on the Rabbit Proof Fence
Hesperian Press, Western Australia, 1993
The picture on the cover of the book shows the Rabbit Proof Fence at the 183 Mile Peg
About the Book
In the late 1980s I toyed with the idea of producing a glossy coffee-table photography book full of images taken along Western Australia's famous Rabbit Proof fence. The Number 1 fence stretched from the north coast to the south coast, passing a few miles to the east of Merridin on Great Eastern Highway, and dividing the state into two halves.
In the end the project lapsed - an Alfa Romeo sports car is not the ideal vehicle for such an outback trek - but not before I'd done a lot of research and came up against the strange story of Arthur W Upfield and Snowy Rowles.
In 1929 Arthur Upfield, English-born but in Australia from 1910 (interrupted by war service at Gallipoli) was an itinerant bush worker who was also a published novelist, and he got work on the Rabbit Proof Fence as a boundary rider. While based at the Govermnent Camel Station on the fence at Dromedary Hills, patrolling more than 100 miles of fence, he began to concoct a plot for his detective, half-aboriginal policeman Napoleon Bonaparte. The idea was to come up with a method of completely disposing of a corpse, using only ordinary materials available on any outback sheep station, so that nothing at all remained. This was to be the great challenge for his detective: prove murder without a body.
He solved the disposal problem with the amused assistance of fellow boundary riders. The project was often talked about over campfires, where the boundary riders were joined by other itinerant bush workers. One such was Snowy Rowles, who worked on nearby Narndee Station.
By the time the book, The Sands of Windee, appeared in 1931 Snowy Rowles had tried Upfield's disposal method after killing three bush workers. He wasn't as good at it as Upfield's villain, but like that villain Rowles was eventually caught, tried, and executed. Upfield was a witness at the trial, to his great distress.
Instead of a general fence project, my book evolved into a detailed True Crime book on the Rowles Case called Murder on the Rabbit Proof Fence, and was published by Australiana and Western Australiana specialist Hesperian Press in Perth. It is still in print, available from a number of outlets in Perth, and also in Mt Magnet and Dalwallinu. Not to mention the Stockman Hall of Fame at Longreach, Qld.
As part of my research I visited the location of the murders, the old Camel Station, and other locations along the Fence, and took a number of photos. I also chased up historic news photos of the case, and drew a map of the locality as it was in 1930, as illustrations for the book.
Just before Christmas 2005 I received a telephone call from NZ, from the grand-daughter of one of Snowy Rowles' victims, "Louis Carron" (John Leslie Brown). Her father Desmond, Carron's son, and his sister Fay (always known as Molly in later year), were raised in Salvation Army homes, and didn't see each other again until they were 15. She told me that Carron's widow Minnie died recently at the age of 94. She was always a very strange and difficult woman. Since then I have been contacted by another grandchild of "Louis Carron", one of Molly's children, who has read the book and at long last knows just what happened to the grandfather who mysteriously disappeared so many years ago.
I have also been contacted by the ABC TV programme "Can You Help", relaying an enquiry from Marilyn Allen, the grand-daughter of South Australian victim George Lloyd. I was able to help by giving details of where Lloyd died, and also provide a high-res scan of the only known photo of Lloyd.
Finally, there is reputedly an ABC TV documentary or docu-drama in the works, produced by a Mr Bogle, a TV producer who is the grandson of the Bogles who owned Narndee Station at the time. This is likely to be shown some time in 2008.