Rabbit-proof fence

Rabbit-proof fence

The State Barrier Fence of Western Australia,The State Barrier Fence of Western Australia (2001). [http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/43156/20040709/agspsrv34.agric.wa.gov.au/programs/app/barrier/intro.htm Archived from Western Australian Department of Agriculture Centenary website] ] formerly known as the No. 1 Rabbit-proof Fence, the State Vermin Fence and the Emu Fence, is a pest-exclusion fence constructed between 1901 and 1907 to keep rabbits and other agricultural pests out of Western Australian pastoral areas.

There are three fences; the original No. 1 Fence, which crosses the state from north to south, the No. 2 Fence which is smaller and further west, and the smaller east-west running No. 3 fence. The fences took six years to build. When completed in 1907, the Rabbit-Proof Fence (including all three fences) stretched 2021 miles. The cost to build the fences at the time was £337,841.

History of the fence

Rabbits were first brought into Australia by the First Fleet. They were not released into the wild until 1859, when Victorian grazier Thomas Austin imported 24 specimens from England and released them on his Victorian farm. At the time he had stated::"The introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting."By 1894, rabbits had spread across the entire Australian mainland. ("See the article Rabbits in Australia".)

Rabbits were discovered in Western Australia at Fowlers Bay in 1891, and later at Eyres Patch in 1896. The Western Australian Under Secretary of Lands sent Arthur Mason to see if there were any rabbits in the south eastern part of the state. He reported that rabbits had reached Eucla near the Western Australian border, and also convert|200|mi|km inside the border at Twilight Cove, near Esperance. Mason advised that a fence be built to keep the rabbits out along the border with South Australia. In 1901, a Royal Commission decided to build a fence from Eighty Mile beach on the north west coast to the south coast. The task of surveying the line for the fence was given to Ashleigh Fleming. She began the survey from the south coast and ended at Wallal in the northwest.

Fence No. 1

The fence runs for convert|1833|km|mi from Wallal on the Eighty Mile Beach south to Jerdacuttup in the shire of Ravensthorpe.

Construction began in December 1901. The No 1 Rabbit Proof Fence was completed in 1907, running from Starvation Harbour to near Cape Keraudren. When it was completed, it was known as the "Barrier Fence". The construction of a large part of the fence was the responsibility of Richard Anketell, who also surveyed the last convert|70|mi|km of the fence, which took from 20 August 1904 to 30 September 1907 to construct. During this time, his crew consisted of 120 men, 210 horses, 41 donkeys, and 350 camels.

Unfortunately, the fence did not stop the rabbits from moving westward. There were parts of the fence which eroded underneath, holes in the wire developed, and sometimes gates would be left open, enabling the rabbits to pass through.

Following the First World War, there was a plague of rabbits in farmland in Western Australia. Farmers had to use individual fences around their paddocks, and poison baits, fumigation machines, and trappers or even school children trapping rabbits for pocket money; rabbit skins being valuable during the Great Depression. Later, "warren ripping" was used, with a tractor or truck pulling a plough over a rabbit's warren to destroy rabbit tunnels.

Fence No. 2

Before the first fence had even been completed, rabbits had made their way through it. Rabbits had been found west of the line in 1902, therefore more fences were needed. Fence No. 2 begun in 1905, which is further west, started from a point near Bremer Bay in the south. It is convert|1166|km|mi long. It joined the first fence at Gum creek near Murchison. There were not many rabbits west of the Number 2 fence until the 1920s.

Fence No. 3

Fence No. 3 is a shorter east-west fence running from near the Zuytdorp Cliffs north of Kalbarri to meet with the No. 2 fence. Construction of all the fences was complete by 1908. No. 3 fence is only 500 kilometer long, you can see the logic by looking at the diagram of the fences on the map of WA. Fence number 3 was built by no more than 10 men.they worked extremely hard to complete the fence to keep the rabbits out.


The fence posts are placed convert|12|ft|m apart, and have a minimum diameter of convert|4|in|cm. There were initially three wires of 12½ gauge placed at convert|4|in|cm, convert|20|in|cm, and convert|3|ft|cm above ground, with a barbed wire added later at 3'4" and a plain wire at 3'7" to make the fence a barrier for dingoes and foxes as well. Wire netting was placed on this, which extended to convert|6|in|cm below ground.

