The Silver Brumby was published in 1958 and is the first book in a series of thirteen novels written by Elyne Mitchell. It is the story of Thowra, a young colt born during that stormy night on the Australian Alps. The story follows Thowra through his early years as he learns from his mother the cunning and wisdom needed to survive in the wild. His lifelong battles with men who prized him for his silvery coat, the friction with other stallions as he comes to the peak of his strength, and later, the birth of his own daughter, Kunama, is told with vigour and close attention to detail.
Elyne Mitchell grew up around horses and married a grazier. She had a close connection to the land, especially the Snowy Mountains area, and the places she describes in her books are those that were familiar to her.
I’ve visited the Snowy Mountains a few times and her writing evoked memories I have of the area. There is a ring of authenticity as well as a literary quality to her writing.
They saw dingoes, and occasionally a red fox, his pelt thick and good for winter, would show up against the grey-green grass. Thorwa noticed how busy the scurrying insects were, from the tiny ants to the great bright blue and red mountain grasshoppers – but he, too, knew that it was going to be a heavy winter.
Some thoughts & comments
Brumbies are wild, undomesticated, feral horses that are not native to Australia but which have become closely identified with the Australian landscape. You only have to recall the popularity of the movie The Man From Snowy River and the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games to understand this affinity.
The Crackenback River referred to in the book is now known as the Thredbo River.
The book reminds me in some ways of the original story of Bambi, partly because of the style of the writing and partly the manner in which both authors depicted the animals they wrote about. The main difference between the two is that the animals in Bambi were helpless before the threat man posed, whereas the stallions in The Silver Brumby were wild, could often hold their own, and sometimes injured their pursuers. They were not hunted and killed for sport like the deer in Bambi, but admired for their strength and agility and prized for their potential if caught and trained.
Although the animals in The Silver Brumby talk to each other, it doesn’t make the story less real. The animals are true to their natures; the narrative never feels false or unbelievable. The communication between the animals gives insight into how they respond in different situations and helps the reader to understand their actions and have some empathy for them.
When Elyne Mitchell published the first book in her Brumby series in 1958, there was very little Australian content to be found in children’s literature. Already an established writer, she wrote this series for her daughter, Indi, to whom the book is dedicated. Below is a quote from an article written about the author:
Since then, these stories of the wild brumbies of the Australian High Country have been loved by readers of all ages and have been translated into eight languages.
The Silver Brumby would suit a confident reader around the age of about 10 years and would be a wonderful read aloud from around age 7. It has a good balance of descriptive writing wrapped up in an exciting adventure which keeps you wondering and hoping Thowra will come through all the danger and obstacles he encounters.
The edition below was published to celebrate the centenary of Elyne Mitchell’s birth and contains the first four titles in the series – The Silver Brumby, Silver Brumby’s Daughter, Silver Brumbies of the South, and Silver Brumby Kingdom.
Some information on the Australian brumby here