Early exploration of South Australia’s northern arid lands in the late 1830s and early 1940s was followed closely by pastoral occupation. The early settlers were unaware of two things – the capacity of the country to carry stock at sustainable levels, and the impact of the dingo on their sheep flocks.
The impact of the dingo on sheep flocks was felt almost immediately, and got worse as shepherds were replaced by wire fencing. Sheep graziers began constructing dog-proof netting fences around their properties to protect flocks from dingoes and wild dogs. As time went on, neighbouring properties grouped together to become enclosed within ‘dingo-proof cells’.
The first Vermin Districts Act was passed in 1894, with amending legislation passed three times prior to 1931. By 1931 the Act defined vermin to include rabbits, foxes and wild dogs, and aimed to establish Vermin-Fenced Districts in areas of the State not under the jurisdiction of local government. At its peak, Vermin-Fenced Districts included more than 48,000 kilometres of fencing.
The enthusiasm for the Vermin-Fenced Districts started to wane in the 1930s, largely driven by the inner (southern) districts where wild dogs had not been seen for some years. The first Districts began closing in 1932. In 1936, a meeting of stockowners was called to discuss the abandonment of Vermin-Fenced Districts and a possible reliance on a single fence. The Second World War then made it very difficult to get the materials and the labour to maintain the network of vermin-proof fences.
In 1945–46, the Pastoral Board and Stockowner’s Association looked at the remaining vermin-proof fences in the norther pastoral districts. It was apparent that there existed an almost continuous ‘fence’ from the far west coast of South Australia to the east coast of New South Wales. The condition of the fence varied dramatically and so recommendations were made to the Government that future efforts and resources be concentrated on this ‘outside’ fence and that the remaining ‘inside’ Vermin-Fenced Districts would be disbanded.
In 1946, a Dog Fence Act was drafted and approved on 19 December; it came into operation on 17 June 1947. The legislation provided that a dog-proof fence was to be established and maintained in the northern areas of South Australia ‘for the purpose of preventing the entry of wild dogs into the pastoral and agricultural areas of the State’. It did not delineate or describe the fence, but gave the Governor the power to proclaim the site of the Dog Fence on the advice of the Dog Fence Board. The re-alignment of the fence was not completed until 1960.
For a detailed history of the Dog Fence, read Yelland, L., 2012, Holding the Line: A history of the South Australian Dog Fence Board 1947–2012 (2nd Ed.), Primary Industries and Regions South Australia, ISBN 9781921399374.