Tracks and roads
Dreaming tracks
Great Northern Highway
Dalgary Road
Wanarra East Rd
Mt Gibson Goldmine Road
Goodlands Rd
Run-throughs, gates and grids
Air traffic

Run-throughs, gates and grids

In the pastoral regions, the advent in the late 19th Century of steel wire and the windmill allowed stock to be fenced into permanent paddocks without the need for constant shepherding. People and their conveyances, whether horses, camels or motor vehicles, needed to cross through fences without the stock escaping. The run-through, the gate and the stock grid were the devices used to provide access and yet still enclose the stock in the paddock.

The gates and grids on and around Charles Darwin Reserve illustrate the development of this infrastructure as more expensive materials and robust construction was used as road transport became faster and larger, evolving from camel train to road train. The run-through has now disappeared from the area around Charles Darwin Reserve.

Many forms of 'cocky' gate remain as symbols of rural inventiveness. They puzzle newcomers on little-used tracks, often it is not so much the opening, but the closing of the gates can be a significant challenge!

On frequently used tracks, and around the homesteads, the most common gate is pipe-framed and set on manufactured hinges, and has a simple latch (if the gatepost remains steady).

On public roads, the iron grid set into the roadway allows vehicles an unhindered passage. However the erosion of the approaches to the grid on unsealed roads requires caution: they can deliver a shock to the suspension.

The demands of fast road-trains and heavy transport on the highway has resulted in the removal of all gates and grids, except at the crossing of the Emu Proof Fence.

A strict convention has always applied to the opening of gates. The front-seat passenger is always the gate opener. This is a task that often provides entertainment for the driver and other passengers if an unsuspecting newcomer confronts a well-tensioned 'cocky' gate.


The run-through

The run-through was a simple construction with no moving parts. Hugh Barnes drove the mail and general freight for his father’s Wubin Transport Company in the 1940s. He recalls that Ninghan Station, of which Whitewells was a part in those days, had run-throughs made of a fence of mulga pickets running each side of the track through the gateway, about a chain wide. A sheet of iron with a picture of a dog on it was hung up to keep the sheep away from the opening. Sheep walking along the fence would be confronted by the pickets and turn to follow them away from the gateway. At the end of the line of pickets they would cross the track without turning to go through the gateway. Hugh appreciated the run-throughs as he did not have to stop and open a gate.

Cocky gates

Station gates came in many forms. The simplest home-made gate, but often the most difficult to open or close, was the 'cocky gate' (farmers have long been known as 'cockies', after the cockatoos that live in the wheat production region).

A cocky gate is essentially a section of fence hung between two wrist-thick, strong poles and hinged at one end to a gatepost. The other end can be opened and closed by any number of mechanisms depending on the ingenuity of the farmer. The bottom of the pole on the opening end of the gate is fitted into a loop of wire at the base of the gatepost, and the top of the pole fits into a wire looped around the top of the gatepost. If the 'gate' is made of separate plain wires there are usually two intermediate poles to hold the gate wires in place.

The gate is opened by being unhooked and dragged out of the way. To stretch the gate tight, the bottom of the gate post is levered into the bottom loop attacjed to the fence stay and the top of the post is forced towards the stay until the top wire loop can be dropped over it. Alternatively, instead of a top loop, a timber or star-picket handle about a metre long is secured to the gatepost by a length of wire or chain, and used as a lever to pull the top of the gate closed. The handle is then pulled into line with the gate and a free running loop of wire attached to the gate is slid over the end of the handle to hold it tight.

Cocky gates were made from the same materials as the fence, so they could be made on the spot without having to buy special materials or fittings. If the fence posts were of locally cut timber, so were the gates poles. More recently, fences made with iron star pickets used the same pickets for gate poles.


The hinged gate

Around station homesteads and on main public roads, manufactured gates were used. