The Western Australian government built the Rabbit-Proof Fence in a desperate bid to hold back the rabbits invading from the east. Today it’s called the State Barrier Fence of Western Australia, but it’s also formerly known as the State Vermin Fence and the Emu Fence.
The first fence was built in 1901, stretching 1,834 kilometres from Starvation Bay to the Ninety Mile Beach. By 1904, Fence #1 couldn’t withstand the massive rabbit numbers, so The government built fence #2.
The Australian government built the second rabbit-proof fence in Point Ann, and it extended north through Cunderdin, then to the original fence line #1 at Gum Creek to connect with Fence #1. The second fence was completed in July 1905, with a distance of 1,166km.
The Third Fence
Fence #3 was built in 1905 on the West Coast, south of Kalbarri, to meet with Fence #2 south of Woogalong. All three fences were completed on September 30 1907. The cost to build each kilometre at the time was about AUD 340.
Until the 1920s, there were scarcely any rabbits populating west of Fence #2. By that time, Western Australia experienced significant problems with rabbits beyond the rabbit-proof fence from the 1920s to the 1940s. The government didn’t consider the Rabbit-Proof Fence the best strategy to reduce rabbit numbers anymore in the 1950s, as the Australian government introduced myxomatosis to control rabbit populations. However, the remaining rabbits repopulated. Currently, the disease only works on 40% of the whole wild rabbit population, as they’ve built resistance to the condition over time.
How did Rabbits populate in Australia?
Rabbits first came to Australia in the 1700s, breeding in enclosed rabbit farms made of stone for meat. In the 1840s, rabbit meat became one of Australia’s staple viands.
In October 1859, an English settler named Thomas Austin brought in 12 European rabbits and another 12 of different domestic breeds to Australia and released them on his property for hunting leisure. It was a very fortunate release for the rabbits. However, Australia was the perfect place for them to procreate due to the country’s mild winter season. The interbreeding between grey rabbits and the other distinct domestic rabbits resulted in Australia‘s most massive outbreak of vigorous rabbits in the wild. Ten years after that, rabbits have outnumbered the population of birds and other creatures.
To this day, rabbits continue to damage the ecosystem and affect how other Australian animals survive in the wild. Rabbits are also responsible for significant erosion problems to date.
Is the Rabbit-Proof Fence still effective?
Despite the implementation of the latest technology in agriculture, the Rabbit-Proof fence still plays a vital role in protecting the livelihoods of Australian farmers. Today, individual proprietors and regional council groups continue to maintain sections of the fence.