The Rabbit Proof Fence of Australia

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Stretching from north to south across Western Australia, dividing the entire continent into two unequal parts, is a flimsy barbed-wire fence that runs for a total length of 3,256 km. The fence was erected in the early 1900s to keep wild rabbits out of farm lands on the western side of the continent. Today, the Rabbit Proof fence, now called the State Barrier Fence, stands as a barrier to entry against all invasive species such as dingoes, kangaroos and emus, which damage crops, as well as wild dogs which attack livestock.

Rabbits were first introduced in Australia in 1788 for their meat, and originally bred in rabbit farms and enclosures, until one October morning in 1859, when an English settler by the name of Thomas Austin released twenty-four wild rabbits on his property so that his guest could entertain themselves by hunting. At that time he had stated that "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 good fortune, for the rabbits, Australia was the ideal place for rabbit procreation. Rabbits usually stop breeding in winter because baby bunnies are born without fur and hence susceptible to cold. But winters in Australia are mild so rabbits could breed all throughout the year. Also, thanks to extensive farming, food was everywhere. And by sheer luck, interbreeding between two distinct types of rabbits introduced by Thomas Austin resulted in a particularly hardy and vigorous variety. Within ten years, their numbers reached such high figures that even after trapping and shooting up to two million rabbits a year, no noticeable effect was seen in their population. In 1887, loses from rabbit damage were so great that the Inter-Colonial Rabbit Commission offered a £25,000 prize “to anyone who could demonstrate a new and effective way of exterminating rabbits.”

In 1896 the Western Australian Undersecretary for Lands dispatched surveyor Arthur Mason into the south-east towards the border with South Australia to report on the rabbit population. Mason suggested that a series of fences, one along the border with South Australia and another further west, should be constructed. A Royal Commission in 1901 resulted in a decision to build a barrier fence across the State.

Construction of the fence started that very year, and over the next six years, a 1,824-km-long barrier was erected that stretched from the south coast to the northwest coast, along a line north of Burracoppon, 230 kilometers east of Perth. When completed in 2007, it was the longest unbroken fence in the world.

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