Long ago, when new-settler men roamed freely about the Australian bush on horseback, viewing all they saw as their domain, one loan fellow came across a pair of nesting Galahs and thought it would be fun to take their eggs. Halting his well-trained horse under the nest site, he dropped the reins loose on the ground to act as a tether and climbed up on his horse's rump. Standing on tiptoe and with a good stretch he could reach his arm deep into the nesting hollow to collect the eggs.
The end of this story for this particular thief was far different from his anticipated self-satisfying possession of another's property. After an uncomfortable minute the horse, not as well-trained as its owner believed, moved forward to relieve the pressure on his back, effectively leaving the man dangling by his arm, trapped to the elbow in the hollow tree.
The horror of the next few hours, possibly days, as the man went through stages of surprise at a sticky situation, to realisation of a problem, to growing fear and pain, to blinding agony, terror to panic, to eventual attempts to gnaw, claw and saw through flesh and sinew to rid himself of the arm that pinned him to the tree, can only be imagined by those strong enough to see themselves in such a horrendous predicament.
This was a one-off case, possibly never repeated. But a sad fact is that here in Australia, and mostly without people even being aware of them, hundreds of animals daily suffer exactly the same fate as this man, dying slowly from exposure, dehydration, exhaustion and shock, caught helpless and without hope on the barbed wire fences that now crisscross the country.
Every year literally thousands of animals and birds across all species, including larger kangaroos and koalas, face cruel deaths in this way. Many of them are on the threatened species lists. Many, such as gliders, are pregnant, their unborn joeys unable to be saved. And in many cases the barbed wire is completely irrelevant and unnecessary, frequently disused and rusted, and even erected through urban areas.
In the US in the 1800s when ranch owners first started demarcating their territory with the newly-invented wire, preventing access to waterholes and blocking traditional wildlife migration routes, the injuries and deaths to animals caused by the 'devil's rope' caused gangs to go out at night to destroy the fences. The problems, inconvenience and public outcry against the new product was enough to force the US parliament to consider banning its use.
It that had happened then and there, the ruling would have been reflected in Australian legislation and countless thousands of animals would have lived to safely breed on and flourish. But today barbed wire is commonplace, new or derelict, circling every paddock, across the outback, through forests and bushland, and even found in city suburbs
In Norway, under their Animal Welfare Act, policed by an animal welfare committee, barbed wire is restricted to only internal paddocks, cannot stand alone without other good visual material, and all disused wire must be removed by a set deadline, or else be removed by the committee at cost to the land owner. The King may order the removal of even pre-Act barbed wire fencing, and local councils have the authority to ban its use across all or in parts of their jurisdiction
Here in the Clarence Valley where we don’t have such enlightened guidance, properties East of the Pacific Highway recently purchased by a Chinese consortiums now boast brand new barbed wire fences of a quality that a human would not try to get through. And these stand right in the movement pathways of the Endangered Coastal Emu.
Australia does have a Dividing Fencing Act (1991, amended / republished 1991), but it is weak, loose and aimed at avoiding clashes between neighbours. Other State laws regulate urban fencing, in particular around Canberra to keep things looking pretty. Our legislation is long overdue for an overhaul. We call on everyone to join the Clarence Environment Centre in demanding Federal Government review the Dividing Fences Act, to include environmental responsibility, give local councils authority to decide which fence types might be appropriate, and to place an environmental levy on every roll of barbed wire sold countrywide.
- Pat Edwards, Clarence Environment Centre Land for Wildlife