BOB “Mangoes” Mongoo grew up with the rabbit-proof fence, regularly travelling alongside it to find food.
The Wajarri man was raised near Mt Wittenoom in the Murchison, rugged red country about 250km north-east of Geraldton. The earliest sections of the fence were erected nearly 90 years before he was born.
To him, the rabbit-proof fence is more than a piece of WA history or the name of a film adaptation of Doris Pilkington’s Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence.
“I feel a lot of connection to it,” he said. “That’s where we usually drive up and get our meat — roo meat and that to survive.”
In a team of seven indigenous men, Mr Mongoo is camping out to replace 51km of the “rabbity” north-west of Yalgoo. “It’s pretty good out here along the fence,” he said. “We had a few breakdowns at the start, but we managed to sort all that out.”
Two other indigenous teams are replacing a 27km stretch of the fence near Bullfinch and a 10km stretch near Mukinbudin.
The WA Government has allocated $4.8 million over the next three years to replacing, repairing and maintaining the fence.
Officially called the State Barrier Fence of WA, it is designed to minimise the impact of wild dogs, kangaroos and emus on the agricultural and pastoral sectors.
Regional Development and Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said sheep farmers across the State had been pushing for more protection against wild dogs.
She saw a chance to boost the benefits of the project by creating jobs for regional indigenous communities.
“We were investing money that was going to assist pastoralists and farmers and we thought, well, there’s another population here — the local Aboriginal community, who on all evidence were really struggling to make a living,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“We thought, well, let’s make this a double win so … the local Aboriginal community get an opportunity to … go out there and do really good, meaningful work and develop those business skills that would enable them to become more deeply woven into the economic fabric of this area.”
Mr Mongoo has been working in Yalgoo and on surrounding stations since he was 12. He says he likes his new job in the bush and plans to keep working on the State Barrier Fence and other wild dog fences in WA.
He also hopes his team’s efforts can help bring sheep back to the Murchison.
“A lot of young fellas out here don’t have jobs, especially Aboriginal guys,” Mr Mongoo said. “When they used to have sheep here, there used to be a lot of young Aboriginal blokes coming from towns, getting out of town and getting away from trouble.”
Reference list: Liam Croy. 2018.Retrieved from https://www.perthnow.com.au/news/wa/locals-benefit-from-jobs-created-by-rabbit-proof-fence-fix-ng-b88848890z