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The Old Fencer

Updated on March 18, 2017

There are many stories and mysteries about the Dog Fence. It seems to capture the imagination of all those who hear about it.

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Distribution of Dingoes

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The Fence line across Australia

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Setting up Camp

Setting up CampThe match flared into life and Jacki McIntosh pushed it into a pile of leaves and twigs. Blue smoke lazily drifted upwards, she coughed.

‘Come on, burn,’ she cursed and leant down and blew into the smoking debris. She coughed again to clear her lungs from smoke. A flame licked up through the sticks and flared into a blaze, she piled on more wood and the campfire was alight.

Jacki stood, her breathe caught in awe, as the last rays of the sun turned Lake Gairdner, a salt lake, into molten gold. It was like looking at a lake of orange fire.

‘Come on, girl, don’t stand there dreamin’,’ the old man growled. ‘It’ll be dark soon. We gotta get the camp set up before dark.’

‘OK Dad,’ Jacki turned to the Toyota truck and hefted out their swags. The table and chairs were unfolded around the fire and finally the box with the foodstuff. She glanced toward the lake again; the brilliance was dying just like her hopes of getting a life away from the Dog Fence.

She glanced over to the sand dunes on her left bathed in fiery red by the sun’s last rays. A round her, everywhere there was colour as the sun died. A lone dingo stood sentinel atop the highest dune. His yellow coat burnished gold in the last rays of the sun. Jacki marveled at the magnificent creature, its head raised proudly as its nose studied the air.

‘What’s got into you, girl,’ the old man grumbled. ‘I gotta mend the fence before that dingo gets through. Heaven knows how many others have found holes and crawled through. Get the damper made and the stew heating.’

‘Yes, Dad!’ Jacki sighed. It was easier to acquiesce, than to fight his authority. For as long as she could remember, she had lived with the old man. He was a boundary rider along the dog fence, which ran across Australia from the Great Australian Bight to Goondawindi, Queensland, providing a barrier of 5,000 miles between the dingo and the flocks and herds of landholders in the south.

Abandoned

According to the old man, as she thought of him, her father had given her to him to look after until he returned from shearing in Queensland, her father had never returned. She supposed she ought to be grateful to the old man for giving her food, shelter and clothing; that is, boys clothing. Everyone thought she was a boy. The old man said it was safer that way and she had accepted what the old man said. She had never worn a dress in her life.

The lake was no longer molten gold but a dull lead, like my life, she thought. If only… What did she long for? The emptiness of her life stretched before her. The Teachers at School of the Air urged the old man to let her go to University and study but he refused to let her go on the pretext her father might turn up looking for her. No one believed him.

The fire had died into a pile of fiery coals. The damper in the camp oven was under the coals, the stew was on a grid over the coals simmering.

Jacki lit the Tilley lantern and a pool of yellow light ballooned around her making the night even darker. The mournful howl of dingoes sent shivers up her spine and broke the hush of the bush.

Where was the old man, he should have been back by now. She stirred the stew and took the damper from the coals. The odour of fresh baked damper filled her nostrils making Jacki feel ravenous. She broke off a piece of cooked dough, dipping it in the stew ate the morsel. It was nice, she wanted more but decided to wait until the old man returned. Unease filled Jacki at the failure of the old man to return. She climbed the nearest dune to see if there were headlights’ flashing but the night was dark and silent.

Returning to camp, she built the fire into a huge blaze so the old man could find his way on foot if the Toyota had broken down. Time passed slowly and still the old man had not returned.

Magnificent Animal

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The Search

The Search

Taking up the lantern and a gun, Jacki set out on foot along the fence line after the old man. Her heart racing, where was he? What had happened to him? Had he ran off and left her alone? Jacki began to wonder what she would do without him. She realized he had been a buffer between her and loneliness. She had been wrong to want to get away from him he was her safety net.

Jacki called out, her voice trailed away across the desert. A dingo howled closed by and she put the lantern down and fired at two eyes. The shot filled the night with sound and then became lost in the vast silence. Picking up the light she started to run calling the old man’s name.

Was that a voice up ahead? Jacki tried to remember what the land would look like in daylight. She called again, yes, that was a voice, it was weak and held fear. Hurrying as fast as she dare, Jacki came up to the Toyota. She could see a freshly mended hole in the Fence and where the old man had walked on ahead checking for further holes but where was the old man?

‘Dad? Where are you,’ Jacki had not called him Dad in ages.

‘Here, girl quick, I’m about done.’

Jacki lifted the light in the direction of the voice, there was the old man only his head could be seen, he was hanging on to a bush trying to stop himself from sinking into a morass of mud left in a floodway by the last storm.

