Phyllis Ainsworth, with her travel companion Milly.
Phyllis Ainsworth, with her travel companion Milly. Dylan Robinson

Guardian of world's longest pest exclusion fence

AUSTRALIA'S dingo fence is about 5600km long, making it not only the longest fence in the world, but also undoubtedly the planet's biggest agricultural pest deterrent.

Originally built in the 1880s as a rabbit-proof fence - running from Jandowae in Queensland and ending in South Australia above the Great Australian Bight - in 1948 it was converted to a dog barrier to protect the sheep flocks of southern Australia from dingoes in the north.

Phyllis Ainsworth is the only full-time female boundary rider to work on the fence, responsible for maintaining a 100km section around Cameron Corner - where the lines of Queensland, South Australia and NSW meet.

She has seen first-hand how effective the 1.8m tall fence is at keeping dingoes away from sheep stations.

"A dingo is capable of doing real damage to sheep, especially in lambing time,” says the 50-year-old, who has worked on the fence for the past six years.

"At this time of year you see the pups come out of their dens.

"They're there (on the other side of the fence) in the early hours of the morning. Then in April to June it's mating season and you see the males in packs. At night you can hear them howling.

"They still get dingoes inside the fence, but station owners bait and any time they see one they organise shooters.”

There are about 10 sheep and cattle properties in Phyllis's patch, with her closest neighbour, Omicron Station, 40km away in Queensland.

The next closest boundary rider is 60km to the east, or 80km on the South Australian side.

As isolated as Phyllis appears on a map - she lives in a home at Toona Gate owned by her employer, the NSW Wild Dog Destruction Board - she says the remoteness never bothers her.

Phyllis Ainsworth loves working and living in the outback.
Phyllis Ainsworth loves working and living in the outback. Dylan Robinson

"Every month or two I go into Broken Hill - 420km away - to do a big shop.” she says.

"Cameron Corner - 55km away - has a pub but you get a lot of tourists there.

"Otherwise most weekends I go into Tibooburra, about an 80km drive. They've got a corner store and two pubs, the best pubs in the outback.”

It's at Tibooburra where, once a week, the Royal Flying Doctor holds medical clinics, although when Phyllis broke her ankle a few years back she was flown to an Adelaide hospital.

Her home has electricity, the last to be supplied from the Broken Hill grid spur line, while her water supply is either dam or bore and satellite provides TV reception.

The only times she says she really feels isolated is when there's a flood.

"In 2011 the house was cut off for about eight weeks. Last year we've had the best rain since then and we were cut off for about two weeks.”

Heavy rain aside, for the most part Phyllis contends with the great red sandy expanse of the Australian Outback, when at its peak the temperature can reach 55C.

Through flood and heatwave Phyllis continues to work, heading out at 7am five days a week in her diesel ute: Mondays and Fridays she drives the full 100km length of her section, and on the other days she conducts maintenance, patching up original sections of the old galvanised steel fence, which runs deep into the earth to ensure dogs can't dig under.

"During summer you prepare yourself. I drink plenty of water overnight - up to five litres a day - to hydrate and when it gets really hot I only stay out for about 45 minutes in the hour,” says Phyllis, who calls headquarters by high frequency radio every day as a safety measure.

"When I first started I got heat stroke and it's not nice.

"The other day I tried to staple myself to the fence with a pneumatic clip gun. I bandaged it up and drove myself to Tibooburra hospital.

"The most dangerous aspect of the job is not working smart.

Phyllis Ainsworth monitors and maintains the dingo-proof fence.
Phyllis Ainsworth monitors and maintains the dingo-proof fence. Dylan Robinson

"I make sure I have plenty of water, take regular breaks and wear long clothing.”

The wildlife is occasionally a threat, particularly king browns and taipans, as well as wild pigs.

"They're big, ugly, razorback things that you keep at a distance, especially a sow with piglets,” Phyllis says.

She shares her home with her mate Darren Ploenges, who musters livestock on neighbouring farms, as well as her bull terrier, Milly, five goats and five cats.

The cats, she says, keep snakes at bay, "sometimes bringing them into the house to show me what they've caught”.

Phyllis knew of the dingo fence long before she began working on it as her father was a grader driver who worked on the fence for several years.

Before that her father, Johnny, was in the army and Phyllis did most of her growing up at Puckapunyal army base in Seymour, attending school in Seymour and Broadford.

She says she has been a "jill of all trades” - managing a citrus farm, later a potato farm, even trying her hand at being a pastry chef and a furniture maker - the perfect mixed skill set to be a boundary rider.

It was while she was the publican at Milparinka Hotel, near Tibooburra, that she heard about a job along the dingo fence.

"There's no one skill to be a boundary rider. When they hire you they need to know you can live out here. That's one of the big things,” she says.

"I'm a social person but I don't mind the isolation. You hear everything here. Unless it's blowing its guts out it's really peaceful, with all the birds and critters.

"Oh mate, the stars are awesome. They're in the millions. I can't see myself ever living in a city again.”

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