Pastoralists mount last stand

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Kalgoorlie pastoralists are calling it their last stand - a bid for a 950km biosecurity fence which they say would salvage an industry laid waste by wild dogs.

The aim is to construct a 1.25m-high biosecurity fence around 13 of the area's pastoral leases and pastoralists want the Government to cough up $7.2 million to build it.

About 18 months ago local pastoralists formed the Kalgoorlie Pastoral Alliance to help boost the region's production capacity.

Yesterday representatives from the alliance took a detailed cost-benefit analysis of the fence proposal, conducted by company URS, to Agriculture Minister Terry Redman.

The report concluded that if the region could boost its Merino numbers to 250,000 DSE - a number which pastoral consultant Ross Wood said the area is more than capable or carrying - the Net Present Value would be about $9.9 million.

The alternative, the report said, was abandoning Kalgoorlie's pastoral industry.

In Kalgoorlie's main street, just outside the post office, stands a bronze statue of a sheep, testament to a once flourishing industry.

But now fleeces no longer fill the wool pavilion at the city's annual show and hand pieces have fallen silent in almost all of the Goldfields' shearing sheds.

Mr Wood estimates there are just a few hundred sheep left in the area.

Just eight years ago Mt Monger pastoralist Brendan Jones was running 15,700 Merinos.

These days his property, 60km east of Kalgoorlie, stocks just a handful of sheep across 291,374 hectares.

Brendan and his wife, Janie, have continued to maintain all of the sheep infrastructure on the station in the hope the Government will one day put its hands in its pockets and help solve the dog problem.

They've also employed someone full time to bait and trap wild dogs but all that will be in vain if there is no biosecurity fence.

"You just can't put any sheep here while there is no stopping the onslaught of dogs coming from outside," Brendan said.

"I would like to hope that within two years we would have a barrier fence and in that process we can actually start accumulating stock, even if it's on agistment elsewhere, to bring them back in."

Brendan estimates it's a $500,000 investment simply to buy a commercial herd but it's a risk he's only prepared to take if the Government backs a biosecurity fence.

Either way, Brendan is not likely to walk away from the industry which has bound his family to the soils of Kalgoorlie for more than 100 years.

He said if he could not run sheep he would continue to supplement the pastoral lease with income from the mining industry.

But Mr Wood warns others will leave the land if something isn't done immediately.

"This isn't cattle country, there's no alternative - this is the last stand," Mr Wood said.

"We know we can't fix it with baiting and things like that, we know we have to have a fence.

"Without it I think you'll find pastoralists will be trying to get out as fast as they can but what can you do?

"You can't sell a pastoral place that doesn't have any income off it.

"The Government can't just walk away from it now - it was a booming industry once and could be again."

Mr Redman confirmed he was scheduled to meet the group to discuss the proposal.

"Wild dogs are a serious problem in the Kalgoorlie pastoral region, and elsewhere, and the Liberal-National State Government has made a significant commitment towards tackling the problem," he said.

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