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PRODUCTION

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Four Corners

INTERNATIONAL EDITION

2022

Feral

44 mins 27 secs

 

 

 

 

©2022

ABC Ultimo Centre

700 Harris Street Ultimo

NSW 2007 Australia

 

GPO Box 9994

Sydney

NSW 2001 Australia

Phone : 61 2 8333 3314

e-mail :  kimpton.scott@abc.net.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Precis

Feral: The bitter clash of culture over Australia's wild horses

"Whatever life I've got left in me, I'll fight for them." Business owner and horse activist

In the magnificent high country of the Snowy Mountains, wild horses roam the land. Immortalised and celebrated in poems, books and films, these 'brumbies' are a spectacular sight, inspiring deep emotions.

"You read that poem 'The Man from Snowy River'… it expresses a great bonding and a great spiritual connection between these people and this culture that's in the mountains." Business owner and horse activist

Not everyone subscribes to this romantic view of the history these horses are said to represent.

"This is a culture war. This is where they want to dominate what they think Australia is…The colonial crowd feel that they are the mountain men and women and they have a monopoly over what this place is." River guide

An ugly divide is cutting through the country towns and surrounding mountains. At the centre of it is a question – are these horses a national icon or feral pests?

"If horses are allowed to persist in these really sensitive areas, they're going to destroy them. The park is under significant threat." Former park ranger

Ecologists and rangers have been warning that one of the nation's most precious national parks is in deep trouble with soaring horse numbers creating major damage to the protected environment.

"The grass is an inch high. Piles of manure every 20 metres. The banks of Currango Creek completely trodden down…The water in it, instead of being gin clear, you can't even see the bottom. The erosion caused by the horses is just dramatic." Volunteer

Horse activists completely reject any assertions that the brumbies are to blame.

"We don't trust the science. And the science has been corrupted by politics." Business owner and horse activist

They believe the brumbies, and Australia's national identity are under attack.

"If it wasn't for the horses, there's nothing left to prove that we existed. They're the last piece." Horse activist

The debate has turned ugly with online abuse, property damage and even death threats.

"If you speak out and you're threatening a strongly held belief, some people are going to react, and I'm expecting that here." Ecologist and farmer

The stakes couldn't be higher for these majestic mountains, captured in stunning Four Corners' cinematography from the land and the air.

"I'm a lover of the mountains, I love horses too, but for the preservation of that ecology — good science rather than romantic bullshit should be listened to." Farmer

 

4Corners animated logo

Series music

00:00

GVs Fog over Currango Plain

Music

 

 

00:12

 

ADAM HARVEY, Reporter: At the northern end of Kosciuszko National Park, fog settles on the Currango Plain, shrouding one of the dramatic sights of the High Country.

00:24

Wild horses on plain

Music

00:36

 

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator: These horses to the people of the mountains, are part of the culture of the mountains, and the people surrounding them have a great passion for them.

01:03

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: The presence of these charismatic animals in this otherworldly place has inspired poets, artists, filmmakers and passionate lobbyists who have the wild horse as their totem. 

01:16

 

LEISA CALDWELL, Co-founder, Snowy Mountains Horse Riders: They demonstrate the connection of our past

01:31

Caldwell 100%

and our identity, I guess.

01:35

Wild horses on plain

Music

01:37

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: But when the fog lifts, the spell breaks, revealing a landscape colonised by horses trampling this fragile environment.

01:42

 

PAM O’BRIEN, National Parks & Wildlife Service 1986-2021: The problem is astronomical now. To the point where the number of horses are really threatening the integrity of the park.

02:02

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: There is nothing remotely poetic about the conflict swirling around these animals.

02:14

 

DR CHARLIE MASSY, Monaro Grazier: From my point of view, I'm a lover of the mountains, I love horses too, but for the preservation of that ecology,

02:24

Massy 100%

good science rather than romantic bullshit should be listened to.

02:31

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: This isn’t a story just about horses. This is about people and emotion and a debate about what it means to be Australian. 

02:36

Swain in park

RICHARD SWAIN, Alpine River Guide: I feel that all our problems are cultural and this is a culture war.

02:49

Swain 100%

This is where they want to dominate what they think Australia is and I want Australians to love this land and our species and become custodians and carers of that.

02:54

Horses on plain

Music

03:06

 

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator: Well, I can tell you this, the brumby advocates won’t give up.

03:11

Cochran 100%

And as far as we are concerned, the brumbies will remain in the mountains.

03:15

Wild horses on plain, sunset

ADAM HARVEY, Reporter: Tonight on Four Corners,

03:18

Harvey to camera. Super:
ADAM HARVEY

the fight for Australia’s High Country. It’s a battle over what we celebrate and preserve. Disagreement has descended into disdain, abuse and threats as combatants forge an environment where the landscape is diminished, where native animals and horses suffer, and where people are intimidated when they do their jobs or speak their minds.

03:23

Painting of horse. Title:
FERAL
Reporter: ADAM HARVEY

Music

03:50

Tourists on horse trek, sitting around campfire

 

04:00

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: In an isolated valley deep in the Snowy Mountains, a group of tourists settle in for an Alpine experience. Their guide is high country heavyweight Peter Cochran, who runs a horse trek business that draws on the myth of The Man from Snowy River. 

