The new battleground for the survival or eradication of Australia’s wild horse population has come down to name-calling — specifically, the equally loaded terms of brumbies and feral horses.
One is affectionate, tinged with elements of Australian culture and nationalism, the other a declaration of loathing.
The origin of the brumby is unclear and multiple attributed to farmers bearing the name, indigenous Australian language, slang of the 19th century, even Gaelic.
We do know Australian poet Banjo Paterson — of the $10 note fame — immortalised the Australian horse in poems such as The Man from Snowy River and Brumby’s Run, one of the first official usages of the term.
Brumbies have since evolved into part of the Australian bush myth, despite Australia being one of the most urbanised nations on earth.
They appear in Australian songs, poems and films, part of the background narrative to the pioneer days when European settlers spread across the country.
According to locals, the Barmah National Park brumbies are descended from horses released by soldiers off to fight and die on the bloody battlefields of World War I.
Such a mythos makes eradicating the populations located in Barmah and the Alpine National Park a difficult sell, which is why detractors of the wild horses have hit on the tactic of referring to them as feral horses, and nothing but feral horses.
The term is entirely correct; brumbies are feral horses, but the exclusive use of the term underlines a battle that has risen above the science into the semantics of language, the language of spin.
No feral pigs, dogs, deer or cats have romantic names attached to their populations. They are simply feral.
But brumbies do due to historic associations and the efforts of artists such as Banjo Paterson.
Brumbies are part of Australian culture and will probably remain so, whether we choose to keep or eradicate them.
Constant and exclusive use of ‘‘feral horses’’ is just one of those annoying quirks of a modern era obsessed with marketing and spin.