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The No1 Rabbit Proof Fence

The Longest Fence in The World

The most devastating and destructive pest ever introduced into Australia was undoubtedly the rabbit. The cause of the plague is generally accepted to be the introduction of 24 rabbits in 1859 by Thomas Austen of Barvon Park near Geelong.

By the 1890's the rabbits were in plague proportions with hundreds of thousands being poisoned in NSW. In Western Australia rabbits were at Fowlers Bay about 1891 and at Eyres Patch, 200 miles beyond the border in 1896.

Using camels for transport, in 1896 Mason led an expedition in the South Eastern part of Western Australia, under instruction from the Western Australian Under Secretary for Lands to check on reports of rabbits. Mason recommended a barrier fence be built for several hundred miles along the State border.

A Royal Commission in 1901 resulted in a decision to build a barrier fence across the State from a point on the south coast to Eighty Mile beach in the north west. Alfred Werman Canning was appointed to survey the line for this fence which came to be known as the No1 Rabbit Proof Fence.

When it was completed in 1907, the West Australian No1 Rabbit Proof Fence was the longest line of unbroken fence in the world. Stretching 1,139 miles from Starvation Harbour on the South Coast to a point near Cape Keravdren on the North West coast.

On completion it was maintained by boundary riders. Bicycles were used initially for the riders transportation, however eventually for all but the southernmost section, camels were found to be more satisfactory. In the northern most section, the camels were ridden and used as pack animals, in the other sections they were mainly used as harness animals, pulling drays with the boundary riders equipment and supplies.

The fence itself was constructed of various materials suitable to the terrain or where scarcity of timber for fence posts dictated. On some lengths where timber for fence posts and strainers was non-existent, iron standards were used and strainers carted in at high cost from distant locations. On other lengths, salmon gum and gimlet wood timber were used, but having proved attractive to white ants, these were the first to need replacement.

One of the best of timbers used for posts was split white gum, some of which was still standing twenty years later. Unfortunately, very few stands of this timber grew in the country through which the fence ran. Other timbers used were jam, wodjil, pine, teatree and mulga where these were in reasonable distance of the fence line.

The dimensions of the fence however were standardised wherever possible at following measurements. Posts twelve feet apart; strainers ever five chains. Posts not less than 4 inches in diameter at the small end, standing 4 foot above ground level and sunk 1 foot 9 inches below.

Three by 12 & 1/2 gauge plain wires at 4 inches above ground level, 20 inches above and 36 inches above. A fourth hole was bored 3 feet 9 inches above ground for fastening a barb wire. A barb and a plain wire were added later at 3 feet 4 inches and 3 feet 7 inches respectively to make the fence dingo and fox proof.

To this construction was fastened wire netting 42 inches in width of 1 & 1/4 by 17 gauge, three feet above the ground and 6 inches below on the east side. The netting was dipped in coal tar to protect that portion below the ground.

Without camels it is unlikely that the No1 Rabbit Proof Fence would have been built. They were ideally suited as beasts of burden for the largely waterless country of the outback, in particular the North West of Western Australia. The camels were bought into service for the survey, erection and maintenance of the fence because of their ability to live off the country and to go fro long periods without water.

Alfred Wernan Canning who is more well known for his work in establishing the Canning Stock Route, conducted the survey for the No1 Rabbit Proof Fence. The survey, which also included preliminary examinations covering hundreds of miles on foot, commenced at a point on the south coast and ended at Wallal on the North west coast.

Richard John Anketell was responsible for the construction of the greater part of the No1 Rabbit Proof Fence and the survey of the last seventy miles of it through waterless and inhospitable country, a work which took from 20th August 1904 until 30th September 1907. During this period Anketell controlled a workforce of 120 men, 350 camels, 210 horses and 41 donkeys with an average load for transport of 375 miles.

Alexander Crawford who was Chief Inspector of Rabbits took over and became responsible for the maintenance of sections of the Fence as they were completed until on the 30th September 1907 the whole 1,139 miles of the Barrier Fence as it was then called came under his charge. Crawford held the position until his retirement in 1922.

Condensed from
The Longest Fence in the World

by F.H. Broomhall

 

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