Great walls & fences of Australia

IMG_1887The avenue of poplars (mentioned in this post) in the Tuggeranong Town Park follows the line of a heritage-listed dry stone wall that once marked the boundary between two rural properties in Canberra (one of which was featured in another post – here).

The wall was built between 1867 – 1875 to replace an earlier log fence and was originally around 1.8 km long (but less than half survives today). It resembled many of the dry stone walls in Europe with its use of small and large rocks built up in courses without mortar or cement – but it had a uniquely Australian addition.

IMG_1950In the early 1900s, rabbit-proof fences were added on either side. Some of the timber posts and wire mesh can still be seen alongside the main stone structure.

This was one of many public and private exclusion barriers built across Australia in an attempt to control the explosion of rabbits that had resulted in widespread loss of vegetation and soil erosion since these pests were deliberately introduced for hunting.

Rabbit_proof_fence_map_showing_routeOne of the most famous barriers is the ‘No. 1 Fence’ (clearly named by someone with no imagination) that runs from the south coast to the north west coast of Australia. On its completion in 1907, it stretched for over 1,800 km and was the longest unbroken fence in the world.

It is one of three major fences in Western Australia (yes you guessed it – the other ones are called the No. 2 & 3 Fences) that aimed to protect the west from marauding eastern bunnies (not to be confused with the killer rabbits mentioned in my antiques post).

Although these and other ‘rabbit-proof’ fences were largely ineffective in their quest to stop the passage of rabbits (that would wait for myxomotosis in the 1950s and later the calicivirus), they proved to be more successful in blocking other species such as wild dogs and emus.

(For an interesting history of the Rabbit-Proof Fence, I recommend this article by Danielle Olsen. It’s quite long – like the No 1 Fence – but worth the effort.) 

Dingo_fence_in_Australia mapA number of fences erected in the eastern states in the 1880s were connected up by the 1940s to form the ‘Dingo (or Dog) Fence’ that was once over 8,000 km long and aimed to protect sheep in south eastern Australia from dingoes, wild dogs and cross-breeds that are common in the north. (For photos of the Dingo Fence – try here.)

Although it was shortened to 5,614 km (almost 3,500 miles) in the 1980s, the Dingo Fence is still the longest fence in the world. It stretches from the Darling Downs in Queensland to the Great Australian Bight in South Australia.

(Despite the impressive length of these fences, none of them can be seen from space – as far as I know.)

Building the fences was only the first step – with teams of boundary riders employed to continuously inspect the fences and repair any damage. Maintaining these fences is a very expensive (and controversial) activity.

While many farmers lobby for repairs and upgrades, some conservationists argue that excluding dingoes (relatively large predators that arrived around 4,000 years ago) has assisted the proliferation of herbivores such as (native) kangaroos and emus and (non-native) rabbits that devour native grasses and compete with (non-native) livestock for feed, and favoured smaller predators such as (non-native) foxes and cats that prey on (native) marsupials and lizards.

RabbitProofFence camelsAnd feral camels, whose predecessors were once critical in building and maintaining these fences in remote outback areas, are now responsible for destroying sections of the fence and have prompted plans to reinforce and electrify some sections.

There are also calls to resurrect 800 km of the former fence in Queensland’s central west. The numbers apparently stack up if you only consider stock losses – but what about the ecological impacts?

Should we instead consider getting rid of the fence to reduce the impact of foxes and feral cats on native species? There are no guarantees that removing the fence would provide a better outcome, but Yellowstone National Park’s strategy to reintroduce wolves has apparently been successful in reducing coyote numbers.

To make a decision like this requires us to weigh up the environmental, social, financial and other issues based on the evidence. However, if the project only involves an ‘agricultural fence’, then it may not even require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Stay tuned for (a more light-hearted) Part 2 of this post (here)

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Sources:

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Categories: Australiana, Biodiversity

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. Very interesting! So Fence # 1 was the Australian version of the Great Wall of China? 😉

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