The fence was constructed with different materials due to the local climate, and availability of wood. At first salmon gum and gimlet wood were used, although these attracted white ants and had to be replaced. Split white gum was one of the best types of wood used in the fence. Others used were mulga, wodjil, pine, and Tea tree , based on where it could be found close to where the fence was to be built. Iron was used in parts where there was no wood.


Alexander Crawford (Inspector of rabbits), took over the maintenance of the fence from Anketell when the fence was finished in 1907 and remained in charge until he retired in 1922. He was eventually appointed Chief Inspector of Rabbits. The area inside the fence to the west became known as "Crawford's Paddock". The fence was maintained at first by boundary riders riding bicycles, and later by riders on top of camels. However, inspection of the fence was difficult on the top of the tall animal. In 1910, a car was bought to do the inspection of the fence, but did not work after getting punctured tyres. It was found the best way to inspect the fence was using buckboard buggies which were pulled by two camels.

The camels were used as pack animals, especially in the north, while in the south, camels were used to pull drays with supplies for the riders. Camels were ideal for this as they could go for a long time without water, and it has been suggested that the fence could not have been built or maintained without the use of camels.

In addition to Crawford, there were four sub-inspectors, each responsible for about convert|800|km|mi of fence, and twenty-five boundary riders who regularly patrolled convert|160|km|mi sections of fence. Due to frontier violence in the north of the state, a convert|500|km|mi section of the No.1 fence was patrolled by riders in pairs. [ [http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/43156/20040709/agspsrv34.agric.wa.gov.au/programs/app/barrier/history/REPORT1907.htm The State Barrier Fence of Western Australia ] ]

Crawford was also responsible for eliminating rabbits which had breached the fence. In the first year following the completion of the fences, colonies were found and destroyed near several locations inside the fence, including Coorow, Mullewa and Northampton. [ [http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/43156/20040709/agspsrv34.agric.wa.gov.au/programs/app/barrier/history/REPORT1907.htm The State Barrier Fence of Western Australia ] ]

Following the introduction of Myxomatosis to control rabbits in the 1950s, the importance of the Rabbit Proof Fence diminished.

Cultural references

In 1929, Arthur Upfield, an Australian writer, began writing a fictional story which involved a way of disposing of a body in the desert. He had previously worked on the construction of the No. 1 fence. Before the book was published, stockman Snowy Rowles, an acquaintance of the writer, carried out at least two murders and disposed of the bodies in the method described in the book. The trial which followed in 1932 was one of the most sensational in the history of Western Australia. [ [http://www.westprint.com.au/Articles%20&%20Stories/murder_on_rabbit_fence.htm murder on rabbit fence ] ] A book was published about the incident called "Murder on the Rabbit Proof Fence: The Strange Case of Arthur Upfield and Snowy Rowles". The incident is now referred to as The Murchison Murders.

In the book "Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence" by Doris Pilkington Garimara, the fence was used in the 1930s by three Indigenous Australian girls for their route back home to Jigalong. The girls taken from their parents in Western Australia as part of the Stolen Generation, escaped from the Moore River Native Settlement mission where they were being held and walked back to their family at Jigalong by following the rabbit-proof fence.

See also

*Temporary fencing
*Agricultural fencing
*Dingo Fence



*cite book | first=F.H. | last=Broomhall | year=1991 | title=The Longest Fence in the World | publisher=Hesperian Press | id=ISBN 0-85905-147-1

External links

* [http://camelfarm.com/camels/rabbit_proof_fence.html The No.1 Rabbit Proof Fence]
* [http://amol.org.au/runrabbitrun/fence.asp Run Rabbit Run!] Australian Museums and Galleries
* [http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/43156/20040709/agspsrv34.agric.wa.gov.au/programs/app/barrier/index.htm The State Barrier Fence of Western Australia] Pandora Online Archive
* [http://www.liswa.wa.gov.au/wepon/land/html/rabbits.html The Rabbit Proof Fence] Library of West Australian History
* [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/14/science/earth/14fenc.html?ex=1344744000&en=08233f5483387e1b&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink At Australia’s Bunny Fence, Variable Cloudiness Prompts Climate Study] The New York Times

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Look at other dictionaries:

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