Longest Fence in the World? The stories from the Rabbit Proof Fence, Western Australia.

I had not heard of the Rabbit Proof Fence until the movie of the same name was released in 2002. This, in turn, was based on the book, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, by Doris Pilkington, published in 1996. But the fence and the media are quite different stories.

As I took the ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ turnoff between Merredin and Coolgardie, it was with mixed emotions. What did it represent to me and to Australia?

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A wide rest area enables you to read about the history of the fence, constructed between 1901 and 1907.  The construction took place in several sections and this part, finished in 1903, is the place where it started and is named No.1 Rabbit Proof Fence, as a consequence.

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The claim that is the longest fence in the world is not true, as when it commenced in 1901 the longest fence already existed, in Queensland.  It is, however, the second.

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When Australia was settled in the early 1800s, many Englishmen/women missed things from home and arranged to introduce them. Few of these were good for the country, although some, like sheep and wheat, were good for the development of a new nation. Well, rabbits were on the ‘bad idea’ list of imports, their purpose being to provide something to hunt for a Victorian grazier. They thrived in the place and spread quickly to the other eastern and southern states. What did they do? – not much. The following cartoon, appearing in 1880 in a NSW edition of Punch tells the story.

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By Contributor(s): Queensland figaro and punch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Within a few decades they made their way across the Nullarbor and were at the Western Australian border. Hence, the fence was built.

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There are gates every 34 km for access and huts every 48 km, so that the Acting Chief Inspector of Rabbits and his team of 25 boundary riders could inspect and maintain the fence on bicycle, dray, horseback or camel. In terms of pest protection, it was successful until the early 1930s when drought brought as many as 100 000 emus to the fence line. The rabbits had declined due to droughts and the introduction of targeted disease, so the fence was realigned to protect agriculture from the emus and became known as the State Barrier Fence.

The longest fence in the world?

As an Australian, we have the vast distances to complete such a fence. We also have the second longest road in the world. The Dingo Fence, extending from South Australia to Queensland over 5600 km, was built to keep out the dingoes and wild dogs. In that, it has been fairly successful, but is not maintained as well as the Rabbit Proof Fence.

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CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=423904

A shameful part of Australian history is the Stolen Generation. They are the Indigenous people who were taken from their parents and families over a 70 year period, by government officials. Doris Polkington’s mother escaped from such a settlement with her sisters. The account was recorded in her novel, Follow The Rabbit Proof Fence. In order to get home, they followed the Rabbit Proof Fence for 1600 km, through desert, avoiding officials. The movie faced strong criticism and was confronting for many Australians, but it helped to reach the point where, in 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appologised to the Aboriginal People of Australia for stealing their children and all that resulted. Rabbit Proof Fence is an extraordinary movie but I haven’t read the book.

An unbelievable story from the fence, is the one I read in Wikipedia, copied here verbatim:

In 1929, Arthur Upfield, an Australian writer who had previously worked on the construction of No. 1 Fence, began writing a fictional story which involved a way of disposing of a body in the desert. Before the book was published, stockman Snowy Rowles, an acquaintance of the writer’s, carried out at least two murders and disposed of the bodies using the method described in the book. The trial which followed in 1932 was one of the most sensational in the history of Western Australia. A book was published about the incident called Murder on the Rabbit Proof Fence: The Strange Case of Arthur Upfield and Snowy Rowles.[12] The incident is now referred to as the Murchison Murders.

A pause for critical thinking…

Safe travels, wherever you are going and whatever your goal. Take water and a hat. Every day we make history.

 

Millions of reasons not to ignore this Warning

 

As Australia drifted northward, 20-30 million years ago, it passed over one of the Earth’s hot spots, causing volcanic activity. Molten material formed the Mount Warning shield volcano and high rainfall created a myriad of streams and rivers which eroded the volcano into its present shape – one of the oldest calderas in the world. Fertile volcanic soil, high humidity and rainfall provided all the elements for the subtropical rainforest to thrive ( some of this reproduced, with permission, from the information board at Mt Warning). It is one of the Gondwana Rainforests and you are surrounded by ancient trees, dripping with moss. I think it is a good candidate for this week’s photo challenge: layered –  from the lava-rich soil, littered with decaying leaves making your ‘twisted’ way up to the tree tops, trickling over shades of green and brown.

