In January 2019, the last of the Brooms Head brumbies was put to rest after being adjudged to have been suffering from insurmountable pain – now the memory of the stallion lives on in a children’s book, Brumby, forever wild and free.
While some knew the brumby as ‘Wildfire’, due to him being the only horse among the Brooms Head brumbies to survive the devastating fires that swept through Yuraygir National Park in 2001, others christened him ‘Brumbles’ or just called him Brumby.
Over the years, Brooms Head resident and photographer Steve Otton has captured countless images of Brumbles and came to regard the horse as his friend.
Together, Steve and author Kellie Hobbins have published a children’s book that depicts Brumbles’ life and times, while capturing the inherent beauty of the horse’s environment.
“When I first saw Brumbles in town I was drawn to him as a subject,” says Otton. “I was in Brooms a lot and when I finally moved out here I followed him even more, to the point where years had passed and he was getting older.
“I ended up looking after him in the end, right up to his last days; keeping an eye on him daily and feeding him – he needed to be fed because he wasn’t walking the distances he usually did to find some grass.”
Kellie says she has always written stories for her children. “I was a teenager out at Brooms Head when Brumbles was born; I’ve always followed his story wherever I’ve gone and enjoyed him being a part of our culture out here.
“When I heard he was unwell, I went out to see him and took my children with me.”
At the time, it struck Kellie that, while her 12-year-old would always remember that day, her youngest child probably wouldn’t. “That night I went home full of emotion and pain, because I realised we were losing him, I wrote two stories about him – one for my older one and one for my little one.
“From there I met up with Steve and he took me out to find him; it had been years since I’d seen him. I really appreciated all of the pictures Steve showed me – so full of love and you could really see how much the horse had meant to him over the years – I was really inspired by that and wanted to share it.”
Kellie recalls her experiences while growing up in the village. “I loved Brumbles’ mother; she was very sweet. I loved the way the brumbies would come into town and he was always outstanding; he was always the pick … the young horse.
“He was so comfortable with people.”
Steve says he’d go out into the national park to find him some days. “He’d move around the town. Sometimes I couldn’t find him, but other times I’d call out to him and I’d hear the whinny coming from the bush and I’d see him moving through the sticks.”
Steve says it was a two-way relationship, despite the brumby’s reticence. “He gave back a lot of love. He’d had a lot of hard times and you could see that he didn’t want me to pat him; but I did manage to give him a bit of lucerne by hand – he grabbed it, but he still didn’t have the trust.
“He’d been to hell and back, but I think I got over the barrier to be a good friend of his, like several other people did over the years.”
Get online it online at www.stephenotton.com, at the Brooms Head Store, Brooms Head Bowls Club, Maclean Picture Frames, or pick up a signed copy at the Yamba Farmers Market on Wednesday mornings.