Non-fiction – paperback; Text Publishing; 260 pages; 2003.
This is a delightful personal account of one journalist’s quest to travel the full length of the Dog Fence, a man-made structure that runs 5,400km across three states in the Australian outback, which is designed to keep dingos away from livestock.
Much of the fence traverses inhospitable land — gibber plains, rocky outcrops, desert, sand and salt plains — on private property, so it is a journey that very few people have experienced. Not even the patrol men, who repair the fence, have followed it for its full continent-dividing length.
In this book Woodford takes us on an epic, awe-inspiring journey to another, sometimes dangerous, world. Negotiating the hazards of travel in remote country (punctures, wire wrapped around drive shafts and rogue animals, to name but a few), he meets the men (and women) who live in some of the loneliest and harshest environments on the planet.
You get the sense that Woodford, a city boy from Sydney, is out of his depth at times, not sure how to handle the people hardened to a life far different from his own, nor the challenges that such a rugged landscape throws at him. But he has a certain knack for self-deprecating humour, which endears him to the reader. You know that he knows he’s actually a bit of a softie and he’ll only be too pleased to return to the comforts of his Sydney home when his adventure is over.
That said, he paints a beautiful portrait of the outback. His unbounded joy at seeing wild birds and animals in their natural habitat resonates strongly (no surprise really, given he’s written a book on The Secret Life of Wombats, reviewed on Reading Matters a couple of years ago) and his admiration for the people who work the fence is obvious too.
The book is littered with photographs and maps, which aid comprehension. All in all, it’s a delightful travel tale worth getting your hands on if you wish to know more about present-day life in the Australian outback.