04:06

Cochran reads poem to tourists

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator:  There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from Old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses - he was worth a thousand pounds,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.

04:25

 

You read that poem The Man from Snowy River, it is fictional to a degree but it expresses a great bonding and a great spiritual connection between these people and this culture that’s in the mountains.

COCHRAN HORSE TREK GUEST: When I was ten years old I got given

04:39

Woman horse trek guest

a box of books called The Silver Brumby. So I was ten years old and I first read those books. I still have them now and I'm 53. So this has been a dream a long time in the making.

04:53

Campfire/Night sky

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Even in summer on these high mountain plains, the nights are cold and clear.

05:07

Sunrise

Music

05:24

Trek guests prepare horses

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: The next morning, time to saddle up.

05:28

 

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator: "All aboard folks, mount up, let’s go!"

05:38

Trek guests set off

Music

05:40

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: These are familiar trails to former Nationals MP Peter Cochran.  He was raised on a nearby property. Each summer his family grazed their cattle on these plains. 

05:52

 

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator:  Well, at the times we were mustering, as a child we used to come up into the park and spend time in the huts, camping out in the bush.

06:06

Cochran 100%. Super:
PETER COCHRAN
Former Nationals Moore Park & horse trek operator

So I became a part of the cultural experience of coming up here and living with the people in the huts in the mountains during the summer, and still do it today.

06:15

Drone shots. Trek traversing High Country

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Cattle grazing was banned in the Park decades ago creating bitter divisions between environmentalists and graziers. The fight over brumbies is the latest frontier for these mountain communities.

06:28

 

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator: I’m going to speak out on their behalf, and if I need to do that to protect the lifestyle and the cultural identity of these people that live around the mountains, I’ll do it.

06:48

Cochran 100%

And whatever life I’ve got left in me, I’ll fight for them. 

06:59

Drone shots. Currango Homestead

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Just a few kilometres from the horse-riding camp is Currango Homestead, a former grazing property that’s now tourist accommodation.

07:02

Harvey and Dunn and homestead

Melbourne lawyer Ian Dunn has been coming here for 50 years.

07:15

 

IAN DUNN, Friends of Currango: My being has been greatly affected by Currango. Currango has been a feature of my life since at least the early '70s.

07:20

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Ian Dunn is among a group of volunteers who help look after the property.

07:30

Currango Creek. Dunn fishing

 

07:37

 

Chasing trout in Currango Creek is one of his great joys. But his secret fishing spot has been transformed by horses.

IAN DUNN, Friends of Currango: There’s no grass, is there? The grass is an inch high.

07:42

Horse manure by creek

Piles of manure every 20 metres. The banks of Currango Creek completely trodden down. The creek is twice as wide as it used to be, half as deep. The water in it, instead of being gin clear, you can’t even see the bottom. The erosion caused by the horses is just dramatic. 

08:01

Dunn fishing/Horses at creek edge

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: He’s witnessed a population explosion.

IAN DUNN, Friends of Currango: Look to your left, you can see horses. Right in front of you, you can see a hundred. Up to your right, you can see another 50 or 100, many of them with infants with them, so they’re breeding quickly. And I suppose that’s one of the differences in the last two years, population will have increased by about 40 per cent. 

 

08:26

Horse grazing at homestead

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: These are not Banjo Paterson’s elusive wild bush horses, some so tame they graze on the front lawn at Currango. 

IAN DUNN, Friends of Currango: How can you do this in a national park? It's not a national park with scenes like we are seeing now.

08:51

Dunn 100%. Super:
IAN DUNN
Friends of Currango

Have the decency not to call it a national park, call it the Currango horse park.

09:08

O'Brien riding through bush

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Pam O'Brien was an Area Manager for the National Parks and Wildlife Service until she retired just a few months ago. She’s passionate about horses and native animals, like the broad-toothed rat, which was once common here. 

09:13

Photo. Broad-toothed rat

PAM O’BRIEN, National Parks & Wildlife Service 1986-2021: The Broad-toothed Rat is a gorgeous little rat-like creature that doesn’t bite and doesn’t smell. It’s really cute. And they make these little grass runways.

09:34

O'Brien riding through bush

And we could always go along this certain part of the Park, in the southern part, and show people the runways and how they lived and everything.

09:43

O'Brien 100%. Super:
PAM O'BRIEN
National Parks & Wildlife Service, 1986-2021

Well, we were there for nearly two days and we did not find one runway. All we saw was horse damage. 

09:52

Harvey with Hardey in park at creek

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: With decades on the ground in Kosciuszko, former rangers like Pam O’Brien and Paul Hardey remember what this country was like with fewer horses.

 

09:57

 

PAUL HARDEY, National Parks & Wildlife Service 1974-2014: We've got a creek environment here, which normally would be covered up with vegetation. It's been trampled and there's no vegetation whatsoever on the creek environment. And in contrast, we've got the sphagnum bog on this side, which you can see in some places where it's already been started to be opened up by horses. That's what it should look like. There should be thick sphagnum bog covering the creek right up there.

10:11

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: And there’s a couple of the culprits just around the corner there. 

