Flash Fiction: Trapped

It had come to this. Thirst had hounded them all for days until the ceaseless circling of the roped off waterholes created tracks deeply rutted by their hooves. All of the usual spots had been blocked, barricaded with old fencing wire and tin. In desperation, one or two brumbies had charged and stomped, aiming flying kicks at the covers, but there was no reprieve. Smelling the water but not being able to drink was torture.

Two dry nights were spent warily watching the last waterhole. On the third night, some of the brumbies were on their knees, trying to inch closer to the moisture contained within the maze of fence runs. With a frenzied whinny one entered the compound despite knowing there was no way out. The gulping sounds drew the others in, no longer able to resist the trap.

This piece was a writing group challenge to write a piece of up to 150 words inspired by the word ‘Trapped’. It was based an image that had been rattling around since I had listened to a podcast about Eric Rolls and the Pillaga, months before. I couldn’t shake the image of the brumbies from my head, so the only solution was to write it out. You can find the section about brumbies around the 14 minute mark of the podcast.

[Photo: horses on Norfolk Island]

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The Man from Coxs River: A Review

This local documentary came out a couple of years ago. It tells of the efforts of several disparate parties to remove about 80 wild brumbies from a pristine water catchment area. The operation was headed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) with input from other government organisations including the Sydney Catchment Authority and the RSPCA. The area was near Lake Burragorang, a sister valley to the Megalong Valley in the Blue Mountains National Park.

A local stockman, Luke Carlon, was engaged to help out. The Carlon family has an extensive history in the area dating back to the 1830s, and his parents used to run packsaddle tours until the area came under preservation orders and access was prohibited. The environmental impact of these tours, including the effect of the horse hooves, was deemed to be too much for the area.

The interweaving of this complex family association with the land, intricate knowledge of the area and the ability to carefully plan, trap and extricate the wild brumbies was fascinating. It required skills, patience and adaptability that you rarely get to witness. The horsemanship in particular was impressive, along with the care taken to get the brumbies out. The alternative to trapping, removing and resettling them? Shoot them as feral pests.

The thick scrub created a myriad of challenges as the brumbies initially evaded the bait and traps laid out for them. Night vision cameras captured wild boars and kangaroos cleaning up the food, but eventually the brumbies began to come in closer, tempted by lucerne. Once a few were trapped in the yards that were flown in by helicopter due to access limitations, the challenge was to move them from the yards across the river and up a steep incline to the yards and stock truck about four kilometres away.

Quite apart from the logistical challenges, footage of conversations, usually around a campfire, provided insight into the personal stakes in this quest. The long association of the Carlon family with the area is recorded on plaques in a valley that is virtually inaccessible. Luke’s grandparents, Norbert and Alice, provided hospitality to early bushwalkers and key figures associated with the movement to preserve the area for generations to come. This personal passion and association is counterbalanced by NPWS ranger Chris Banffy. He admitted to no emotional attachment to horses but his respect for the land and working with all parties to ensure the best outcome from an environmental and humane perspective was evident.

The scenery was incredible and I loved the background music. The last shot of a stock truck rumbling through Blackheath with a handful of wild horses looking out will stay with me for quite some time. You can find the trailer to the movie here as well as a link to the website. Well worth a viewing or two.

[Photo: view from Mount Blackheath]