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Wildfire of the Broom

The Last Brumby of Brooms Head, a painting by Woombah artist Danielle Bilson, is the overall winner across all entries at the Lower Clarence Arts and Crafts Association’s 52nd annual exhibition, held at the Maclean showground over the weekend, July 9 – 12. Ms Bilson said she painted the brumby because she “wanted a lot of people to know his history”. “He’s fought twice for his freedom; once through the bushfires when he lost his whole mob, and when they captured his new family,” she said. In July/August of 2012 the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) captured and relocated three of the four remaining brumbies at Brooms Head. For the stallion, which locals have named ‘Wildfire’, it was the day his family – a mare, its yearling and a foal – was taken away and re-homed at a nearby property, beyond a ridge that defines the stallion’s range. Wildfire was the only horse among the Brooms Head brumbies that survived the devastating fires that swept through Yuraygir National Park in 2001. The wildlife service said in 2012 that it would “seek to trap and remove the stallion” so it could be re-homed – perhaps Wildfire has proved too cagey. “The stallion is more difficult to trap, as it is very wary of yards,” the NPWS said. Local legend suggests that Wildfire’s family was created after a “mare was purchased at the Grafton sales before being released at Brooms Head to ‘keep the stallion company’”. The “feral horses” (brumbies) the NPWS said, “pose a threat to the values of the national park; through the trampling of nesting grounds of threatened shorebirds, and destructive trampling and grazing of salt marshes, heath and regenerating rainforest at Redcliff….” Ms Bilson, in part, posted on Brooms Head photographer Stephen Otton’s Facebook page: “He still lives out there; he is around 20 years old … free and a lone horse! He is greatly loved by the locals, and keeps company with the other wildlife. “…Every time I catch a sight of Wildfire my heart pounds a little stronger, knowing he is special and what he symbolises; and knowing that we may never witness a wild horse in these areas again. X” Judge of the LCACA exhibition, Cher Breeze, wrote in her assessment of the painting: “Sense of place is quiet and peaceful; a lovely sense of space, with a quiet subtle calmness. “Well done!! For a large work to work it must be balanced, which this is.” Ms Billson acknowledged the role Mr Otton played in the creation of her artwork, having used his and some of her photographs to inform the painting. “I contacted Stephen and he gave me permission to use his photos as a reference,” she said. “I combined the photos I had [with] Stephen’s; [his] were much nicer with the lighting. “To me [Wildfire] is a symbol of resilience, of survival in the face of adversity. “But the price he pays for his freedom is loneliness. “For me it poses the question of, you know, the point of living if you have to live alone without family or community?”