Horror gripped Jacki and she just stood frozen. Mud was seeping into the old man’s mouth as his lips formed ‘Help’ voicelessly.

Jacki was galvanized into action; she turned the Toyota standing nearby around to give more light. Then grabbed a rope from the back of the truck, coiling it into a noose she cast it at the old man’s head, tightening it as much as she dared with out choking him, hoping to keep his head up. Then searching the shadows for logs she carried several fallen trees and laid them over the mud and with the help of the rope tied to the truck she crawled along the logs towards the old man hoping to get the rope around his shoulder to be able to pull him free. He was very still and had not spoken. Eventually she reached the old man, wiggled the rope to his shoulders, and tightened it so it would not slip off and choke him. She slithered back to the Toyota and started the motor, reversing it slowly, hoping to be able to drag out the old man. Slowly the mud gave up its trophy and the old man lay on solid ground caked in the slimy ooze. He was still.

She became aware of several sets of eyes shining on the edge of the light, surrounding them, waiting for their prize that was now slipping away from them.

‘You bloody killers,’ she shouted and picked up the gun and fired at the nearest set. There was a scream, quickly the eyes vanished and a body threshed in the bushes in its death throes.

‘Got ya,’ she muttered. She could not stop to think about being afraid; she had to save the man who had saved her. She owed it to him. She took the last of their water and washed the old man’s face, it was deathly pale. She cleaned inside his mouth and dribbled water into it he gave a feeble swallow. She was heartened and washed his mouth out again and dribble more water in, a stronger swallow, he opened his eyes and looked at her. She put her arms around the filthy form and hugged him. Tears of thankfulness dripped onto the muddied body, ‘Come on we’ve got to get you into the truck and help.’

Information about the Dog Fence

he Dingo Fence or Dog Fence is a pest-exclusion fence that was built in Australia during the 1880s and finished in 1885, to keep dingoes out of the relatively fertile south-east part of the continent (where they had largely been exterminated) and protect the sheep flocks of southern Queensland. It is one of the longest structures in the world and is the world's longest fence. It stretches 5,614 kilometres from Jimbour on the Darling Downs near Dalby through thousands of kilometres of arid land ending west of Eyre peninsula on cliffs of the Nullarbor Plain above the Great Australian Bightnear Nundroo. It has been partly successful, though dingoes are found in parts of the southern states. Although the fence has helped reduce losses of sheep to predators, this has been countered by holes in fences found in the 1990s through which dingo offspring have passed.

Saved

‘I’m OK.’

‘No you’re not.’

Jacki dragged the old man to the truck and eventually bundled him into the vehicle, it was then she noticed the sky was lightening in the east it would be dawn soon. They had been struggling all night.

From out of the gloom a figure on horseback appeared. ‘What’s happened here?’ Jacki recognized him as the young station owner, Snow Costello. He stared in disbelief at the mud-caked man and bedraggled youth. He had not realized the old boundary rider’s offsider was a girl. He was god smacked. How had the old man kept her a secret for so long? Her name – of course, Jacki - it could be a girl or boy. Under all that mud, she would be pretty.

‘What’s happened?’ Alarm threaded through his voice as he reassessed the situation.

‘Dad was fixing the fence when he slipped and fell into the quicksand in the wash away.’

‘Let’s get him to the homestead; I’ll call the Flying Doctor. They’ll pick him up and take him to hospital.’

Snow hitched the horse behind the vehicle, ‘You get in beside the old man and I’ll drive.’

Jacki was glad to let someone make the decisions. Just as they took off towards the homestead, the sun broke across the sand dunes and turned the salt lake into an apricot fire. A new day with new promise had begun.

‘Do you think Dad will be all right?’ Jacki worried.

‘You bet. He’s a tough old geezer. The Doc will fix him up,’ Snow looked at the girl again,

‘So you are a girl,’ Snow challenged.

‘Dad didn’t want anyone to know I was a girl because I wouldn’t be safe.’

‘What was he going to do when you grew up?’

‘I dunno. I am grown up and no one knows yet. I wanted to go away and get a job somewhere. I hate it out here.’

At the Homestead, Snow radioed the Flying Doctor. They waited for several hours, Jacki impatiently fearful for the old man. The housekeeper, a motherly woman, cleaned up the old man, found him some clean clothes, examined him, and declared he had no broken bones.

‘He’s a tough old dog, not much a strong whisky won’t fix,’ she poured him a strong draught; he gulped it down and visibly revived.

‘You’d better get back to the camp, and pack it up and stay here until I get back,’ the old man ordered. He could not relinquish authority even though weakened. ‘I don’t want you running around the country by yourself.’

‘Yes, Dad,’ Jacki submitted, but her thoughts were racing like wildfire. She knew if the old man could not look after the Fence, they would lose their livelihood.

