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 trampling the national park.
So devastating has been the impact of humans across the Australian landscape, and in the climate system, that our zoos are now stockpiling "insurance populations" of endangered native wildlife.
The southern and northern corroboree frogs are now on life support in plastic containers of peat moss at Taronga Park Zoo's threatened species recovery program. Of the southern corroboree frog, it's estimated that only 50 of these lovely little frogs remain in their alpine habitat in Kosciuszko National Park.
The clock is also ticking for the gentle broad-toothed rat, two species of alpine crayfish, the small native fish known as stocky galaxias found only in Kosciuszko National Park, and two species of alpine skink, which Zoos Victoria is trying to save with its "Alpine Skink Chalet".
Taronga Park Zoo says that if it can save the corroboree frog it will represent a major achievement for the conservation of amphibians. But what is it being saved from? A frog-killing fungus of mysterious origins is one threat. Climate change heating up its sub-alpine habitat is another.
And then there are the hard hooves of feral horses, deer and pigs. These northern-hemisphere animals should not be allowed within cooee of any national park, yet by the latest estimate there are about 14,000 feral horses eroding the integrity of the unique alpine environment of Kosciuszko National Park.
An aerial survey of brumbies in Kosciuszko's Currango Creek basin shows numerous mobs of up to 50 running in all directions on the horizon. After a helicopter flight over sections of the northern end of the park, including the Murrumbidgee catchment, former federal environment minister Peter Garrett described the scene as a "plague" of feral horses.
In 1944, legislators in the NSW Parliament voted to gazette the area a state park. Their far-sighted action was followed in 1967 by the declaration of a national park by the NSW Labor government and in 1969 the minister for lands, the Liberal Party's Tom Lewis, announced the end of all cattle grazing.
Getting cattle out of the park was essential if the ecosystems of the protected area were to survive. But horses go where cattle fear to tread. They do so because brumbies are regarded by a small but vocal minority to be part of their cultural heritage. In this case, their heritage counts for more than that of local Indigenous people, at least in the mind of the chief spokesman for brumby fans, state National Party leader John Barilaro.
Protect and survive
Last June the NSW government bought the 150,000-hectare Narriearra Station in the state's north-west to augment the NSW national parks system. A birdwatchers' paradise, and taking in unique wetland ecosystems of the Channel Country, Environment Minister Matt Kean said that the new park should help protect about 25 threatened animal species.
But the declaration of the new park came with a dire warning: some of those 25 threatened species in the area may need to book a place at Taronga Zoo's threatened species recovery program 70 years hence.
Mr Kean understands that declaring the new park will prove pointless unless his government takes strong measures to turn back the invasion of feral animals, including horses, donkeys and camels. Strict vigilance and a firm hand to manage and remove the invaders is not negotiable if the money used to buy the station is to prove well spent.
Let's hope a lobby group advocating for the cultural significance of camels does not spring up. Or that locals, using Kosciuszko as a precedent, begin arguing that feral horses in the new park have an iconic status because they are the descendants of the animals left behind by the Burke and Wills expedition, which passed through the area in 1860-61, abandoning some of their mounts.
The demands of horse (or camel) lovers to put the colonial heritage of feral animals before the protection of native species would fall on deaf ears - unless, that is, they can find a John Barilaro to act as their megaphone in Sydney.
Mr Kean might like to invite Mr Barilaro to take a guided tour of Taronga's threatened species recovery program, to reflect on the future of endangered creatures like the corroboree frog if his feral horse protection law is not repealed and the horses removed from Kosciuszko National Park.
- Clive Hamilton is a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University.