Fortress Farming in Western Australia? The Problematic History of Separating Native Wildlife from Agricultural Land through the State Barrier Fence

Vlachos, Alexandra (2020). Fortress Farming in Western Australia? The Problematic History of Separating Native Wildlife from Agricultural Land through the State Barrier Fence. Global environment : a journal of transdisciplinary history, 13(2), pp. 368-403. White Horse Press 10.3197/ge.2020.130206

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The Western Australia (WA) State Barrier Fence stretches 2,023 miles (3,256 km) and divides Australia’s largest state. The original ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ fence was built from 1901–1907 to stop the westbound expansion of rabbits into the existing and potential agricultural zone of Western Australia. Starting as a seemingly straightforward, albeit costly solution to protect what was considered a productive landscape, the fence failed to keep out the rabbits. It was subsequently amended, upgraded, re-named and used to serve different purposes: As Vermin Fence and State Barrier Fence (unofficially also Emu Fence or Dog Fence) the fence was designed to exclude native Australian animals such as emus, kangaroos and dingoes. In the Australian ‘boom and bust’ environment, characterized by extreme temperatures and unpredictable rainfall, interrupting species movement has severe negative impacts on biodiversity – an issue aggravated by the fact that Australia leads in global extinction rates (Woinarski/Burbidge/Harrison, 2015). The 20th Century history of the fence demonstrates the agrarian settler’s struggle with the novelty and otherness of Western Australia’s ecological conditions ¬– and severe lack of knowledge thereof. While the strenuous construction, expensive maintenance and doubtful performance of the fence provided useful and early environmental lessons, they seem largely forgotten in contemporary Australia. The WA government recently commenced a controversial $11 million project to extend the State Barrier Fence for another 660km to reach the Esperance coast, targeting dingoes, emus and kangaroos – once again jeopardizing habitat connectivity. This paper examines the environmental history, purposes and impacts of the State Barrier fence, critically discusses the problems associated with European farming and pastoralism in WA, and touches on alternative land-use perspectives and futures.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History > Economic, Social and Environmental History

UniBE Contributor:

Vlachos, Alexandra


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
600 Technology > 630 Agriculture
900 History
900 History > 990 History of other areas




White Horse Press


[4] Swiss National Science Foundation




Alexandra Vlachos

Date Deposited:

10 Dec 2020 07:15

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:42

Publisher DOI:



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