PAUL HARDEY, National Parks & Wildlife Service 1974-2014: There is, there’s usually a few horses up here, and if we were to go up there you’d see this is the same all the way up, that that cover on the creek has been destroyed.

10:46

Drone shots. Creek

Music

10:58

 

PAUL HARDEY, National Parks & Wildlife Service 1974-2014: It's disheartening, it's totally disheartening. Something's gone so badly wrong that all our efforts seem to be now

11:02

Hardey 100%. Super:
PAUL HARDEY
National Parks & Wildlife Service 1974-2014

relegated to being second to a feral horse.

11:09

Horses

PAM O’BRIEN, National Parks & Wildlife Service 1986-2021: It's really sad. Especially in my career, when you work to look after the park and all the species in the park.

11:14

O'Brien 100%

And I've left and it's in a much worse condition than when I started. 

11:25

Drone shots. Creek/Fence

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: In some places the damage is so bad, rangers are building enclosures to protect endangered native animals. This fence line guards the last place of refuge of a native fish species, the stocky galaxias.

PAM O’BRIEN, National Parks & Wildlife Service 1986-2021: The staff are identifying areas that need to be fenced. The really critical areas that are having a lot of impact. It's like

11:30

O'Brien 100%

a zoo having little enclosures that people could come to. And if you want to see a Broad-toothed rat, well, in Kosciuszko National Park, we have these little remote zoos that you can come and have a look at these animals in. It's ridiculous.

11:55

Horses in park

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Exactly how many horses are in the park is hotly contested between the opposing sides.

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator: I'm talking about north of the Snowy Mountains Highway,

12:14

Cochran 100%. Super:
PETER COCHRAN
Former Nationals Moore Park & horse trek operator

I'd say probably in the vicinity of less than 2000.

12:26

Horses in park

LEISA CALDWELL, Co-founder, Snowy Mountains Horse Riders: My view is that there are, give or take, probably

12:29

Caldwell 100%. Super:
LEISA CALDWELL
Co-founder Snow Mountains Horse Riders

3,000 to 4,000 horses in total of the park.

12:34

Cox 100%. Super:
ANDREW COX
CEO, Invasive Species Council

ANDREW COX, CEO, Invasive Species Council: So right now, there’s probably sixteen, 17,000 horses.

12:37

Fletcher 100%. Super:
DR DON FLETCHER
Wild animal population ecologist

DON FLETCHER, Wild animal population ecologist: It’ll be more like 20,000 by the time we get around to doing anything about it. 

12:41

Andrea Harvey 100%. Super:
DR ANDREA HARVEY
Equine welfare veterinarian

DR ANDREA HARVEY, Equine Welfare Veterinarian: It’s easy to drive or walk across vast areas and not see a horse. And that doesn’t mean that they’re not there. 

12:45

Adam Harvey in helicopter with Matt O'Brien. Views of horses on plains

MATT O’BRIEN, Pilot: Okay coming up.

12:55

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: To get a more accurate estimate of the horse population, you must take to the air.

12:59

 

MATT O’BRIEN, Pilot: Beautiful, beautiful plains. Amazing.

13:04

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: You can already see the mobs of horses.

MATT O’BRIEN, Pilot: Yep, easily, yep.

13:08

 

Have a look through here, the mobs we’ve got running through this area.  

13:13

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Any census of the park must somehow tally the horses you don’t see. A complex method called distance sampling is used. The number of horses counted by aerial spotters is multiplied using a formula that takes into account animals hidden by trees and terrain.

 

13:19

 

MATT O’BRIEN, Pilot: It’s not a haphazard method. It’s a proven method. They’ve used it for many, many years not to just count horses, but to count feral pigs, feral goats, and it works.

13:42

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Based on a 2020 aerial survey, National Parks estimate a population of more than 14,000 horses. Scientists say numbers are growing by up to 20 per cent a year.

DON FLETCHER, Wild Animal Population Ecologist: People, to believe these counts, do have to rely a little bit on the fact that the people conducting them are qualified, are professionals.

13:54

Fletcher 100%. Super:
DR DON FLETCHER
Wild animal population ecologist

They're getting their work peer reviewed by people internationally who are independent scientists who are saying, "Yep, this is correct." So we should trust it.

14:17

Views from helicopter

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: These numbers are completely rejected by horse advocates. 

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator:  The fact is that the horses has been substantially reduced in number. Any claim of 14,000 horses is absolute nonsense. 

14:26

 

One of the problems is that those who are producing these figures, don't get up there like we do, out riding amongst them all the time and know the horses individually by name.

14:41

Cochran 100%. Super:
PETER COCHRAN
Former Nationals Moore Park & horse trek operator

 

Yeah, we don’t trust the science. And science has been corrupted by politics in a whole range of fields and that’s one of them. 

14:52

Views from helicopter

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: The figure of 14,000 has been accepted by the New South Wales Government. It has signed off on a plan to reduce the number of horses to 3,000 within the next five years. Animals will either be trapped and rehomed, shot in the park, or sent to the abattoir. The quickest method of controlling numbers – shooting from a helicopter – has been ruled out.

RICHARD SWAIN, Alpine River Guide: I see it from the perspective of the country. And they’re not meant to be there. They’re a hard hooved invasive species.  They’re not endangered.

