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The Moonee Ponds public library is just past Queen’s Park, right before you reach the shopping on Puckle. I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know that Puckle Street has been around for ages; it was apparently named after Mr. Puckle the merchant, not the minister, but I digress. I had no reason whatsoever to go into the library, except that buildings full of books always make me feel at home.

The stack of books by my bed has at least a dozen unread titles. Most of them came with the rest of our household goods in a large, steel container. I knew from a previous visit that books were very expensive down under, so I packed up all the ones I hadn’t read and some I had. Others have since been sent to me by family members (such as my sister) and friends who have no idea when they hit the Amazon web site what the shipping cost will be.

From the architecture, I would guess the library dates from the fifties. It is adjecent to the police station and the darkened interior makes it just about as inviting.  Once inside, there are open stacks, user-friendly computers and helpful librarians, all the accoutrements of a good public library.

I emerged with three books. Whatever else the selection says about me, it least it shows I have eclectic taste: “Hydroponics for Everyone,” “Moghul Microwave,” and “The Dog Fence.” How could one resist a book with a title like that? It is by James Woodford, who wrote “The Secret Life of Wombats.”

The fence itself is nothing short of extraordinary. At 5400 kilmeters (aproximatey 3355 miles) it is one of the longest manmade structures on Earth. It cuts across part of three states in the southeast quadrant of Australia, across some of the most remote, inhospitable land imaginable. Its purpose is simply to keep dingoes away from sheep.

In February, 2002, James Woodford started out on a journey from one end (on the Southern Ocean) to the other (in Queensland). He got to know many of the men responsible for its maintenance as well as the “pastoralists” (ranchers) with the sheep and cattle. He slept out most nights, haunted by the ghosts of early explorers who passed through the same lands on their journeys of discovery.

The fence was built during both world wars, the Depression and several droughts. No single individual or agency conceived of it. Rather, it evolved from many other fences in response to the farmers’ needs. All nature of animals, relentless weather and sheer gravity conspire against it. The author calls it an ecological version of the Berlin Wall comparable in size to the Great Wall of China.

Most Australians have no idea that it exists.

Archeologist and anthropologist Scott Crane writes: “The fence… is a great unseen and unrecognized symbol of the Australian psyche and landscape–separating the wild from the tamed–desert from pastoral and, in its remoter parts, the first from the third world of Australia.

It was a major detour away from the books by my side of the bed. Night by night, Woodford took me on a journey through barren, fascinating terrain, fierce familes, nuclear test sites, great salt lakes and “gibber” plains.

What comes across most strongly is the sheer, god-forsaken emptiness of it all. And the tenuousness of human existence in such a land. The obstinate idea of the fence. I know where my sympathies lie.

I’m with the dingo.

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