Australia's Wild Horses: The Brumbies of Guy Fawkes River National Park

By Michelle Stewart

Australia 's wild horses are known as brumbies. It is widely acknowledged that the term brumby comes from Sergeant James Brumby who left his horses to run loose on his land in New South Wales (NSW) when he was transferred to Tasmania in the 1830's. Over time, all wild horses in Australia came to be called brumbies.

The rugged and remote gorge country of the Guy Fawkes River National Park in northern NSW, Australia is home to a brumby population. The nearest township is Dorrigo, some forty miles away. With a population of barely 2,400, Dorrigo is just a small dot on the map. Sydney, the capital city of NSW, is 360 miles south.

Where did the brumbies come from?

Horses have been in the Guy Fawkes area since the early 1830's when the land was opened up to farming. Large sections were unfenced so some horses strayed, becoming brumbies.

From the 1890's to the early 1940's a number of farms in the area were involved in breeding horses for the remount (military) trade. They exported horses to the British army in India and then to South Africa, Palestine and other countries. Guy Fawkes horses, including brumbies, were drafted for use by the Light Horse in the Second World War.

The numbers of brumbies were controlled by property owners and lease holders. However, in 1972 much of this land was turned into the Guy Fawkes River National Park and management of the brumbies all but stopped until the early 1990's.

What does the Guy Fawkes brumby look like?

The majority of Guy Fawkes brumbies are browns and bays (approximately 60%). However, a high proportion (30%) are creamies, that is palominos, duns and buckskins. The creamy influence is attributed to their famous ancestor Saladin, one of the founding horses of the Australian Stock Horse breed.

They stand between 15 and 16 hands, though many are 14 to 15 hands. They have fine, clean legs showing good dense bone, a short back, muscular sloping shoulders and a broad head.

These three bays are typical Guy Fawkes brumbies.

A genetic study shows that the Guy Fawkes brumbies have a high similarity to Arab breeds and to saddle and harness light horses such as Thoroughbreds. They are also genetically similar to Walers.

Waler was the name given to horses from New South Wales that were bred for the military. The Waler was the result of hack mares with some Clydesdale blood being crossed with Thoroughbreds and Arabs.

The NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service cull

In October 2000 the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service carried out an aerial cull in the Guy Fawkes River National Park, slaughtering over six hundred brumbies. When news of this broke the public was outraged - how could the government treat brumbies this way? What's more, the government wanted to get rid of the remaining brumbies in the park. The Guy Fawkes brumby would be no more.

The Campaign to Save the Brumbies

As a result of community objections, aerial culling has been banned in NSW national parks. The local community wanted more than that, though. They wanted the heritage value of the Guy Fawkes brumby to be recognised and for them to be managed on that basis. After much campaigning the government started to listen. They conceded the brumbies did have heritage value, but upheld they still had to be removed from the national park. For what and whom, then, does the national park exist?

A group of dedicated volunteers formed the Guy Fawkes Wild Horse Management Association. The aims are: to oversee the management of brumbies once they are removed from the national park, and to develop an Australian Brumby Register & Stud Book to enhance their value and protect the breed.

Capture and Removal Trial

In April 2004 the association was given the go ahead to begin a twelve month passive capture and removal trial. A lease of seven hundred acres of land close to the national park was secured as an interim home for the brumbies.

The members go to great lengths to ensure the brumbies are never stressed, from their initial capture in the national park, during transportation to their interim home, and while at their interim home.

On arrival at their interim home the brumbies are sorted out, branded and entered into the Stud Book.

Brumbies grazing at their interim home
Adopt a Brumby

The association is proud to be able offer Guy Fawkes brumbies to the public for adoption. Those lucky enough to adopt a brumby are finding them quick to learn and that they have a gentle nature.

There is also a sponsorship program for those who are unable to take on the daily care of a horse but still wish to help.

 The success of the trial is already evident with three quarters of the brumbies initially captured being adopted in short space of time. In fact, there are people on a waiting list for the next batch that are removed from the national park.

A stallion and his mares

Another exciting development has been the establishment of an indigenous youth training program in conjunction with a local college. To facilitate this, a stallion and his mares have been relocated to an Aboriginal Lands property near Dorrigo.

Plans to establish a Sanctuary

There's no doubt this is a great result but the association's ultimate goal is to have a Wild Horse Sanctuary where the brumbies can run free. The association hopes to secure five to ten thousand acres of land in the Guy Fawkes vicinity, similar to the brumbies' natural home. This will ensure the continued genetics and characteristics of the breed, naturally. The Sanctuary will provide the public with the opportunity to experience, first hand, the magic of brumbies in the wild. It will also be an education centre. However, that's going to take a lot more campaigning and a lot of money.


© Michelle Stewart 2004


For more information:

If you'd like more information on the Guy Fawkes brumbies visit

For more information on brumbies in general visit:

For more information about the Guy Fawkes River National Park visit:



About the author:

Michelle Stewart is an Australian freelance writer and owner of Combalo Brumby Stud. She can be contacted via her website: