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2 December 2008

Dog Fence

BRYAN LOCK: This is an old vermin fence. This particular fence is about 120 years old. This sort of fence was virtually the nucleus of the dog fence that we see today which stretches through three States. When white settlement took place and the first merino sheep flocks came in, it was found that the dingo was a pretty nasty predator. It was impossible to successfully run or establish a sheep industry, so initially land-holders built vermin fences - netting fences - around their properties. And then, over a period of time, neighbours joined together to create vermin cells. Those vermin cells then expanded into vermin districts. At the peak of vermin districts, there was over 30,000 miles of these fences. As you could understand, they were just too costly to maintain.

In the early days, of course, everything was done by manual labour - there wasn't the machinery, no post-hole diggers. Every post that was put in the fence was put in with crowbar and shovel and each hole for the wire was drilled with a brace and bit.

After the war, in 1946, a single-line dog fence was established and that now runs from the cliffs overlooking the Great Australian Bight in South Australia right through most of Queensland. It's the longest man-made structure, or fence, certainly, in the world. It's about two and a half times the length of the Great Wall of China.

It's almost all cattle on the outside, because cattle people can handle dingoes to a certain degree, and it's mixed but predominantly sheep on the inside. I can recall in 1989 something like 20,000 sheep being lost to dingoes when the fence in South Australia was washed down. So that'll give you a fair idea of just what happens when they do get in. The economic benefit of the fence outweighs any disadvantage. Quite frankly, no fence, no sheep.

This old trap was one of the methods used in controlling the dingo. They used to be set at intervals of two miles all along the dingo fence. What they used to do was bind one jaw of the trap in rag heavily laced with strychnine so that the dingo would die quite quickly without suffering too long. But these days, there's more reliance on the more modern and humane control of 10-80 substance, which has very little effect on any other wildlife except the dog and fox.

The fence tends to get into one's blood, you know. Once you've done it and you look around and you see the various things... I mean, it's not a dead place. There's something happening all the time. Whether it's a snake or whether it's an emu or whether it's a kangaroo, there's something there. It's a wonderful place to be.