All About the Australian Brumby

The Australian brumby is a feral horse in Australia. It has been in the news recently because these feral horses are causing issues in Queensland’s Wide Bay state forests. Several cars have collided with brumbies in the area. The issue exists due to the high number of brumbies in the Tuan and Toolara forests. The horses are breeding faster than they can be housed elsewhere.

Community groups are working with local authorities to find a solution that is best for all concerned. The situation that is happening in Queensland is not restricted to the state. Just last year, the courts decided that the culling of brumbies in Victoria could continue after fans of these much-loved animals raised the issue. Back in the 18th century, the story that led to this current brumby situation began.

Key points
  • The Australian brumby population is around 400,000.
  • Brumbies are descended from horses brought to Australia with the first fleet.
  • The brumby name is thought to come from James Brumby, who was a soldier in the New South Wales Corps and a farrier.
  • Brumbies come from a variety of different horse breeds and do not have a set colour or size.

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Arrival of the first horses in 1788

There were no horses in Australia prior to the European settlement. The harsh natural environment meant that it was not suited to the natural presence of these animals. The first seven horses arrived with the first fleet in 1788.

Throughout the rest of the century, the descendants of these horses survived the conditions in Australia. They did so by natural selection and survival of the fittest. One story as to how these horses are connected with the wild brumbies of today involves James Brumby.

It’s thought that the name given to these feral equines comes from this man. He was a soldier in the New South Wales Corps and a farrier.  He was responsible for some of the early horses that were brought over.

When he left for Tasmania, it’s thought that he left some horses behind. When neighbours were asked about the horses, they responded, “They are Brumby’s”. Hence, the name was used for the first time. Although this is not definitely the origin of the name, it’s the most likely scenario.

Some of these original horses escaped due to inadequate fencing and a lack of regular mustering. Others were left behind, like those of James Brumby. Both of these groups of horses became wild.

Breeding and size of Brumbies

Brumbies do not come from any one breed of horse. They are the result of the mixing of many different breeds, including the Thoroughbred, Irish Draft, Arabian, British Pony, and Australian Draft. The mixed-breed nature of brumbies means that they are often easy to domesticate.

It also means that individual feral horses often look very different from each other. They can be found in a variety of different colours and sizes.

Differences of opinion about the Australian brumby

Over the years, since wild brumbies first appeared in Australia, people have reacted to them in different ways. On the one hand, they have been trained and used as war-horses in World War I and as mounts in the gold rush. They are also often used as stock horses and show horses. On the other hand, they are often seen as pests that cause damage.

This damage includes the destruction of fences and the overgrazing of pastures. Brumbies also drink water supplies meant for domestic horses and cattle, and they can pass diseases on to domestic horses by mating with them.

Despite the downside of brumbies, they are popular with tourists. Many support groups for the horses also exist. They believe in recognising the importance of the iconic brumbies.

The brumby in culture

The brumby is an integral feature of Australian culture. It’s a national symbol that is used by the ACT Brumbies rugby union team in Canberra. Brumbies have also featured in several paintings and novels, including ‘Brumby’s Run’ and ‘The Man from Snowy River’ by bush poet AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson.

The famous horses also star in a series of books for children called ‘The Silver Brumby.’ These books, written by Elyne Mitchell, were made into a film starring Russell Crowe and Caroline Goodall.

Controlling the Brumby population today

Despite their popularity, and cultural value, the brumby population has to be controlled. There are around 400,000 of these wild horses in Australia. They exist in every state except Tasmania.

The population is thought to increase by about 20% every year. This growth in numbers presents a significant threat to the environment.

This is why the management of the brumby is such big news. It’s also the subject of much controversy as these horses are loved by many people and considered a costly nuisance by many others.

Aerial culling is one of the controversial methods of managing these feral animals that is being used. However, it’s considered to be barbaric by people who are against its use. The RSPCA has supported the use of ground culling.

Other organisations, like the Australian Brumby Association (ABA), are working with authorities to try to come up with a management plan to control the brumby population. They want to create a balance between protecting the environment and preserving the welfare of the brumbies.

The brumby remains an essential aspect of Australian culture. Despite the issues they can sometimes create, these horses are important to the country. Their numbers do need to be controlled, but they are always likely to play a part in Australians’ lives.

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