14:59

Swain 100% Super:
RICHARD SWAIN
Alpine river guide

There’s 90 per cent of Australia you can have a horse on there. There’s no need to have one in the national park that’s for sure.

15:38

Horses run on plain

Music

15:43

 

PROFESSOR JAMIE PITTOCK, Environmental Scientist, ANU: There's no reason why we have to destroy our natural and indigenous heritage

15:46

Pittock 100%. Super:
JAMIE PITTOCK
Environmental scientist, ANU

in order to keep a few feral horses up in the mountains.

15:51

Lower Snowy River GVs

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: This is the spectacular Lower Snowy River. It’s a vast wilderness that stretches all the way to Victoria and beyond. It is where parts of the Man from Snowy River poem and the Silver Brumby books were set, and for that reason it has great emotional power to horse supporters.

 

 

15:56

Harvey 100%

And it’s valued for its pristine environmental state, for plants and animals that are found nowhere else, and for the fact that there isn’t a residence as far as you can see.  Nobody lives here.  But it is contested territory.  

16:18

Environmentalists prepare boats for river trip

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: This group of environmentalists is about to set off on the Lower Snowy River.

16:31

 

PROFESSOR JAMIE PITTOCK, Environmental Scientist, ANU: I’m really excited because it’s my first time in this upper part of the river

16:44

Pittock 100%

and in this Byadbo wilderness area, which is really special.

16:48

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: For some on the trip, this is more than a holiday. Professor Jamie Pittock is an environmental scientist at the ANU. Also on the journey is Andrew Cox, the head of the environmental activist group, the Invasive Species Council. 

ANDREW COX, CEO, Invasive Species Council: I’ve really wanted to get down to the Snowy River,

16:54

Cox 100%

and who better person to go with than Richard Swain.

17:11

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Richard Swain is a veteran river guide and environmental campaigner.

17:14

Swain packing for river trip

RICHARD SWAIN, Alpine River Guide:  I can see by the way they pack their boats this is a good crew. Already that’s promising.

17:19

 

Music

17:28

Snowy River journey

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: They film their journey. It begins with an eight hour scramble past unnavigable rapids.

17:30

 

Music

17:38

 

RICHARD SWAIN, Alpine River Guide:  This is the real Man from Snowy River country. This is the pine clad ranges, the rugged mountain, this is the Snowy River.

17:53

 

The men and women that came in here with the stock, they were fantastic horsemen, fantastic stockmen. It’s a rich history, but it wasn’t great for country. It's destroyed this land and it’s changed it and to continue with leaving just feral horses on this land, it cannot recover from that era.

18:00

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: They are dismayed by what they see.

RICHARD SWAIN, Alpine River Guide:  The damage, the plants that are missing, the erosion, the seed heads chewed off everything, the silt in the water, the lack of native animals.

18:24

Swain 100%. Super:
RICHARD SWAIN
Alpine river guide

It's a sad, sad picture that you see when you know what you're looking for.

18:39

GVs. Snowy River

PROFESSOR JAMIE PITTOCK, Environmental Scientist, ANU: I’m particularly worried by the feral horses, systematically eating out particular plants that are so important for the ecology of this place. One example is the common reed or phragmites that grows along the edge of the river.

18:44

Pittock 100%. Super:
JAMIE PITTOCK
Environmental scientist, ANU

I’ve just spent five days floating down the Snowy River, and the only places these reeds grow are where the horses cannot reach.

 

19:04

Horses on plain

ANDREW COX, CEO, Invasive Species Council: They're grazers, so they're removing grasses and bushes selectively, and many of these are the homes to animals which are only found in these places,

19:13

Cox 100%. Super:
ANDREW COX
CEO, INVASIVE SPECIES COUNCIL

things like the northern and southern corroboree frog, the Alpine she-oak skink.

19:23

Horses

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Richard Swain, Andrew Cox and Jamie Pittock, part of the Reclaim Kosci environmental campaign, are among the loudest voices calling for the removal of horses as quickly as possible. They believe the management plan doesn’t go far enough.

19:29

 

RICHARD SWAIN, Alpine River Guide: We need to accept aerial culling. If we lose that as a tool in the box, then we’re buggered. And at the

19:48

Swain 100%

moment the best weapon we have to reduce these feral herbivores is aerial culling. And it’s the most humane method, and we need to clean Australia up of feral plants and animals.

19:56

Horses

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Their unequivocal stance has put them in the sights of horse advocates. On pro-brumby

20:11

Pro-brumby Facebook images

Facebook pages, some with tens of thousands of supporters, Swain, Pittock and Cox are the enemy.  Some of the attacks posted by members of these groups are vulgar, others are barely veiled death threats. 

20:19

On screen text from Facebook comments

'I would like to use a double barrelled shotgun on them and then load these evil morons into a truck and dump them. I am very wicked. Lol'

20:33

 

'Now to take these cretins out would be my dream …'

20:44

 

'If I has [sic] the money, I would put a price on their heads. Hope someone might do it for free.'

20:48

 

'The only exterminations should be the Reclaim Kossi mob – any ideas?'

