Review by Sonia Hutchinson 23/03/18
Fred Williams latest book ‘Equine Epitaph – Under the Rainbow Fraser Island’s Last Brumby’, contains anecdotes from Vi and Fred Epps a cadet Forester, descendants of the early settlers, an experienced Forestry ranger and horse breaker ‘Billy the Bushman’ as well as other pioneers. It is meticulously researched from many interviews, after the earlier horse breeding industry had wound down. The horses that were left now and were running wild, were called brumbies. They were Australian horses bred from Australian stock (not feral animals). They had fully adapted to the island. Their progeny was regularly harvested especially during the great depression by various folks including Forestry.
As time fell down the hour glass the QPWS held hands with sister departments showing their gross incomplete horse-sense. What they relied on was it seems more like ‘non-sense’. None of these Departmental managers employed an experienced horse whisper like ‘Billy the Bushman’. QPWS demonstrated their willingness to interfere with the dingoes’ main food resource by removing and killing the horses. In the face of a huge outcry from the community, that fell on deaf ears as they shot the critically endangered horses, cattle, dingoes and even extended it to Australian kookaburras. Then soon death from dingoes’ crossed over to humans.
Slowly but surely like quick- sand the ‘ulterior motive’ surfaced from the Queensland Government it was soon unpacked by the Minister of Tourism and National Parks Peter McKechnie as he legislated in the early hours of one August morning. “… It was invoked upon an unknowing public and ratified while the population slept…” (Overlander 1985). It allowed tourists to overrun Fraser Island with 500,000+ tourists and 4wd vehicles each year laden with food to attract starving emaciated carnivores – dingoes (without any cap on numbers). By 2001 it all turned sour with the death of Clinton Gage at Waddy point and a massive secret compensation payout.
It is a story that follows the tragic trail over and over in pursuit of the almighty tourist dollar. All at the expense of the island’s wildlife and its traditional owners unable to preserve their cultural heritage on what was once called K’Gari (Paradise). It is now a fool’s paradise. Never before has a book been penned on the history of the brumbies. Read this magnificent book with an expose’ of historic never published before photographs.
Praise for ‘Equine Epitaph – ‘Under the Rainbow’ – Fraser Island’s last brumby
By Fred Williams
Esteemed historian Fred Williams brings us another account of the history of Fraser Island. This is the story of the 20 rare ‘Suffolk Punch’ and ‘Arab’ horses that were transported by barge to the Island in 1879, predominantly to be bred for use by the army. Included in the book are many tales and interesting descriptions of early Island characters and their lifestyles, focusing on how well they managed the Island and its flora and fauna. The book is worth purchasing just for the important collection of photographs of these characters.
Williams discusses the role these rare and (now) critically endangered horses played as the ecosystem adapted to their presence, and how the horses likewise adapted to life on a sandy island.
Williams challenges the management of Fraser Island once again, examining the impact by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service when the northern end was declared a National park. Seen by locals and tourists as the Fraser Island Horse, a hundred and thirty years after their introduction, the brumbies were suddenly labelled ‘feral’ by QPWS.
The impact the removal of the brumbies had on the Island makes for an interesting discussion. The author believes that the removal of the brumbies, as well as contributing to the extinction of the rare Suffolk Punch, a significant breed of horse, affected the ecosystem of the Island in a very negative way. Examples are given, including the sudden appearance of emaciated dingoes, which relied on the horses as part of their diet. This
emaciation had never been seen in the history of white man on the Island.
In an astute way, Williams weaves the stories of the early Island characters mentioned above into an illustration of how we may better manage the Island. Equine Epitaph is not only an historical account of this part of the Island’s history, but gives us a passionate perspective on how we should look backward to the past in order to move forward into the future.
President – National Dingo Preservation and Recovery Program
Consultant – Save Fraser Island Dingoes
Patron – Disability Aid Dogs
Author, wildlife photographer, artist
*_EQUINE EPITAPH Under The Rainbow Fraser Island’s last Brumby. Review._*
Horses have been a part of Fraser Island since European settlement in the Wide Bay area. To say they do not belong on Fraser Island is wrong. They played a major part in the development of the region. We may also say that white man has no right to be on the island either – nor feral cats and so on. And do we also include the dingoes? They were not originally part of Australian fauna. Where does one stop?
