The last Brooms Head brumby is now gone, but his legacy and story lives on.

REVEALED: The key to Brumby's origins

SCATTERED across John Moran's dining room table are fragments of a rich equine history.

He sifts through faded portraits of champion thoroughbreds, candid moments from the Moran Park Stud dynasty and old news clippings of Saltash, the most expensive stallion to come to the North Coast.

Finally, he settles on a map of the Clarence Valley dating back to 1915. It's here, according to Mr Moran, where the origins of the Brooms Head Brumby begin.

"A man named Austie Ryan plays a big part," he explains.

"People used to think they were wild horses out at the Broom, but they weren't. They were called Ryan's brumbies. It was only in the later years when people started calling them the Brooms Head brumbies."

Mr Moran traces a line on the map between Shark Creek where Mr Ryan was born and raised, to the Sandon River where he would become a local legend for his unusual relationship with countless feral horses.

"He used to run all of his grey horses on the south side of the river and all the others on the other side. The river was the boundary," Mr Moran explained.

"People used to tell me they'd see him lay down on a horse's back and go under trees flat out. They'd see him charging through the bush and then he'd crash land on to a yearling foal and drag them out by the forelock.

Cowper resident John Moran shares his family history and close ties to the origins of the Brooms Head Brumby.
Cowper resident John Moran shares his family history and close ties to the origins of the Brooms Head Brumby. Jenna Thompson

"What he did with the bigger horses, as he caught them, he'd put a rope on them and tie them to a tree and they'd be pulling like all hell, so he'd come back the next day when there was no pull left in them and just take them home."

Mr Moran said people often saw halters and ropes tied to tree branches or draped over shrubbery around the Sandon.

"Austie had them everywhere so that if he was riding around and spotted a horse he wanted, he could grab them quickly," he explained.

From there, the horses would be trained to race in local events.

"The first time I met Austie was when my uncle took me to see the Brooms Head Cup where they'd race on the beach," Mr Moran said.

"Austie was a shrewd man; very smart."


A rare photo of Austie Ryan with one of his brumbies.
A rare photo of Austie Ryan with one of his brumbies. Geoff Boots

An offer for Mr Ryan to join them for a meal, which was turned down, highlighted just how cunning he was.

"He told us he hadn't had a feed that day because if he got hurt in the races they could operate on him straight away," he said.

"My uncle told me it was actually so he could be a little lighter on his horse for the race!"

Austie Ryan's close friendship with the Moran family also meant he had access to the best racing bloodlines on the North Coast.

John Moran (left) as a child with his father.
John Moran (left) as a child with his father. Contributed

"My family had Moran Park, which was a registered race course and stud," he explained.

"Austie was a friend of the family and he got foals for almost nothing. So, if you're taking the best blood horses in the country and taking them out there and crossing them with these wild horses, it's easy to win a Brooms Head race because of the bloodlines!"


However, Mr Moran said that the Brooms Head Brumby's distinct pie-bald colour originated not from a champion thoroughbred race horse, but rather a wayward stallion from a travelling circus.

"There was a man named Charlie Perry who had a circus and he was friends with my grandma. Every time Charlie came to town he would always visit her," he said.

"One day he unloaded this stallion. He said it was a nuisance in the circus, that they had to get rid of him, so he ended up leaving him on grandma's property. He was deadset piebald; the same colour, same bloodline as Brumby."

Mr Moran said that after hearing about the circus stallion, Austie Ryan soon brought mares onto the property to breed with him.

"Once he got foals he took them back to Brooms Head and that's how the bloodline for Brumby started there," he said.

"Every time a foal came along, they all had the piebald markings, just in different spots."

While it's unknown just how far the bloodline has travelled over the years, Mr Moran said at least one horse made it as far as the Northern Territory.

Brumbies run through streets of Brooms Head during the 1960s.
Brumbies run through streets of Brooms Head during the 1960s. contributed

"Uncle Pat had a racehorse mare that naturally got a foal from that circus stallion which then produced another foal, again with the piebald markings," he said.

"One day, one of Pat's brothers came over with another horse to do a bit of training for the Brooms Head races. Pat was doing a training gallop when the horse tripped and, as a result, Pat was killed.

"That last piebald was sold to Ivan Livermore who took him to his property on the Northern Territory, which is how it got into the movie."

The 1946 film The Overlanders starring Chips Rafferty provides a window into Brumby's heritage with footage of the stunning piebald gelding.

In one scene, with actress Daphne Campbell in the saddle, the black and white horse gallops across a field, desperate to stop a plane from leaving.

"The horse in that movie is from the same bloodline as Brumby," Mr Moran said.

"I've always wanted to paint a picture of her chasing the plane on my shed. It's such a great moment."