At the nexus of raging bushfires and invasive wild horses, Tom Goldner asks where human responsibility fits into these contentious environmental topics. His latest project, Do Brumbies Dream in Red? steps back to consider how self-reflection is needed if we’re ever going to resolve ecological uncertainty.
Words by Hudson Brown
Photography by Tom Goldner
The debate around Australia’s Snowy Mountains alpine region and its population of wild brumbies has bubbled for decades. With the species first introduced during British colonisation, these horses simultaneously serve as a national symbol and force of environmental damage, as their hooves destroy habitats and threaten the region’s native plant life. But Melbourne-based photographer Tom Goldner’s latest documentary project, Do Brumbies Dream in Red?, argues this highly contentious issue often overlooks the role of humans.
“Through my project, I hope we can recognise ourselves within the violence we inflict on the non-human world. I recognise a growing divide in public opinion which I believe resonates beyond brumbies and into larger issues such as climate change,” says Goldner. “We need to find new ways to have conversations and find new perspectives if we are going to do better for the planet.”
“I hope we can recognise ourselves within the violence we inflict on the non-human world.”
Against a backdrop of the catastrophic 2019-20 Australian bushfire season known as the ‘Black Summer’ – an event that claimed 34 human lives, 18 million hectares of land and approximately 3 billion animals – Goldner had initially intended to document the burnt landscape. Yet, when he later discovered the frequent appearance of brumbies in his work, he realised this deeply politicised topic closely reflects Australia’s inaction on climate change. Describing this distinctive motif in his artist statement, Golden says that “brumbies represent wildness and the way we relate to, and attempt to control, nature.”
“I use a multifaceted and layered approach to storytelling through collaboration and experimentation. I’d hope this slower, artful approach allows for contemplation beyond the bushfires and allows people to consider how we are treating the environment,” says Goldner.
“Brumbies represent wildness and the way we relate to, and attempt to control, nature.”
Goldner presents Do Brumbies Dream in Red? in both a new large-format photo book and an ‘experiential’ exhibition featuring moving image, sound, poetry and design. Partnering with several creative practitioners, Goldner’s exhibition aims to provide a nuanced glimpse into his work and its long-running subject that seemingly has no end in sight.
“Each element has been interpreted by those I’ve collaborated with – I feel that has been a really important aspect of the project,” explains Goldner. “I hope the exhibition not only surprises people but allows for important conversations.”
Do Brumbies Dream in Red? runs from 5–14 February 2021 at Meat Market Stables, 2 Wreckyn Street, North Melbourne, VIC 3051.
Tom Goldner is an artist, independent curator and teacher of photography residing on Wurundjeri country in Sherbrooke Forest, Victoria, Australia. He is the founder of The Fox Darkroom & Gallery in Melbourne and the co-founder of the Australian Photography Awards (APA), which has become one of the largest and most celebrated photographic organisations in Australia, continually pushing the boundary of originality and inclusiveness.