A bonus on my trip aboard the Ghan (shortly before Covid put a stop to such pleasures) was an excursion to the Dingo Proof Fence.
You would not think that a scruffy looking fence in the Australian outback would capture the imagination of so many people, myself included. Stretching for 5,614km it’s the longest continuous fence in the world. It was constructed to keep marauding dingoes out of the relatively better pastoral lands of the south-east, in an effort to protect the country’s sheep industry.
It seems to epitomize the struggle and spirit of the pioneers and their descendants.
Mind you, one man expressing interest in a native dog barrier back in 1880 did not receive the response he hoped for;
But the idea was eventually adopted, and the fence was completed in 1885.
I loved this account of boundary rider Roy Matheson’s working life, published in The Recorder, 23 December 1938;
Mr Matheson, who is an inspector of vermin-proof fencing for the Lands and Survey Department, has a somewhat vague address. He suggests that a letter addressed ‘Outback, South Australia’ would be best directed. For he is continually on the move with his camel team, cook, and camp attendant, closely inspecting more than 7,000 miles of net fencing. The full round occupies 20 months….and then he starts off again.
Mr Matheson has been doing this for years and he never tires of the miles or the solitude. He is the typical Australian bushman, who loves his open spaces.
‘Only those who know Central Australia know its possibilities’, he told a representative of The Recorder. ‘One of the greatest obstacles to progress has been the wild dog. The job of the settler is to keep brother dingo out, and to this end he has to have his fence before he can have his sheep.’
The inspector enlarged upon the wonderful hospitality to be found among the station people. At intervals of six weeks he made for some habitation in order to get his reports sent on to Adelaide. He regretted that he was not able to carry a wireless receiving set with him. Camels, however, were not a smooth means of transport, and one could never tell when one of the animals was going to ‘put on a turn’. It would be a poor lookout for batteries if carried on the camel.
FINE DINING ALONG THE DINGO PROOF FENCE
Food, water and camp comforts were the essentials. It was astonishing, said the inspector, how much variety of provender was provided in cans nowadays. The man with a camel train could carry dainties which placed the outback camp on a par with a city restaurant.
Oh my word, Mr Matheson. You certainly had the right attitude!
In the 1990s it was discovered that there were many small holes in the mesh, and dingo pups were sneaking through the fence.
WE STILL NEED BOUNDARY RIDERS…..
Phyllis Ainsworth is a fulltime boundary rider, checking the fence with her faithful dog Milly. Together they look after 100km of fenceline where three states meet…..New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. It’s a tough, lonely job, but like old Roy Matheson, Phyllis has no complaints.
There is one downside to the dingo fence. Where there are no native dogs there are many more hungry rabbits and kangaroos to break a sheep farmer’s heart.