest the NSW Goverment also reintroduce the gold dredges to the Araluen Creek valley. They could say it would be a great tourist attraction to show visitors the way gold was extracted from the region in the past. Just don’t mention that the Araluen aquifer was trashed by the former dredges and that cycanide and mercury residues were left behind.
The Kosciuszko NP delicate ecosystem evolved without the action of hard hoofed animals. To allow horses and cattle to stay defies logic.

justin heywood12:24 pm 23 May 18

Astounding. Was the Minister not briefed on the massive damage that wild horses have done to the mountain ecosystems? Does she care, or is a cuddly press release more important than the environment?

A Park Ranger once told me that the movie ‘Man from Snowy River’ was the biggest catastrophe ever to happen to the high country. The horses are beautiful, the image romantic, but the reality is that they have no place up there in their existing numbers and need to be culled heavily.

No politician has the courage to do that of course, but Barilaro and his government has compounded this stupidity by protecting them.

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