Snowy River alpine region at tipping point

November 18, 2021

Where The Water Starts
A film by Amanda King and Fabio Cavadini
Frontyard Films et al
Available through Fan Force Films
71 mins

Where The Water Starts is a beautiful film about an ugly subject: the threatened destruction of the iconic Kosciuszko National Park region by the impact of thousands of uncontrolled feral horses. But it is also about the local Indigenous and other community members who are organising to defend and protect the park against this danger.

The Snowy Mountains are home to the headwaters of the Snowy, Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers, yet the delicate alpine ecosystem that supports these vital water sources is being trampled.

The alpine area that covers only 0.01% of Australia's inhabited land mass is under threat from a combination of the impacts of feral animals, artificial water flows and climate change.

Where The Water Starts reveals how this fragile alpine region, particularly Kosciuszko National Park, the largest in the Australian Alps, is seen by people who were born or live in the southern mountains area, or who care deeply about it.

The film brings together respected Aboriginal community leaders, including Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison, Aunty Sue Bulger, Aunty Rhonda Casey, as well as Aboriginal writer Bruce Pascoe, alpine river guide Richard Swain and his wife Alison, local farmer Sterling Dixon, environmental scientist Professor David Watson, former parks officer Paul Hardey and social historian Dr Isa Menzies.

The film reflects on their ideas around caring for country as a shared responsibility of all Australians; that the best of Aboriginal connection and the best of regenerative science can work together for a better future for the alpine environment and to protect the habitats of 34 threatened native species.

Former NSW National Party leader and deputy premier John Barilaro pushed the so-called "Brumbies Bill" through state parliament in 2018, aiming "to protect feral horses, even above native wildlife," the film explains.

“We need to fight the political battle now on this issue. Our landscape can't take any more of this.”

“The wild horses mass around water sources in the park, and pulverise the area. The country can't sustain this destruction.”

The film shows a public meeting organised by Reclaim Kosci, in which Andrew Cox, CEO of the Invasive Species Council, says: “We're only going to win it when it’s not the politician being brave and standing up in front of the media saying we're going to shoot the horses. It’s when the public says, 'You've got a big problem,' and calling for those desperate measures.

“Trapping on its own will not remove large numbers of horses. Aerial shooting is probably it, but both major parties will rule it out. This is why this is such a difficult problem.”

“How is letting them starve less cruel than culling them?” another speaker asks.

Pascoe explains: “White Australia has been at war with this country. Indigenous people didn't have a word for 'drought'.”

“Our people went into the mountains, coming in peace and respect, and enjoying great feasts of bogong moths,” Aunty Sue Bulger says.

“Mobs came from all over the country to trade and discuss in summer,” Aunty Rhonda Casey adds.

Reclaim Kosci organiser Richard Swain says: “The Snowy River region drought-proofs Australia. It is at a tipping point now. But if we get the horses off it, the area will recover.”

The Brumbies Bill was based on a surge of misplaced public support for the mythology surrounding the wild horses. Sections of white Australia identified with the horsemen of the region, as exemplified in the famous 1880 poem The Man From Snowy River by Banjo Patterson.

Save Our Brumbies rallies were held in Sydney and elsewhere in 2018. Threats and racist comments were directed at Indigenous Ambassador with the Invasive Species Council, Richard Swain and his wife Alison.

But the movement to defend the precious Kosciuszko National Park is growing. Pressure to reduce the impact of feral brumbies in the region, by removal and by large-scale culling, is gaining support, the film concludes.

At a Q&A session during the online premiere on October 28, filmmakers Mandy King and Fabio Cavadini said “the idea for the film just grew as we visited the many precious places in the Snowy region, and talked to local people.

“The message of the film is that Indigenous people and others in the community can come together and share responsibility to save our natural heritage.”

Professor David Watson stressed that "the science is settled on this issue. Wild horses, hoofed animals of any kind, never existed before in this region.

“It's a disaster. It is ludicrous to have feral horses in a World Heritage Area.”

Swain said “Australia has the largest feral animal population in the world: horses, camels, pigs, dogs, cats, buffaloes etc. This problem has got to be resolved.”

Film premiere moderator Sue Higginson concluded, “The Brumby Bill is a legal fiction. Repeal of this law has to be our main aim, to protect the iconic Snowy region.”

This is an important film about a crucial environmental struggle.

[For information about screenings, visit Front Yard Films. For more information on the campaign, visit Reclaim Kosci on Facebook.]

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