Brian Hampson spends his days researching Australia’s brumbies from some of the country’s most remote locations.

Story By Susan Johnston

It's long past midnight. A full moon shines down on the Northern Territory’s Tanami Desert. Far from the comforts of home, Brian Hampson rests under the blanket of a huge night sky. He’s rolled out his swag on a platform three metres off the desert floor – a “hide” made of logs and branches. There, nestled in a valley and surrounded by high mountains, Brian hears what he’s been waiting for … the sound of wild brumbies negotiating the rocky terrain, running free across the desert and heading straight for the natural spring shimmering at the hide’s edge. The horses get closer and closer until they have a good, long drink. “On a busy night we might get 250 brumbies come in on a full moon,” Brian says. “It’s a great feeling being out in the middle of nowhere and having free-ranging horses surround you, so close you could almost reach down and touch them.”
For most people, an encounter like this would be the experience of a lifetime. But for Brian, a 46-year-old PhD student at the University of Queensland, it’s all in a day’s – and night’s – work. Brian is part of a four-year project aimed at improving the foot health of domestic horses by studying and comparing the form and function of the feet of brumbies.
“I knew I didn’t want to do a PhD in a laboratory wearing a white coat,” he says. “I feel good with horses. I love camping out and travelling in the scrub. So this project, where I’m looking at the wild brumbies, is perfect for me.”
Australia is home to about 600,000 feral horses. “We’re unique in this country because the brumbies run in so many types of environments,” Brian says. “We can learn things here that you can’t anywhere else in the world.” For his research, Brian focuses on bands of wild horses in a handful of different areas, from the north island of New Zealand to the beaches of the Gulf of Carpentaria, from the grazing country far west of Brisbane to the desert surrounding Uluru.
In each location, he’s built hides at the entrance to natural waterholes, putting salt lick blocks below the platforms for added temptation. If Brian’s well hidden and the wind’s blowing in the right direction, the brumbies will stop for a spell beneath him, before moving through.

This story excerpt is from Issue #71

Outback Magazine: June/July 2010