20:54

Swain walking in park

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Richard Swain in particular gets under the skin of some horse supporters. Violent threats extend to his wife and children.

20:59

On screen text threats

'Can someone not take him into the forest for a walk and not come back out with him.'

21:12

 

'Let’s cull Swain be done with it! If only that easy.'

21:17

 

'Low about we hunt you and your family down to be shot'

21:22

 

'Shut up or you will be shut up permanently!!!!'

21:26

Horses grazing

RICHARD SWAIN, Alpine River Guide: Growing up around here, the colonial crowd feel that they are the mountain men and women and they have a monopoly over what this place is.

21:31

Swain 100%. Super:
RICHARD SWAIN
Alpine river guide

I guess I’m a threat. I’ve got a leg to stand on. I am a river guide in the parks. I am born and bred here. I am of Aboriginal heritage. So they see that as a real threat to their argument. 

21:41

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Some attacks by members of online community groups focus on Swain’s business.

21:56

On screen text from Facebook posts

'Richard Swain… owner of Alpine River Adventures...only agenda is to cull Every single Brumby … to drive his business agenda..'

22:04

 

'spread the word NOW on all various local pages'

22:13

 

'Can I nominate RICHARD SWAIN for the "Jindy notice boards" Dickhead of the month!!'

22:17

Swain walking in park

RICHARD SWAIN, Alpine River Guide: Our business has been targeted. We can’t brand our vehicles anymore because they have been vandalised and they will be vandalised.

22:24

Swain 100%

The horse trek mobs, they can drive around with the signage all over their vehicles and advertise themselves, but I certainly couldn’t. Our cars do get flat tyres and stickers put all over them, Save the Brumby stickers. And that was getting worse.

22:35

Swain and group prepared for river trip

After the second lot of flat tyres, it was pretty obvious that things could get worse and dangerous, so we sold one of our vehicles and we've unbranded all the rest.

PAUL HARDEY, National Parks & Wildlife Service 1974-2014:  To suddenly see this degenerate into

22:49

Hardey 100%. Super:
PAUL HARDEY
National Parks & Wildlife Service 1974-2014

almost madness, where the argument gets to the point of threatening people in the community and people that people know, friends, neighbours threatening each other or not speaking up, being afraid to be involved in a debate. You've gone from a situation of protecting a unique park to almost anarchy. All of a sudden it's, what the hell has happened here?

23:04

O'Brien riding

PAM O’BRIEN, National Parks & Wildlife Service 1986-2021: It’s become quite divisive. We have had staff threatened at work, and it’s made it very difficult. And I know that

23:31

O'Brien 100%. Super:
PAM O'BRIEN
National Parks & Wildlife Service 1986-2021

a lot of the staff don’t like walking around town in their uniforms. And there’s been procedures put in place in the office to protect them from a lot of that passion or threats from the pro-brumby community.

23:44

Pittock 100% Super:
PROFESSOR JAMIE PITTOCK Environmental Scientist, ANU

PROFESSOR JAMIE PITTOCK, Environmental Scientist, ANU: I think that the pro-horse lobby are our modern-day environmental terrorists. They’re terrorising the environment by promoting the horses remaining and destroying it. And they’re terrorising the people who care for the environment such as the national parks staff.  

24:01

River. Text over

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service keeps a log of threatening phone calls and emails sent to staff. In internal memos, the parks service has assured staff it is: "[NPWS is] taking action to enhance the security of its local worksites and safety of staff while at work."

24:20

 

But that: "Interactions with NSW Police in seeking intervention in the matters have been difficult and relatively unsuccessful."

24:53

 

Parks management has recommended risk assessments and counselling to protect staff.

PAM O’BRIEN, National Parks & Wildlife Service 1986-2021: I suppose the worst examples

25:03

O'Brien 100%

are threats on Facebook mostly, and threats to people’s kids at school, is probably the worst. And that can have a big impact on the staff that are working there, that are just trying to do their job, and trying to look after the park, and not feeling safe.

25:12

Cox 100%. Super:
ANDREW COX
CEO, Invasive Species Council

ANDREW COX, CEO, Invasive Species Council: They are brutal about how they deal with people. They intimidate, they threaten, and they care more about the horses than everything, including people.

 

 

25:31

Vegetation/horses

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: It’s clear this stoush is about much more than horses.

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator: If National Parks and Wildlife Service feel as though they've been threatened, well, look at it from the other side. The people who

25:45

Cochran 100%. Super:
PETER COCHRAN
Former National Moore Park & horse trek operator

their whole lifestyle has been changed by the Snowy Mountain Scheme, the ski industry, the invasion of people into their areas all the time as tourists, and some people see that as being an offence to them.

25:58

Snowy Mountains development

So think about the people who have been affected by government policy all the time, where you see a massive Snowy Mountains development wrecking the land all over the place at the same time as they're trying to remove a few brumbies out of the park.

26:10

Cochran 100%

These are the things that develop the anger. It's not me that's developing the anger. I'm identifying it.

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Peter Cochran uses Facebook to call for action against his opponents.

26:21

On screen text of Facebook posts

'The Invasive Species Council is an invasive species. Therefore should be immediately eradicated.'