The Start of the Fence

Standing at the beginning of the Dog Fence at Nundroo on the west coast of South Australia, Bryan Lock, Manager of the Dog Fence quoted, I wish I had a cent for every time I have quoted the length of the Fence.' The Fence is 5,300 kms.

From the book by gwenneth Leane, 'The Fence is Down'

Signage

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Change of Name

The 2,500 km (1,553 mi) section of the fence in Queensland is also known as the Great Barrier Fence or Wild Dog Barrier Fence 11. It is administered by the Department of Natural Resources and Water. The Wild Dog Barrier Fence staff consists of 23 employees, including two-person teams which patrol a 300 km (186 mi) section of the fence once every week. There are depots at Quilpie and Roma.

This joins the Queensland Border Fence, which stretches for 394 km (245 mi) westwards along the border with New South Wales, into the Strzelecki Desert. The fence passes the point where the three states of Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia meet (Cameron Corner). At this point, it connects with the South Australian Border Fence, which runs for 257 km (160 mi) southwards along the border with New South Wales. It then joins a section known as the Dog Fence in South Australia, which is 2,225 km (1,383 mi) long.

Going it Alone

Going it Alone

She knew what to do; she would continue to patrol the Fence. She was not afraid of the bush, the isolation; it had been her life.

Jacki watched the plane disappear into the sky; she sighed and turned to the Toyota, ready to return to their camp.

‘Why don’t you stay here until the old man returns,’ Snow invited, his eyes running over the femininity of the girl.

‘Yes,’ the housekeeper interjected, ‘We start mustering tomorrow and I could do with some help with the cooking.’

‘No,’ Jacki said, ‘I need to get back to the camp and finish patrolling the fence and make a report. We can’t afford to lose the contract,’ Jacki was determined. She was aware of Snow’s interest and her feelings like the colour on the lake last night. Jacki stood in the middle of the camp; she was heartbroken at the chaos. The dingoes had plundered the camp, strewn everything everywhere, and eaten all the food.

A Peak Into the Future

‘Well, come on,’ Snow had followed her back to the camp. He was determined to keep contact with this girl. Her courage intrigued him. ‘I’ll help you get your stuff together. In fact, if you come and give my housekeeper a hand, when the mustering’s done, I’ll give you a hand to check out the Fence.’

Jacki looked at Snow, was he genuine, she wondered. He was very handsome and his manner bewitched her. The opportunity to stay in his company was too much and she accepted his offer even though she thought it because she had never met many other men.

Her decision was eventually life changing; even the old man would not be able to argue about her becoming Mrs Snow Costello.

As far as the eye can see

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When the Fence is Breached

Normally, very few dingoes get inside the Fence. The actual numbers that enter, in comparison to numbers outside, are a very small fraction, about 1%. however, the 1% is enough to cause high stock losses.

Anecdote from the book, ‘The Fence Is Down’ by Gwenneth Leane


Before the 1930’s, the Dog Fence was made up of separate sections. During that era boundary riders who spent endless lonely months working in harsh conditions where on slip, one mistake often led to an untimely death, patrolled the Fences. As the story of goes, there was one such chap by the name of William Mooney.

Mooney’s section of Fence ran from the South Australian border back toward the Simpson Desert. After a long stint on his Fence, Mooney chose to slake his thirst at the Birdsville pub. Instead of blowing his cheque at the bar, William Mooney loaded his packhorse with two crates of Scotch whisky and headed off back to his camp and the Fence. Presumably, he intended to make the whisky last out over the long weeks until his next visit to town.

Six weeks later, a report to the Police at Birdsville claimed that Mooney’s was lying beside the track to Bedourie. When the Police investigated, they found Mooney’s bones surrounded by empty whisky bottles. Apparently, Mooney had camped on his way back to his depot and opened a bottle of whisky. He must then have become so fuddled that he forgot to hobble his horse properly. In the morning when he came to, there was no horse. Mooney must have known what his fate would be under the circumstances, so he steadily worked his way through the whisky until both he and it were finished. Mooney’s grave is marked just off the road to Bedourie so the yarn goes.

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    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      A great story Gwenneth, good to meet another Australian on here and read a dinky di Aussie yarn. Great info on the Dingo Fence too. Thanks for sharing.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      A wonderful story and educational as a bonus. Nicely written, Gwenneth.

    • Gwenneth Leane profile image
      Author

      Gwenneth Leane 2 years ago from Glen Osmond, Adelaide, South Australia Australia

      Thank you for your comments

    • klidstone1970 profile image

      இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу 2 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

      A very nice story of determination and perseverance. I'm glad the old man made it through.