From the high country to the nation’s tip, Clemmie’s making her own tracks
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.
Clemmie Wotherspoon with three of the horses she will take on her 5330km journey up the Bicentennial National Trail