26:33

 

'Time for gloves off Brumby Supporters. You know where your enemies are. ALP, Greens and Shooters Fishers and Farmers. Shooters kill brumbies.'

26:40

 

'Reclaim Kosi Park organisation are a bunch of frauds. Let’s expose their backgrounds one at a time.'

26:49

Cochran leading horse trek through park

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Peter Cochran has a direct line to favoured media outlets and hasn’t held back in his attacks.

 

26:57

Horses in moonlight. Audio of radio phone call. Super:
PETER COCHRAN
7 June 2021
Radio 2GB

PETER COCHRAN [on phone]: And the fact is that Andrew Cox and the Reclaim Kosci advocates are telling bare-faced lies.  There were never 20,000 horses there, there were never 10,000, there were never 14,000.  It’s an absolute bare-faced lie and they know it.   

27:08

Pair of horses in park

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: This has become such a toxic debate that people

27:22

Cochran 100%

in Parks are frightened to do their jobs and people are certainly frightened to speak their minds about this issue. Do you accept any responsibility for the level of anger and resentment that swirls around this issue of horses in the park?

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator:  No, I accept no responsibility for it, because the reason that the conflict exists is the intransigence of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the government to listen to the people.

27:29

 

And if they don't listen to the people, then anger will develop. And if a leader emerges and I'm the leader, I'll take the consequences of it. And don't let anybody lay blame on me for the anger of people, which has been spread over several generations in their attitude towards National Parks and Wildlife Service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

27:55

Cochran and others at meeting

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: At this meeting in the town of Cooma, Peter Cochran and his allies plan their ongoing strategy to preserve both horse-riding and brumbies in the park.

PETER COCHRAN: "We rule out aerial shooting entirely and with regards to ground shooting totally ruled out."

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: This ex-National Party MP has had remarkable success in influencing government policy.

28:14

 

HENRY FILTNESS, Snowy Mountains Bush Users Group: "The thing that they left out was the no mention of recreational horse riding within the park."

28:43

 

MEL ROWE, Snowy Mountains Brumby Registry: And I think we acknowledged that horse riders actually have a significant part to play in the park.

28:48

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: In 2018, years of lobbying culminated in the passing of an unprecedented piece of legislation by the NSW parliament: the so-called Brumby Bill. For the first time in Australia a feral animal was protected in a national park.

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator:  I spent a lot of time

28:55

Cochran 100%

lobbying both sides of the house, including the cross benches, because I'd been a former Member I knew the way to go about it. And I used my skills with my knowledge of the parliament and everything else to try and persuade them to support the Bill. Then it went through the House with support.

29:13

 

ADAM HARVEY, Reporter:  You told one of your followers that you'd drafted it.

29:32

 

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator: I know, drafted the notes. Yeah, I did. And that was a misstep on my part, there's no question. I shouldn't have put the word legislation, I should have put notes. I drafted notes.

29:35

Massy 100%. Super:
DR CHARLIE MASSY
Monaro grazier

DR CHARLIE MASSY, Monaro Grazier: It’s absolutely gobsmacking that a Wild Horse so-called Heritage Act can be railroaded in on top of 50, 60 years of thorough research, deliberate legislation to create one of the world’s great national parks. And then crass National Party politics can totally prostitute that process and railroad in an Act that suits a very small minority in a totally damaging way to the ecology in favour of a feral species. It’s just absolutely gobsmacking and a cynical abrogation of all good government process.

29:47

Cochran and Caldwell at meeting

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Alongside Peter Cochran, activist Leisa Caldwell has been a key figure in the fight to protect horses.

30:30

Caldwell into stable, with horses

Leisa Caldwell grew up in Sydney but moved here after falling in love with the mountains, and a mountain man. With the passion of a convert, she’s embraced the horse-centric world mythologised in The Man from Snowy River. 

30:38

Caldwell 100%

LEISA CALDWELL, Co-founder, Snowy Mountains Horse Riders: I think the movie said it right when they said it was paradise one minute, and next minute, it’s hell trying to kill you. 

31:00

Photos around home of horses and horsemen

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: She’s become a custodian of High Country history and culture, symbolised by the horses.

 

 

31:08

Caldwell onto verandah

LEISA CALDWELL, Co-founder, Snowy Mountains Horse Riders: Because they demonstrate the connection of our past and our identity, I guess. And they’re the last connection. There’s a few

31:14

Caldwell 100%. Super:
LEISA CALDWELL
Co-founder, Snowy Mountains Horse Riders

mountain huts that still exist but if it wasn’t for the horses, there’s nothing left to prove that we existed. They’re the last piece.

31:25

Caldwell on verandah reading document

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Like many, she believes successive governments have destroyed the mountain way of life. For Leisa Caldwell, it’s personal. Her husband’s family was among those stripped of cattle-grazing leases in Kosciuszko.

LEISA CALDWELL, Co-founder, Snowy Mountains Horse Riders: I think that’s a lot of the frustration when their livelihoods and their history was

31:39

Caldwell 100%

removed from the mountains at the same time as their towns were being flooded for the Snowy Scheme, being Jindabyne and Adaminaby. They were being kicked out, their history was being removed with their homes, etcetera, and yet the ski resorts were moving in.