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Tweed Heads has long conjured images of surf, sun and excitement. It’s nearness to the Queensland border and Coolangatta make it a popular holiday destination. But I had not known that the Tweed Valley, shared by both New South Wales and Queensland, was the site of an ancient volcano and that Numinbah Nature Reserve is at the base of this layered caldera?

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The Wollumbin National Park, formally Mt Warning National Park, was renamed in recent years to reflect the importance of the lava plug, that is Mt Warning, to the local Aboriginal People, including the Nganduwal, Galibal, Gidhabul, Bundjalung and Widjabal. Many of their Dreaming stories involve the monolith.

There are many walks to choose from and an information booth at the entrance to the park, giving detail, advice and options. We parked at the entrance to the park and walked to the Lyrebird track, which was quite short, but beautiful. The path was firm and bitumised in parts, and we crossed Breakfast Creek and made it to the lookout. If I visited again, I would do a longer walk, but the traditional owners prefer that people do not climb Warning.

I’m partial to walks through a rainforest  – it’s good for everyone, and everything, if we are careful where we tread and what we leave.

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There are excellent facilities – toilets and picnic areas. Take a hat, camera and water. Good walking shoes are not necessary on the Lyrebird trail but would be needed on others. Sunscreen and insecticide are useful, but remember the environment if you decide to dip in a limb.

 

 

Kununurra and surrounds

It just rolls off the tongue – kun-un-nur-ra. And we rolled into town in the very early hours of the morning, having awoken with the Western Australian sun at 5 am in Lake Argyle. It was a very quick and pretty drive to Kununnurra, at the edge of the Kimberley.

We had only planned to stay here one night and do a tour to the Bungle Bungles (Purnululu National Park), but we were too late in the season and with temperatures over 38C the park was closed for another 4 weeks. Around the domes of the Bungle Bungle Ranges, the temperatures increase and it is extremely dangerous. Other travellers advised us to visit Mirima National Park, also known as the Little Bungles or Hidden Valley National Park, and Wyndham, with it’s  meeting of 5 rivers.

Pre-sunrise took us to Mirima and it has made me determined to see the larger version one day, as it was beautiful.  The area is of great cultural significance to the Miriuwung people, the original inhabitants. Apparently there are many examples of rock art in the park, but we didn’t see any on our trail.  There is a variety of paths and we took the medium difficulty, with stunning views and fascinating  sandstone formations.

 

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Wyndham and the 5 river lookout is much talked about, so we looked at the map and saw it wasn’t going to be directly on our future trail, but wasn’t far from Kununurra, either. It is a town that may have seen more prosperous times, as the huge port suggested an importance not borne out by the town. The lookout is quite good but I’m not sure it’s worth the trip. Stopping off at The Grotto on the way back was definitely worth it, but I’ll save that for another blog.

The Hoochery Distillery was very interesting and we sampled the rum and the food in a room with heavy wooden furniture, locally made. The licorice rum ran out last year so we sent off an order for more (and a bottle of the coffee/chocolate rum). Just down the road was the sandalwood factory and we learnt the history of the Ord River scheme, for which Kununnurra was established, and of the growth of the sandalwood business. Back to the caravan park where we caught clouds of green butterflies sipping from the sprinkler puddles.

Kununurra is one of two remote places where we met people who lived within  1 km of our home, in South Australia. Relatives say that is due to my area being one that people can’t get far enough from, but I just think it was luck. It is a big town, well-planned and serviced. I wouldn’t be sorry to live there for a bit.

Safe travels! Definitely take a hat and water and any detour that looks interesting.

Leliyn

Once called Edith Falls, Leliyn has returned to the name given it by the original owners, the Jawoyn people. It is connected to Nitmiluk Gorge (Katherine Gorge) and you can do the walk from one to the other. We didn’t, however ( I think it is 62 km – Jatbula Trail).

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Arriving from Litchfield, there was a variety of walks but we took the loop walk which takes about two hours (2.6 km) and is uphill from the kiosk and downhill from the top plunge pool and falls. I would call it easy, having done it in thongs (rubber-soled footwear), while it was 38C, but it has been described as challenging, so maybe check out more informed trekking information. The tracks are well-marked with benches for rests along the way. The views are pretty special, even at the end of the dry season.

