The 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.
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.
One 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.)
A 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.
And 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)
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbit-proof_fence (Accessed 22 Jan 2014)
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dingo_Fence (Accessed 22 Jan 2014)
- ‘Dividing Australia: The story of the rabbit-proof fence‘ by Danielle Olsen. things magazine (Summer 2001)
- ‘Can Australia afford the dingo fence?‘ by Corey Bradshaw & Euan Ritchie. The Conversation (Published 18 May 2012)
- ‘Angry farmers demand repairs to Australia’s other great barrier‘ by Barbara McMahon. The Guardian (Published 31 May 2008)
- ‘Dog-fence proposal reignites debate over role of dingoes‘ by Thomas Newsome. ECOS (Published 2 July 2013 – I work for the organisation that publishes ECOS – and that released myxo – but have no direct involvement in this type of research or the journal.)
- Tuggeranong Town Park poplars & Tuggeranong dry stone boundary wall: Pip Marks
- Rabbit proof fence map: Roke (Wikimedia Commons)
- Dingo fence in Australia map: Roke (Wikimedia Commons)
- Boundary rider’s team at the 100 mile No. 1 fence in Western Australia in 1926: Moondyne (Wikimedia Commons) Source: http://www.dpc.wa.gov.au/psmd/intersector/2001/pdf/jul11.pdf