Australia’s Beautiful Brumbies
While kangaroos are the first to come to mind when we think of Australia, there is another magnificent animal that has become a part of the landscape in many parts of the country. As fans of the movie The Man From Snowy River already know, brumbies are Australia’s wild, feral horses. Now numbering at least one million according to Australian Geographic, Wikipedia states that once best known in the Australia Alps region of southeastern Australia, they are now located more abundantly in the Northern Territory and Queensland where seasonal rains provide plenty of forage for them.¹
Left: brumby distribution, right: brumbies at Kakadu National Park
Horses are said to have been first brought to Australia in 1788 for use in farm and utility work. The first escaped horse was reported in 1804. A little over 100 years later, Australia’s famous Light Horsemen of World War I employed over 121,000 hardy Australian horses, which were found to be more useful in transporting large bodies of troops in the Sinai Peninsula than even camels! Following the Great War, automation began to encroach upon their usefulness. Over time, some were intentionally turned loose to join existing “mobs” or “bands” of brumbies. While many horses are now used for recreational, therapeutic use and racing, there is still a place for them in the cattle industry. A lot of cattle drives (“mustering) here) in the more rugged parts of the Outback are still done on horseback. Horses are said to still be “absolutely essential” in the operations of a large cattle station in spite of the increased use of helicopters and “motor bikes.”
Australian Beef – A “Horse” of a Different Color?
Some may wonder why on earth I would write about the beef industry in Australia. 🙂 The fact is, there is nothing like it in the entire world! The largest Australian cattle station is bigger than the country of Belgium at 9,140 square miles or 23,677 square kilometers. Forty of the 71 largest cattle stations in Australia (on land usually leased from the government) are located in the Northern Territory and Queensland, it’s neighbor to the east. The smallest of the 71 largest stations is 1,540 square miles, or 4,000 square kilometers. One station on the list was once a whopping 41,000 square kilometers! It is not uncommon for these huge stations to raise tens of thousands of cattle a year. At least part of the reason for their enormous size is because cattle are grazed at very low densities; it takes a much larger area for them to find enough grass upon which to feed and grow. Australia is one of the largest meat exporters in the world, with two of the largest importers of Australian beef being Japan (29%) and the United States (20%). ²
The cattle themselves are also an interesting story! When we first got to Darwin, we noticed right away that the beef here tasted quite different than at home. The only cattle we had seen in the NT had been some variety or other of Brahman, which look quite different than your typical cow in America.
It was surprising to learn that there are over 250 recognized breeds of cattle in the world. However, Brahman strains are raised in northern Australia for a reason – they are bred from strains of the Indian Zebu, which can handle the tropical climate, as well as the extremes in temperature a little further south. The climate in the southern parts of Australia allow cattle stations to also raise European varieties of beef.
Brush Fires – a Way of Life!
When we initially drove here from Adelaide near the end of the dry season, it seemed like there were signs of brush fires everywhere. We frequently noticed it in blackened lower vegetation and tree trunks along the side of Stewart Highway on our drive here, and then along secondary and tertiary roads once we arrived in the Darwin area.
It was a while after settling down in Darwin that we learned that the government periodically does controlled or prescribed burns in many parts of the country. And they are not the first! The Indigenous people of Australia have apparently done the same thing for thousands of years. After burning off old, dead growth, game was attracted to the new grass where it also be more easily seen. However, the government does it for several other reasons. First, it stimulates germination of plants. Many varieties of plants here apparently require fire (like some evergreens in America) to reproduce. Second, it rejuvenates the landscape. It has been remarkable to watch the transformation of the forests as they have acquired new growth since we’ve been here, which seems to be more pronounced where there have been controlled burns. Third, it helps prevent property loss from uncontrolled, nature-created fires in populated areas.
As mentioned in an earlier post, this particular part of the Top End is one of the most lightning-prone areas in the world. In 2002, an amazing 1,634 lighting flashes were recorded in just one Darwin storm over the course of a few hours – more than Perth receives in an entire year!³ Because of that, we’ve heard that fires started from lightning are common. Perhaps this is why the vegetation has adapted to not only survive these brush fires, but thrive in their wake.
We continue to love serving here on our LDS mission in Australia, and also love learning about the people, the land, and the history of this nation – which we hope you find as fascinating as we do! Like the powerful bolts of lightning that illuminate the land and sky even in the darkest of nights, it is our constant prayer that the gospel of Jesus Christ will set fire to the hearts and illuminate the minds of these wonderful people we have come here to love, teach, and serve.
¹ brumbies map acknowledgement: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16157398; brumbies picture: Kakadu: By Grahamec – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3243719.
² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_largest_stations_in_Australia; http://www.outback-australia-travel-secrets.com/australian-cattle-stations.html
³ Information and photo both from http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2002/12/10/2583008.htm