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The rocks at the top falls are slippery, so be careful, but refreshing on a hot day. The water from the falls was ‘harder’ than at Wangi Falls (Litchfield National Park) despite being a quarter of the drop. I saw many people jump in, but if you can’t see the bottom, that could result in a broken leg or hypothermia if the water is very cold. Don’t swim alone for this reason and check the conditions at the kiosk .

The main pool and falls at the bottom can be enjoyed by the whole family, but it does get deep so encourage poor swimmers to stay close to the edge. It was amazing to swim within steep sandstone gorge walls, with paperbark and pandanus at the fringes.

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There is a popular campsite, with regular facilities and in the peak season it is first in first served. Peak is after the wet – March to September, when the falls flow thick and fast but trekking could be discouraged. The park is under joint management between the government and the traditional owners. Make sure someone knows that you are on a trek, and the kiosk is a good place to record this.

Take a hat and plenty of water, first aid kit for walkers and suitable walking shoes.

 

Litchfield National Park

An easy hour by car, south of Darwin, in the Northern Territory, lies Litchfield National Park. Named after an early explorer, the region has been cared for by the Mak Mak Marranunggu, Werat and Waray Aboriginal people for thousands of years.

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The region was used for grazing and the mining of tin, copper and uranium. There are many falls to explore and some areas that have been developed to encourage tourists and visitors, with carparks, picnic areas, boardwalks and campgrounds. There are still natural trails and 4WD tracks for the adventure-seeking.

Berry Springs has 3 ‘pools’ that join if you want to ride downstream on a noodle. Not too deep and quite safe. The water is very clear near the edge – you can see fish. Wangi Falls is a surprise. You swim out to one of the waterfalls and get pounded by the downpour. The floor of the lagoon (?) begins as sandy and is dark in the centre, with twigs and debris. You would have to be able to tread water or swim maybe 60m unless you stay by the edge, and many do.

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Beautifully maintained, Wangi has unpowered sites but we chose not to stay here, as there was limited shade in the camping area. We stayed at Litchfield Tourist Park instead, on a grassed site amid beautiful flowers and unusual birdsong that defied description.

Rangers check daily to keep an eye on crocodiles and remove them from public swimming holes, but I would ask at the ranger station, too. I have read that you shouldn’t sit on bare ground in Litchfield, as scrub typhus is a possibility. So spread that towel on the ground and dry off in the heat!

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Take a hat, bathers/swimmers, water, first aid kit and shoes, but don’t miss it!

 

Kakadu National Park

 

In early October, with the temperature in the shade reaching 39.2C (approx 103F), we arrived in world heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, in the Northern Territory of Australia. The road in was unremarkable (and very long) due to being near the end of the dry season.

Taking advice from other travellers, we camped at Cooinda Camping Ground and Caravan Park.

The Yellow River Cruise is world-renowned and if you are a bird lover you will be spoilt. You would also get your lens-full of crocodile pictures and some worthy screen savers. Many people do the sunrise and sunset cruise to get the benefit or the varying wildlife and colours. I was surprised at the buffalo and other animals on the banks and watching the interplay of creatures on or near the water was captivating.

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We also completed a walk at Nourlangie Rock that has two tracks from which to choose and saw interesting sandstone rock formations and well-preserved rock art. Apparently it is a part of the Arnhem Land escarpment.  The track is good and well-marked.

Ubirr Rock is a site that has an easy walking track and many examples of Aboriginal rock painting. Tours in other languages are available. If you can climb the steep sides (about 30 degree slope) to the top you can see an amazing 360 degree view of that region of Kakadu. Sunset walks are possible. I won’t include pictures of art, as I haven’t checked if that is permitted. Most rock art is sacred and Aboriginal people do not like it shown on media, without consent.

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Near Cooinda, Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre is very informative and has artifacts and art you can buy. Bowali Visitor Centre was also impressive.

The facilities were very good, with a choice of pools and the visitor information centre had a great range of maps and options. There are good-sized campsites, outdoor BBQ areas, camp kitchens and restaurants. For those wanting more luxury, there are cabins and Cooinda Lodge. There is a wealth of information and they offer tours, transport and advice. There are many other motels and campsites in the National park. We spent 3 nights here.

Safe travels. Don’t swim alone and check with rangers before visiting water holes. Take water, your hat and good walking shoes.