The National Trust has told Chris Broers, the volunteer farm manager at Cooma Cottage for the past 10 years, to leave the historic Yass site within three months – and take his five Clydesdale horses and rare collection of saddlery, with him.
Mr Broers has been the face of the site, the former home of explorer Hamilton Hume, for the past decade, doing everything from educating visitors about our early history – using the Clydesdales to show early farming techniques – to maintaining the extensive grounds, using his own tractor.
He said it was ironic that in the email asking him to leave, the National Trust acknowledged the value of the Clydesdales in attracting visitors to the site. It thanked him for his “time and effort” at Cooma Cottage, adding that, “in particular the way in which the horses have helped bring the property to life”.
“I just don’t understand why they would do something like this,” Mr Broers, who, along with other volunteers, received a recognition award in 2020 for helping to keep the historic home open for visitors, said.
During the past decade, Mr Broers has educated thousands of visitors, from Yass Valley schoolchildren to overseas guests. He even opened the property when a descendant of Hamilton Hume dropped by unexpectedly when the site was closed – but Mr Broers happened to be on site doing maintenance work.
In the email to him, the National Trust said: “To assist with our management of the site, we kindly request that you action the below points prior to 5 February, 2024:
- Clear the stable, harness room and grounds of your equipment;
- Remove horses from the paddocks.”
“I have spent the past 10 years working my butt off at that place,” he said. “And I never got a cent … but that was never why I did it.
“I just love the place. I love talking to people. I love showing the kids the stables, the old harness gear – things they don’t get to see these days. And everyone loves the horses.”
He said his main concern now was his horses. He will take two of them to nearby Heavy Horse Heaven at Lade Vale, and another will go to a friend’s farm at Goulburn, but he still needs agistment for the remaining two. “I’m not worried about me,” he said, “it’s the horses I care about.” He said once all the horses were safely homed, he would try to put the situation behind him, and just enjoy being a grandfather.
Mr Broers, who runs a signwriting business in Yass, said he spent all his spare time at Cooma Cottage, checking on his horses, maintaining the farm – from fencing to slashing and weed control – to organising events and talking to visitors.
He is also the brains behind the Wooback Heavy Horse event at Cooma Cottage, which, in 2016, broke the Australian record for the most working horses ploughing a field at the same time – 62. The event attracted more than 5000 people to the Yass property on the day.
“I know things change in life, but this decision has left me heartbroken,” he said. “I came here around 10 years ago to bring a bit of life to the place – and I’ve been here ever since. They asked me to sign a paddock licence when I started here, but I’ve never been asked to sign anything since. Now, just out of the blue, they’ve told me to go.”
The CEO of the National Trust (NSW), Debbie Mills, said on Tuesday (14 November) that in 2022, the National Trust undertook fundraising to address Cooma Cottage’s much needed and extensive conservation works.
“Thanks to generous donations, the significant works can now commence,” Ms Mills said. “The works are extensive and will include not only the house but also the stables, harness room and grounds.
“To help manage the site and undertake the works these areas will be vacated.”
She said as 2024 marked the 200th anniversary of the Hume & Hovell expedition, this conservation work would ensure the National Trust continued to mark such important moments in history.