Fred has written this book from deep in his heart. It is a subject that has caused a lot of grief and anger in folk who have had strong links in the past with the island either as residents, workers or visitors. When QNPWS took over management of the island from Forestry it was with a feeling of “let’s wait and see”. Our doubts came to fruition when it was shown that not only were new rules and regulations laid down, but that any consultation with present and past residents was all but totally ignored. Bureaucrats and tertiary trained ‘theorists’ had ideas of how the island should be managed and so it was. Many theories may sound ideal on paper but in practice they can be totally unworkable and cause dangerous outcomes – not to mention the absolute waste of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And this has been the on going case ever since, on Fraser Island.
The way in which the horses were ‘removed’ was deplorable not to mention down right cruel. Fred mentions several instances of this and there are many more as well. Many locals were ‘warned’ not to say anything of what was seen. So very sad not to mention disgusting.
This documented history of the Suffolk Punch horses on Fraser Island will hopefully open the eyes of folk who can not see past the almighty dollar sign in visitation fees to the island. Maybe they will see advantages in preserving the very few horses still on the island. They deserve to stay – but time is running out. Already, the stallion has been reported as missing.
Former President Fraser Island Association.
Lover of Fraser Island.
UNDER THE RAINBOW
Fraser Island’s Last Brumby
A new book by historian and author, Fred Williams tells the fascinating story of a dramatic rescue of Ellie, the last Fraser Island brumby who was saved from certain death by local people of Orchid Beach, combined with the assistance of a Maryborough/Torbanlea horse lover. There is more than just the tale of the timely liberation of this beautiful brumby as it also unfolds details some of the fascinating history of Fraser Island over the years. The author, who has also written other books about Fraser Island, writes with a genuine passion and love of Fraser Island which shines throughout this latest book. The reader is introduced to a genuine Aussie pioneer, ‘Billy the Bushman’ [William Geissler] who is described as ‘a guide, bush carpenter, horse advisor/manager/horse whisperer/breaker with an in-depth understanding of all things equine, additionally he was a road builder, fencing expert on Fraser Island, fire break expert, supervisor storeman, naturalist, amateur ecologist as well as a photographer and was even called upon to rescue lost souls that did not return within their timeframe to Central Forestry Station. ‘Billy the Bushman’s self-taught bushcraft served his employer (The Forestry Department) and Fraser Island well as he sought to preserve the ecology and ecosystem of the unique flora and fauna in a way that has only partially been recognised and appreciated. This book has many illustrations of the native wild flowers, ferns, trees (it raises the reason for Mary Ann the steam engines’ development – Kauri Pine). There are many issues perhaps one of them, is the grave concern about the subsequent loss of so many birds on Fraser Island particularly like stone curlews, finches and parrots that prior lived around Central Forestry Station area in mass in 1935. The losses continued with explicit, historic, Information on the progression of management on dingoes on Fraser Island, the community’s concern over the loss of their predator prey like horses, this regimes on-going impact upon dingoes’ food resources (that is giving them chronic Sand-Colic due to consuming buried sand coated fish offal) and subsequent interactions upon people from the Island’s top of the food chain carnivore the dingo, history notes the past and what is happening today reeks of complex managerial incompetence. According to highly respected Dr Malcolm Cooper LLM FRAPI in the ‘Foreword’ of (Princess K’Gari’s Fraser Island – Fraser Island’s Definitive History): at the very least concede – Williams has the courage to point out some of the problems of the current regime.
It seems if history and truth is our yardstick as it fell down the hour glass, opportunity after opportunity has been granted to this manager. In reply they have all too often chosen mixed messages, Media Spin or hand-balled it to John Sinclair of FIDO, delivering questionable bureaucratic outcomes, some of which have greatly affected their quest for credibility some responses it seems have tarnished/impacted the world’s largest Island or sandy-core reputation for example (the death of an 8-year old boy at Waddy Point in 2001). One of the most serious concerns remaining would have to be: no cap on visitor numbers or 4WD drive numbers (since 1985). It is impacting upon today’s progressive stewardship of the Island.
Man’s history came from the bones of a horse! No more so than on Fraser Island where the skeletons rattle for themselves from shallow sandy graves under the current regime.
However, shining through this book is the rescue of Ellie, one of the last of the brumbies to leave Fraser Island in 1997 and the long complex bureaucratic ‘red tape’ negotiations to obtain permission from the authorities for Ellie to leave. The photos of Ellie in the book melt your heart and you feel like cheering when the whole project concludes with a happy ending.
The 52 page book, with many illustrations would make an excellent present. Copies can be obtained from Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum Scarness (07) 41284804 or Save the Fraser Island Dingoes email@example.com or telephone (07) 41242979 or Mary Ryan’s Book Shop Torquay Q (07) 41942111 or Fred Williams Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or his website www.kgari.org
Reviewed by Shirley Davies,
Historian and author