32:02

Snow, vegetation

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: In high country towns like Cooma and Jindabyne and Adaminaby,

32:23

Harvey to camera

there’s not much public mention of the enormous national park that everyone’s here to visit. What’s celebrated is the taming of the wilderness: the horse and the horseman, the gold prospectors, even the trout introduced into local rivers. From the moment you enter the region, the Man from Snowy River and the wild bush horses are front and centre. They are an essential part of the local character. And knocking an icon off its plinth is deeply unpopular.

32:30

Storm clouds over mountains

 

33:02

 

DR CHARLIE MASSY, Monaro Grazier: If you speak out and you’re threatening a strongly held belief, some people are going to react, and I’m expecting that here.

33:14

Massy 100%. Super:
DR CHARLIE MASSY
Monaro grazier

And I know others that have been fighting this for a while have copped some really nasty stuff, which isn’t any way to win an argument. 

33:21

Harvey walks with Massy

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Charlie Massy’s connection to the past is embedded in Kosciuszko, in the hills north of the Kiandra goldfields. It’s where his father grazed cattle each summer, sharing his lease with the Caldwell family.  

33:28

Massy and Harvey by river

DR CHARLIE MASSY, Monaro Grazier: I'm envious. I'd love to have been around in those days. But when the leases were taken off in the late fifties, sixties, my father was quite open about, "Look, the time had come." The stock were doing damage, we started to realise. And also, droving for two weeks with increasing tourist traffic and stuff. It was time, as far as he was concerned. He wasn't bitter at all about losing the leases, he realised it was time.

33:47

Snow on mountains/vegetation

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Charlie Massy remembers what a big deal this was for mountain families.

DR CHARLIE MASSY, Monaro Grazier: Particularly closer to the mountains a lot of the old Monaro families and newcomers as well, there's still a lot of bitter feelings. One of the leading ecologists whose work led to the formation of Kosciuszko National Park,

 

 

34:18

Massy 100%

I know, after the leases were taken away in the fifties, he was beaten up in pubs and his children victimised at school, and those feelings still run on. It was a threat to identity and to livelihood.

34:41

Massy herding sheep

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Massy is as local as they come; he’s a lifelong grazier who runs around 3,000 head of sheep on a property near Cooma, and who was awarded an OAM for his services to the wool industry.  He has a PhD for his research into regenerative methods of farming. To his expert eye, the damage done by horses is clear.

DR CHARLIE MASSY, Monaro Grazier:  To then see

34:55

Massy 100%

some of Australia's rarest species and endangered species at huge risk now being compromised for this false view about these heroic animals that they've portrayed, when really they're just a feral animal doing huge damage.

35:22

Herding sheep

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: He questions the motivation of some horse supporters.

35:36

Massy on quad bike with dogs

DR CHARLIE MASSY, Monaro Grazier: For some it's driven by pecuniary interests, whether its horse riding or whatever, camping trips. For others, their sense of

35:44

Massy 100%. Super:
DR CHARLIE MASSY
Monaro grazier

heroic image is embedded in the Man from Snowy River, rugged bushmen, hard riding, hard drinking sort of thing.

35:53

 

But none of it has any relevance to do with the ecology. I’m a lover of the mountains, I love horses too, but for the preservation of that ecology, good science rather than romantic bullshit should be listened to.

 

36:07

Drone shots over horses and traps

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: In Kosciuszko National Park traps are being set to capture brumbies for removal or killing. Horses are lured with baits into enclosures like this.

36:33

 

ALAN LANYON, Brumby Activist: When the horses enter the traps, they go chasing the molasses or the salt or some of those.

36:48

Harvey with Lanyon at horse trap

They hit the trip wire, which releases these gates. The gates fly back and the horses are locked in and gone for all time.

36:54

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Horse activists like Alan Lanyon remain utterly opposed to the removal of any brumbies. 

37:04

 

ALAN LANYON, Brumby Activist: So we say at this point in time that there is no substance to the National Parks and Wildlife Service's claim for a need for a trapping program.

37:11

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Traps have been tampered with in the past and horses set free and Alan Lanyon expects that to continue. 

37:19

Super:
ALAN LANYON
Brumby activist

ALAN LANYON, Brumby Activist: Part of me says that we should be doing it. Part of me says that we should have people on the ground here. Every time they set these traps, we'll come in and set them off, we'll come over the hill and set the traps off. Until such time as the Environment Minister and National Parks and Wildlife Service want to sit down and talk -- not with a put up committee but with a committee that has the interest of a) the national parks and b) the horses at heart.

 

37:28

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Will you be part of that Alan? Will you come in and open the traps and help pull them down?

ALAN LANYON, Brumby Activist: At this point in time, I couldn't say what my intentions would be.

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: That means, though, that the plan that's been so long in the making, I've heard so much contention about it. But if a group like yours stops horses being trapped the plan won’t work at all, will it?

37:54

 

ALAN LANYON, Brumby Activist: No, but it might force some action into making the plan work. 

38:17

Andrea Harvey with stallion in horse float

 

38:21

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: A few fortunate horses like this Kosciuszko stallion will find a new home. He’s come to the property of animal welfare vet Andrea Harvey. 

