Facts about the rabbit proof fence

Written by elizabeth mcnelis
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Facts about the rabbit proof fence
Completed in 1907, the Rabbit Proof Fence of Australia stretches over 2,000 miles and is the longest unbroken fence in the world. (fence posts at sunrise image by Jorge Moro from Fotolia.com)

The Rabbit Proof Fence, also know as the State Barrier Fence, State Vermin Fence and Emu Fence, is a pest-exclusion barrier fence in Western Australia and the longest unbroken fence in the world. Construction began in 1901 to combat the rabbit plague attacking Australia's agriculture. Three fences make up the Rabbit Proof Fence and stretch 2,050 miles, extending from Cape Keraudren on the northern coast of Western Australia to Jerdacultup on the southern coast.

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Rabbits in Australia

In 1859, Thomas Austin imported 24 rabbits from England with the desire to enjoy a bit of his homeland and improve sport hunting in Australia. Living in ideal breeding conditions with few natural predators, the rabbits quickly multiplied and destructively attacked crops and pasturelands throughout Victoria, New South Wales, southern Queensland and South Australia.

Investigation

In 1896, an expedition ventured into the southeastern part of Western Australia to investigate reports of rabbits. The investigation resulted in a Royal Commission's decision in 1901 to erect a barrier fence running the north coast to the south coast.

The Project

Construction of the Rabbit Proof Fence began in 1901 with private contractors. In 1904, Australia's Public Works Department took over the project, employing over 400 men to build the fence. Construction was difficult because of crude materials and transportation problems. According to Australian government archives, "Some 8,000 tonnes of materials were carried by ship and then railed to depots, before being hauled overland by horse, camel and donkey teams to the remote fence construction sites." Construction of all three branches of the Rabbit Proof Fence finished in 1907, creating over 2,000 miles of fence line and the longest continuous fence in the world.

Construction

The fence was made from 4-inch diameter wooden posts cut from trees near the fence line and set 12 feet apart. When local lumber was not available, steel posts were used. Three 12 1/2 gauge wires were hung at 4 inches, 20 inches, and 36 inches above ground. Barbed wire was added at 3 feet 4 inches and 3 feet 7 inches. Lastly, wire netting was dipped in a hot coal tar and kerosene mix to prevent rusting and buried six inches below ground.

Maintenance

The Agriculture Protection Board, Department of Agriculture and the State Barrier Fence Advisory Committee oversee the maintenance of the Rabbit Proof Fence today. Each year about 3 per cent of the fence is replaced with steel posts and pre-fabricated netting.

Benefits

Although the Rabbit Proof Fence was originally constructed to keep rabbits out of farms and pasturelands, the fence has been effective at keeping dingos, emus, foxes, and feral goats off of farmlands and protecting the livelihood of farmers in Australia. Also, the fence provides a twenty meter fire break across the entire region.

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