RABBIT PROOF FENCE

 

Rabbit Proof Fence

 

 

 

 

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There are a number of possible sources for the 'rabbit invasion' of Australia.

Domesticated rabbits were brought with the first fleet in 1788. A feral population of rabbits was already established in Tasmania by 1827 and Thomas Austin seems to have been the first to deliberately introduce wild rabbits to his property in 1859 for hunting. He stated in a newspaper article in 1861 that; "I brought out in the Yorkshire nine hares and thirty-four blackbirds and thrushes, which I am going to turn out here.and I have seen two coveys of partridges, one of six young ones, ... and the English wild rabbit I have in thousands."

There are also reports that whalers introduced rabbits to islands along the south coast of W.A. in the early 1800s. Some may have also been released at the Swan River Colony (Perth).

Rabbits were reported in the Eucla area as early as 1894. The rate at which rabbits spread in Australia is believed to be the fasted ever recorded of any species in the world.

When rabbits started to invade W.A. from the Eastern States, it was feared that farming land would be ruined by the pests and so a fence was constructed from near Starvation Boat Harbour on the south coast all the way across the state to Eighty Mile Beach on the north coast.

Construction on the fence started in 1902 and the first fence was complete by 1907. At 1,832 kilometres long this is the longest fence in the world.

Before the fence had been completed the rabbits had already gone past it so a second fence was built from Point Ann on the south coast to Cunderdin, and Yalgoo before joining up with the first fence.

This was another failure as the rabbits had gone further west and a third fence was built, all to no avail as the enterprising bunnies had already gone past it.

Rabbits were a two edged sword, on one hand they were a very destructive pest that caused erosion and destroyed food crops, on the other hand they were a great food source for people on the land during the Great Depression in the 1930s and they were locally called 'underground mutton'.

It was not until the development and release of rabbit diseases that rabbit numbers came under some sort of control. Even so the rabbit is very adaptable and those individuals that are resistant to disease quickly built up the population again and they can still be seen all over the state but not in the huge numbers they once were.

The world's longest fence has been both friend and foe to the settlers as it was a useful landmark if someone was lost, but an awful nuisance if it lay between your property and a nearby waterhole as many people had to travel miles extra to pass through one of the gates.

It is estimated that rabbits cost the agricultural sector upwards of $206 million a year in production losses. Damage caused by rabbits is not just economic as 156 native species have also been adversely affected by competition from rabbits. Many of those species are now extinct in areas they were once common.

 

 

 

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