Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

20 June 2010

A Post-and-Rail Fence Near Akaroa

New Zealand’s modern, standard, utility farm fences usually comprise three basic ingredients: 1. Preserved pine poles. 2. High tensile steel wire. 3. Pine battens.

The poles, pinus radiata preserved in all sorts of toxic chemicals in order to resist decay both above and below the earth, are augured into the soil a few metres apart. Upon them, tightened like guitar strings, are attached up to seven high-tensile steel wires, the horizontal gaps between them narrowing as they near the earth, all secured into the poles by galvanized steel staples. In order to keep the gaps constant, battens 7o mm in section and long enough to extend above and below the wires (but not to touch the earth) are strung at 600mm intervals.

This everyday fence will enclose sheep and cattle. It is highly efficient. It is about as romantic as a fly-struck ewe’s daggy bottom.

But the fence in my photograph is an old technology built with craftsmanship, built to survive, built of materials that will outlast any modern farm fence by a factor of ten? twenty?

It’s called post-and-rail, it’s entirely made of New Zealand native totara, it is untreated and will last underground without rotting. The rails are simply inserted into morticed holes; depending upon the number of rails will be the fence’s stock-retaining efficiency.

The photograph was taken near Akaroa on Banks Peninsula. Akaroa was founded by French settlers in 1840. The surrounding farm sections were laid out over the following years. As the fence is close to the township it could be more than 150 years old.


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By Don Donovan