He’s the big man with a big heart and Chris Broers and his heavy horses have been the main attraction at Cooma Cottage outside of Yass for the past 10 years.
Cooma Coota is under the ‘care and control’ of the National Trust which is an independent organisation separate to any government.
Chris and his four horses have become synonymous with the historic site, which was the rural home of Australian-born explorer, Hamilton Hume, who reportedly fell in love with the area during his explorations and set about creating a retreat with his wife, Elizabeth.
Cooma Cottage is only a five-minute drive from Yass’ town centre. It’s also the starting point of the 440-kilometre Hume and Hovell Track that follows the route taken by Hume and William Hovell in 1824.
Visitors in front of Cooma Cottage.
Chris’ paddock lease has been for free during his tenure, but it was officially put on paper when he commenced. He has put so much more back in to the place than he himself, has got. More recently, he was asked if he needed anything, however, a letter came through on November 3, advising him that he had to leave the property.
The letter states, “The National Trust have reviewed the current agreements at Cooma Cottage, 756 Yass Valley Way……due to upcoming project works and a change of approach for the use of the site in 2024, the National Trust will not be seeking to renew or extend the existing agreement with you.”
Chris was advised in the letter that he had to, “Clear the stable, harness room and grounds of (his) equipment and remove horses from paddocks with the finalisation date given as February 5 2024.”
Chris giving one of his horses a scratch on the neck.
The Trust went as far as acknowledging Chris’ time and effort at Cooma Cottage, in particular the way in which the horses have helped bring the property to life, something that may now slip away.
Two new managers have taken over the property over the last 8 months.
Chris patting one of his horses.
Chris spoke to the times and was clearly disappointed with the orders. He said, “It took up ever bit of spare time I had.”
“Doing the schools with the kids, teaching them our heritage and talking about the welfare of the horses, it’s just been unbelievable. I’ve always headed out there to set up tables and chairs for the coach tours as many of the volunteers have been unable to do so.”
School children getting up and close to the team of horses enjoying a wonderful experience.
Chris has been informed that there’s going to be work on the stable, however, he disagrees the stables need any work. “The stables are perfect, it’s the house that’s falling down.”
“I’m devastated and for the horses welfare and safety I’ve had to move them on quickly. I just want to have a break now and get away from the National Trust.”
Out in the sun having a biscuit of lucerne hay.
Three of Chris’ horses went to Heavy Horse Heaven while another went to Goulburn. He can still see the horses and maintains ownership of them, but for now they are not in his direct possession. A number of his horses passed away on the site during the time he was there including a foal which was born still born and the mare who had the foal three months later from foal founder. He has a deep connection with the site.
Coach tours to come and see the horses no doubt kept Cooma Cottage going.
The horses helped revive a 160 year old Olive tree which was out the front of the house on the river side. It hadn’t had olives on it for years. The horses helped cultivate the ground with their hooves and their horse S%$# brought it back to life. Two years later the tree was full of olives and has never looked better.
While in that Olive tree paddock, Chris was approached by a strongly accented man from France, who asked if he could set up, and take photos of the tree. “Go for your life”, Chris said, “He was from National Geographic, he was there six hours.”
The Hamilton family relatives who came from England, flew in to Melbourne and drove to Yass to see their ancestor’s property. They absolutely loved the horses.
Another day saw an English family arrive in the rain. Chris was working the horses and they came up to him and said, “We are distant relatives of Hamilton Hume. His cousin in England is my great great grand father. We flew in to Melbourne and we have driven here to look at the property.” Chris said, “What was I supposed to do? Turn them away? No. I opened the house up and gave them a grand tour.” It took two hours of Chris’ time and he was honoured to do it, however, it wasn’t in his job description.
Chris in town on Comur Street with one of his horses.
It’s clear Chris’ heart has been broken. He said, “I’m really over volunteering because it’s a big kick in the teeth for all I’ve done for that place. Im really sorry for the horses because they had thousands of fans and people went there just to see the horses, I always received messages about the horses from people who had been there.”
“Now I’ll sell some excess stuff off. My forge, I’ll downsize and spend time with the new grandkids now.” Chris also used to cut some of his feed himself with a chaff cutter which was demonstrated to visitors when he needed to cut feed. Coaches would arrive full of people who were able to get up close and personal with the horses and be transported back to a bygone era.
The sun’s rays breaking through the clouds while some of the team have a feed.
Chris used to work on his horses’ hooves all the time and had a very good Farrier come from Goulburn to help with the horses hooves, all 16 hooves. They say no hoof no horse, and Chris knew this better than most with the sheer weight of a clydesdale able to easily reach between 750 kilograms to a ton for males and between 680 kilograms and 800 kilograms for a mare. With hooves the size of dinner plates they take hours themselves. “He would shoe them for me when we were doing cart work. They were always looked after, like my own family, teeth done every year. I know they will be missed.”
Chris not only revived the place, he help eradicate it of noxious weeds.
“Cooma Cottage is the only land they own, when I went there ten years ago it was chock a block with thistles and cape weed and Pattersons’s curse and I put in a spraying program. It’s nice now, you could cut and bail it.”
Chris during the World record attempt for the Guiness Book of Records.
Chris never rested on his laurels as a volunteer, he ran the Guiness World Record attempt for the most heavy horses pulling ploughs at the same time with money going to Cooma Cottage, Heavy Horse Heaven and numerous other charities. There were other events also, including twilight fairs, weekend fairs and always having the horses pristine and ready for viewing and demonstrations
Chris showing his horses to a coach of older visitors.
It is more than fair to say that Cooma Cottage will not be the same without Chris. Chris’ heavy horses were no doubt the biggest attraction. The National Trust may come to regret the decision to move on what has become an institution itself in Yass, Chris and his horse team.
How many people will attend now with fees of $12 for an adult, $10 concession and $34 for a family. Those four clydesdales were the heart and soul of the place. Would Cooma Cottage be better back in Yass Valley Council hands instead of a private group such as the National Trust?
Hopefully this isn’t the last we see of Chris and his horse team.
What level of trust do the people of Yass and surrounds now have with the National Trust? Maybe some consultation with the local community would have been a good idea before making such a drastic move. More to come.