Anyone who has visited Kosciuszko National Park, whether skiing or bushwalking, will know just how skittish the park’s population of brumbies can be.
Even if you attempt to approach them from downwind, often, just before you get close enough to snap that elusive photograph, the mob will invariably sense you and gallop at pace to shelter in the nearest tall timber.
However, this is not the case for Peter Meusburger of Gordon who has developed an extraordinary rapport with a mob of brumbies near the historic gold "town" of Kiandra in northern Kosciuszko National Park.
“About five years ago, I was walking along Wallaces Ridge near some old copper mines and a couple of the brumbies followed me to where I was sleeping in a clearing above Three Mile Dam,” Meusburger says. “One of them, ‘Goldie’, approached me so I stopped and patted her.
“Incredibly she didn’t bolt and others in the mob must have fed off that trust.”
So enamoured was Meusburger with his new-found friends that he dubbed them "The Goldseekers" in reference to the name of a nearby walking track.
“When you tell someone that you’re hanging out with a mob of brumbies called ‘The Goldseekers’ they think you’re crazy,” he says, “but getting away to the mountains and hanging out with the brumbies is just what I do – it enables me to clear my mind.
“Whenever I camp in the area, more often than not they’ll come trotting along the track and sleep right next to me."
Meusburger has taken countless photos and also some video of his unusually close interactions with the wild horses.
“I’ve even had ‘Big Silver’ [a large stallion and leader of the mob] snoring right next to me,” says Meusburger, who doesn’t believe it’s just his own friendly personality and calm demeanour which attracts the brumbies.
“I sweat a lot and I think it’s all the salt that attracts them,” he explains.
“Often after I take my pack off, ‘The Goldseekers’ will come up to me and one by one rub their noses on the middle of my back where I was sweating ... they also like to sniff my boots and socks.
“Sometimes I’ll be sitting under the stars late at night munching on my scroggin mix, wondering where they are and suddenly the mob will trot up from the plains below and start licking my boots and nuzzling me, they’ve even kissed me on the chin a few times.”
Meusburger has nicknames for all the mob, most named after local landmarks or characters, including the three-week old Gian, a foal he has named after Giandarra Creek, which flows into the Eucumbene River just north of Kiandra.
However, his favourite is Midnight, a black colt.
“I rub him on the chest, and he’ll get up all his hoofs one by one and I can grab him under his knee and lift and he ‘pops a wheelie’,” Meusburger says.
There has been only one occasion when the colt was a bit jumpy around Meusburger.
“After the first big snows this year, I stopped amongst a stand of snow gums and put down my pack to take off my overcoat,” Meusburger says. “Midnight must have smelt something in my pack and he hoofed at it and his left hoof got caught in the waist strap.
“He was a bit distressed so I carefully touched him on the neck and almost immediately he put his left hoof out and allowed me to separate it from the strap.”
Unfortunately Meusburger’s most memorable moment with the mob doesn’t have as happy an ending.
“On this particular day in 2016, the mob were whining a lot and led me towards Pollocks Gully where I found the mare ‘Mrs Yan’ [named after a prominent Chinese family from Kiandra’s heyday in the mid 1800s) collapsed,” Meusburger says.
“It was clear she was dying. While the mob watched on, I tried to give her water from my bottle and patted the flies away from her ‘til she died. It was special that at such a tragic time they didn’t reject me, rather embraced me.”
Despite his obvious affection for "The Goldseekers", Meusburger also recognises brumbies are feral animals in the park and acknowledges the damage they create in large numbers to the fragile alpine environment.
“I know across the whole park their numbers need to be reduced, I just wish they could repopulate some – like relocate them to riding centres, such as Pegasus, where they can be loved and nurtured,” Meusburger says.
Meusburger is known to ABC local radio listeners as regular talkback caller "Mr Freeze", but given his remarkable relationship with "The Goldseekers" perhaps he should consider changing his moniker to the "brumby whisperer".
Vale Peter McRae
Last weekend Australia lost ranger Peter McRae, aged 67, a dedicated conservationist and a great man.
I was fortunate to meet Peter a number of times at Currawinya National Park in outback Queensland where he was instrumental in establishing the Bilby Fence. Completed in 2002, the fence (which encloses 25 square kilometres) protects bilbies from feral animals and predators to enable them to live and breed in safety.
To celebrate his life, I share with you my two favourite photographs of Peter, one which highlights his infectious love of the outback (what a place for a bath!) and another of him cradling one of his beloved bilbies, the cute native marsupial he fought so hard to bring back from the brink of extinction.
Of the old cast iron bathtub, Peter once told me, “Most people can only imagine what it's like to relax in a bath in the middle of 2300 square kilometres of virtually treeless paddock, but take it from me, with a view of the vast Mitchell grass plains extending for 360 degrees around you, it's a truly wonderful experience.”
RIP Peter McRae, an inspirational Australian.
Over the past few weeks this column has received many missives about the significant road kill along our region’s roads, especially the Monaro Highway between Canberra and Cooma and the Kings Highway between Batemans Bay and Bungendore.
Earlier this week, reader Katie Carlisle of Cooma who regularly commutes to Canberra, took pen to paper to calculate just how many dead animals are lining the highway between the intersection of the Monaro Highway with Johnson Drive at Richardson and Cooma, a distance of 109km.
Her verdict? A total of 272 carcasses, including 211 kangaroos, 40 wombats, one deer and 40 "unknown". Little wonder there are queues outside local panel beater shops – that’s one carcass every 400 metres.
“The worst stretch is between Royalla and Michelago,” Carlisle says.
The significant number of road kill on the Monaro Highway is due to a number of factors including the higher than normal volume of motorists due to the good ski season and the drought which means more animals graze the side of the highways in search of green pick.
Where in Canberra?
Clue: Close to the border
Degree of difficulty: Medium - Hard
Congratulations to Warren Nelson of Fadden who was the first reader to correctly identify last week’s photo as an old petrol pump near the Stonehenge Beltana landscaping supplies shopfront in Pialligo.
“The bowser is an interesting reminder of the past and something that caught our eye the very first time we went to Stonehenge,” reports Nelson who as a keen gardener “regularly visits Pialligo” with his green-thumb wife.
Nelson just beat Lindy Semczuk of Florey and Natasha Turner of Narrabundah to the prize and special note to David Austin of Amaroo who not only guessed correctly but also submitted a smiling selfie taken at the pump just after he dropped his daughter off at dancing lessons last Saturday.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday 15 September, 2018 will win a double pass to Dendy - The Home of Quality Cinema.
Contact Tim: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick.