There is a conspicuous green instead of the palette of purple and yellow weeds in one patch of Yass Valley. The credit needs to go to Chris Broers, the volunteer farm manager at Cooma Cottage, the homestead of explorer Hamilton Hume.
Chris Broers face lights up when he speaks about the improvements achieved in land management at The National Trust property and the joy he feels when introducing visitors to the grounds and his beloved Clydesdale horses.
Last month, Mr Broers was among the handful of Cooma Cottage volunteers who all received an Award of Recognition for their work and efforts in keeping the property open to the public. Mr Broers was unable to participate in the online ceremony due to work commitments.
Mr Broers has been a volunteer at Cooma Cottage for the past seven years and is known nationally for organising the Wooback heavy horse event at Cooma Cottage in 2016. The event had 62 horses gather on-site and broke the Australian record for the most working horses ploughing a field at the same time.
He is passionate about Clydesdale horses and currently has three that are housed in the stables at Cooma Cottage. He describes them as ‘the most placid horses you can own’ and thinks they are very ‘lovable’. They are Noah, Nugget and Hunter. Each of the horses has come from all over Australia. Hunter, in particular, is a considerable horse measuring in at 18 hands.
The Clydesdales have since become one of the main attractions at Cooma Cottage. People travelling past the property often pull over on the side of the road to admire the animals. They can be seen giving the horses treats such as carrots, apples and bread. The grounds also feature 120 merinos owned by Thomas Johnson.
Mr Broers, who also runs Yass Signs, a family-run business for 31 years in Yass, has spent a lot of his personal time at Cooma Cottage returning the stables to a condition close to their origins of the 1800s. They are housing his Clydesdales, and the horses are displayed for the public to see on weekends, currently paused due to COVID management plans put in place by The National Trust.
His passion for Clydesdales is something Mr Broers would like to pass on and educate people about the plight of the Clydesdale Horse breed. The United Kingdom’s Rare Breeds Survival Trust lists Clydesdales as a species vulnerable to extinction. According to the RBST, at the dawn of the 20th Century, 2.6 million heavy horses were working in the United Kingdom, but now, there are less than 10,000. By teaching people about Clydesdales, Mr Broers hopes others will gain an appreciation for them and their important place in our nation’s history.
Visitors to Cooma Cottage, often get to view basic horse care as it is happening such as feet trimming, dental work, and cleaning. They also learn about the heritage of the horse, which ties into our heritage as Australians.
Clydesdales were brought to Australia in the 1800s to help build our country. They were the premier workhorse that people used for transport, to pull wagons and carts, and to plough the fields.
A lot of school groups go on tours at Cooma Cottage, and Mr Broers receives great satisfaction from teaching children about our history. He recalls many answering with “tractor” when he asked, ‘how did Hamilton Hume go to town or plough his fields?’ Horses were the backbone of our nation, and Mr Broers is imparting this history onto all that visit Cooma Cottage.
Cooma Cottage is the only site The National Trust looks after that features a barn. There are fences on the property, but they are for cattle, not horses. Mr Broers started a spraying program with The National Trust Manager, which they plan and carry out each year. Before the spraying program, the grounds were littered with Paterson’s Curse, St John’s-wort and other weeds. It has taken many years, but they are finally under control, and the grass is showing on the property.
“My goal was to replicate it. There are no crops because Hume didn’t have crops. I want to keep it natural and try to keep it the way it was,” said Mr Broers in response to his work at Cooma Cottage.
The recent floods of the Yass river have caused damage to the bank and made a mess of the area; however, the Yass Valley Council and Landcare have helped to plant ten thousand trees along the river. The new Hardwicke owners are looking to do the same on the opposite side of the river, which will complement the work done on the Cooma Cottage property.
“We want to keep it clean, tidy, hold some events and get some of Yass out there, so they realise what we have,” said Mr Broers.
“People still don’t realise how unique it is. It is the best country in Yass Valley.”
Mr Broers advised The National Trust is taking the precaution of delaying the reopening of Cooma Cottage during COVID management due to being entirely run by volunteers and the site attracting people from all over the country and world.
Mr Broer’s recalled just last year a couple visited the property from England and the man claimed to be a descendent of Hamilton Hume. He arrived on a Sunday afternoon while the grounds were closed due to a lack of guides. Mr Broers was there and let the man in to take photos and look around. The Englishman was very emotional and thankful for the opportunity to experience his relative’s history.
Mr Broers was also keen to mention the work of Robby Shepherd who has been visiting the site for the past two and half years to mow the grass in his own time. He helps to keep the grounds clean and tidy along with Mr Broers.
The National Trust is looking for volunteers willing to undergo training to lend a hand with hosting visitors on-site with a range of duties available.
If you would like to volunteer to help at Cooma Cottage, you can contact the local group at 02 6226 1470. Alternatively, you can contact The National Trust (NSW).