38:29

 

DR ANDREA HARVEY, Equine Welfare Veterinarian: He’s coming here for a bit of handling and to be gelded. And then once he’s recovered, he’ll go to his new owner on a big property and be reunited with the rest of his herd.

38:45

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: She doesn’t charge for this work -- she’s trying to save as many as possible.

38:55

 

It’s a lot of work for one horse, isn’t it?

DR ANDREA HARVEY, Equine Welfare Veterinarian: Yeah, it is and especially for the stallions, because I guess that’s why they sort of draw the short straw most of the time. And it’s

39:07

Adam and Andrea

usually the older stallions that ended up going to knackeries.

39:17

Andrea Harvey with horses

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: She has already taken 40 brumbies onto her own property, but most Kosciuszko horses won’t be this lucky. Horses that have never been handled before require space and expert attention, but there are too few people like Andrea Harvey, with the time and skill to care for them.

DR ANDREA HARVEY, Equine Welfare Veterinarian: I think it would be a struggle to rehome a lot larger numbers.

39:23

Andrea Harvey 100%. Super:
DR ANDREA HARVEY
Equine welfare veterinarian

Ultimately, it’s going to be saturated at some point. Not every horse is going to be rehomed.

39:53

Andrea with horses

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: If the plan is implemented the vast majority of the horses in Kosciuszko National Park will be killed. Andrea Harvey has advised the New South Wales government on the most humane ways of removal and culling.

DR ANDREA HARVEY, Equine Welfare Veterinarian: Obviously the trapping itself is a stress and the transport itself is a stress and each of those steps there is the potential for negative impact on the horse.

40:01

Andrea Harvey 100%

So if the horses are going to be killed we want to make sure that there are as few welfare impacts as possible, so theoretically killing them in the park would have fewer impacts. We’re avoiding that process of transport.

 

40:29

Horses grazing on property

When we think about how the horses are going to be killed in the Park, if that's what's happening, we have to again, make sure that that can be done in a way that causes minimal distress and minimal pain.

40:48

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Her position has made her a target of some of the most extreme horse supporters.

41:02

Andrea Harvey walks fence line

DR ANDREA HARVEY, Equine Welfare Veterinarian: It’s kind of flabbergasting that it happens from brumby people, because I guess I’m putting my life really into trying to save as many brumbies as I can and give them the best welfare that I can.

41:09

Andrea Harvey 100%

And so when people accuse you of things related to being a killer or causing cruelty like that's, yeah, it’s really hurtful, really hurtful.

41:21

High Country GVs

Music

41:42

 

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: The bitter stoush over brumbies in Kosciuszko, fuelled by old grievances and entrenched cultural positions, has led to a compromise plan that has satisfied neither side. An agonisingly slow removal process in the face of unrelenting resistance seems inevitable.

41:51

Cochran 100%

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: What happens next, Peter? The plan has become a reality. Horses will start to be removed. The rehoming market is saturated. Some horses are going to have to be killed. What’s the next step?

PETER COCHRAN, Former Nationals MP and Horse Trek Operator: Well, I can tell you this. The brumby advocates won’t give up. And as far as we are concerned, the brumbies will remain in the mountains.

42:14

High Country GVs. Kangaroos and horses

Music

42:34

 

PAM O’BRIEN, National Parks & Wildlife Service 1986-2021: If horses are allowed to persist in these really sensitive areas, they're going to destroy them. The Park is under significant threat from lots of different angles. There's all these pressures on Kosciuszko National Park. And addition of horses is just too much.

42:46

O'Brien 100%

So the integrity of the park will suffer and we'll lose species and ecosystems, and we won't get them back.

43:09

High Country GVs, sunset

Music

43:17

 

RICHARD SWAIN, Alpine River Guide: A national park should be something we are proud of and it should be a joyous thing for all Australians and the rangers should be looking after it and caring for it as it should be.

43:27

Swain 100%

But for one group of people who got hung up on some books and a poem and a movie, and like wearing a certain costume, we’re all suffering. This entire community is suffering because of that.

43:36

Credit start [see below]

 

44:00

Outpoint

 

44:27

 

Feral

reporter

ADAM HARVEY

 

producer

MARY FALLON

 

researcher

LUCY CARTER

 

 

editor

SIMON BRYNJOLFFSSEN

 

additional editing

MICHAEL NETTLESHIP

 

post production editor
JAMES BRAYE

assistant editor

ANDREW OTTLEY

 

camera

RYAN SHERIDAN

 

sound

ROBERT MACKAY

 

additional vision

TOM CROWLEY CINEMATOGRAPHY

GETTY IMAGES

 

archive producer
MICHELLE BADDILEY

designer

LINDSAY DUNBAR

 

digital producer

NICK WIGGINS

 

social media producer

HARRIET TATHAM

 

publicity

PAUL AKKERMANS

 

promotions

LAURA MURRAY

 

sound mixer

EVAN HORTON

 

colourist

DAVID DEVJAK

 

compile
JAMES BRAYE

 

theme music

RICK TURK

 

 

titles

LODI KRAMER

 

production coordinator

LYDIA CHU

 

production manager

WENDY PURCHASE

 

supervising producer

MORAG RAMSAY

 

executive producer

SALLY NEIGHBOUR

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