From the high coun­try to the na­tion’s tip, Clem­mie’s mak­ing her own tracks

The Weekend Australian - - FRONT PAGE - PIA AKERMAN

When Clem­mie Wother­spoon was a young girl grow­ing up in in­dus­trial Delaware on the US east coast, her Aus­tralian fa­ther gave her a copy of Robyn David­son’s book Tracks about an epic jour­ney through the out­back on camels.

The story of David­son’s 2700km odyssey from Alice Springs to the In­dian Ocean stayed with her as she wait­ressed and stud­ied, bat­tling with poor men­tal health and fan­ta­sis­ing about a bush es­cape on the other side of the world.

Af­ter four years of plan­ning, Ms Wother­spoon hopes next month to make her dream a re­al­ity, set­ting out with four trained brumbies to travel the 5330km of the Bi­cen­ten­nial Na­tional Trail from Healesville in Vic­to­ria to Cook­town in far north Queens­land.

She plans to spend at least one year, pos­si­bly two, trav­el­ling the route that was de­vel­oped un­der the lead­er­ship of RM Wil­liams to recre­ate the drov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of Aus­tralia’s his­toric stock routes. Opened by Wil­liams in 1988, the trail runs the length of the Great Di­vid­ing Range, through na­tional parks, state for­est and pri­vate prop­erty, pass­ing re­gional lo­ca­tions such as the Jenolan Caves in NSW, Black­butt north­west of Bris­bane, and Kabra near Rock­hamp­ton.

“To me, this trek is about get­ting to know my home­land and re­ally con­nect­ing with this coun­try where my fam­ily is from but I haven’t grown up in, and these tiny ru­ral towns where hope­fully I’ll end up work­ing one day,” Ms Wother­spoon said.

“If you have a good rep­u­ta­tion on the trail, it’s an amaz­ing bush tele­graph and peo­ple will help you out.”

The horses will ro­tate between be­ing ridden, car­ry­ing the pack saddle and walk­ing with no saddle. They will travel five days and rest

two. Ms Wother­spoon will be in con­tact with equine vets and nurses through­out the jour­ney and sup­ported by a team of ex­pe­ri­enced horse and ad­ven­ture pro­fes­sion­als.

She will start her jour­ney as the Vic­to­rian gov­ern­ment de­cides whether to sign off on a plan to trap more than 1000 brumbies in the Alpine Na­tional Park — with most des­tined to be shot. Con­sul­ta­tion on a Parks Vic­to­ria plan to re­home or eu­thanase the wild horses ends next week.

Parks man­age­ment is keen to be­gin re­mov­ing the brumbies as soon as pos­si­ble once min­is­te­rial ap­proval is given, cit­ing longterm en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age.

The brumbies’ sup­port­ers are flag­ging le­gal ac­tion to stop the plan, which would in­volve the an­i­mals be­ing lur­ing to fenced yards.

Parks Vic­to­ria hopes homes will be found for some horses but the rest will be shot on site.

Aus­tralian Brumby Al­liance pres­i­dent Jill Pick­er­ing said the group was seek­ing le­gal ad­vice and was “very con­fi­dent” a court would find fault with the ev­i­dence of dam­age.

There are an es­ti­mated 2500 brumbies in Vic­to­ria’s east­ern alps and up to 100 in the neigh­bour­ing Bo­gong High Plains, which will be cov­ered by the new Vic­to­rian plan. Ad­vo­cates for brumby con­trol say num­bers have reached a point where many strug­gle to sur­vive the moun­tain con­di­tions, with footage recorded of some brumbies eat­ing the car­casses of oth­ers dur­ing win­ter.

“Some peo­ple see them as a feral pest that need to be culled and con­trolled; other peo­ple see them as this cul­tural icon for Aus­tralia,” Ms Wother­spoon said.

“I’m prob­a­bly some­where in the mid­dle. I don’t want to see horses starv­ing to death and eat­ing each other in the high coun­try. I’m not go­ing to over­ro­man­ti­cise them but at the same time I see the beauty in them.”

Two of Ms Wother­spoon’s brumbies have lin­eage from the Bo­gong mob, while one named Aritunga has trav­elled from the North­ern Ter­ri­tory where he was res­cued from a truck bound for the knack­ery. Ms Wother­spoon said while he was orig­i­nally quite a ner­vous horse, Aritunga had re­sponded well to train­ing meth­ods of nat­u­ral horse­man­ship.

DAVID GERAGHTY

Clem­mie Wother­spoon with three of the horses she will take on her 5330km jour­ney up the Bi­cen­ten­nial Na­tional Trail

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