Australia’s spectacular high country has changed a lot since the birth of the legend of the Man from Snowy River but despite the region’s new identity, based on tourism and other new industries, the pioneering spirit is alive and well.
Story By Ken Eastwood
A hush descends around the campfire, so you can hear the individual fizz of intermittent raindrops as they plunge into the hot coals. Horse riders, clad in oilskins to keep out the rain and cold, lean forward into the orange light around the blackened bubbling billies to hear the familiar words
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 pound
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
The earthy voice that flawlessly recites the thousand words of The Man from Snowy River is Karen Brown’s, high-country horsewoman. As she continues Banjo Paterson’s most famous poem at Wares Yards Horse Camp in the northern end of Kosciuszko National Park, wallabies thump through the bush nearby, and occasionally horses’ hoofs thunder through the yard.
The quietened audience had spent the day riding through thick forests of ash and thickets of tea-tree, up mountains with views of incoming storms, across the Boggy Plain, down steep gullies and through forests of scribbly gum and wattle, and the last of the season’s yellow and white paper daisies. They’d seen large mobs of eastern grey kangaroos, flushed quail out of the long grasses and avoided perilous wombat holes, the mountain-bred horses remaining sure-footed and steadfast. And after a long day in the saddle, getting to camp at dark, Karen had looked after the horses, tended the billies – growling at anyone who stuffed up the billy tea – cooked a bonzer batch of scones in the camp oven, then settled down to recite the oh-so-apt poem.
An ex-jillaroo, Karen found the Snowies more than 20 years ago. “I came here for a month in 1984 and have been here pretty much ever since,” she says, the recital over. “I thought I’d landed in heaven. This has a history and a heritage of mountain horsemen. The country ways are still strong here.” As if in another Paterson poem, she describes her love of the gnarled and twisted snowgums, weather rolling in, and the people who live here. “The values that you’re judged on are not material possessions, but whether you’re a good bloke,” she says. “At someone’s funeral you might say, ‘He was a good stockman’, or ‘He had good horses or good dogs’ not ‘He drove a big Merc’.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #59
Outback Magazine: June/July 2008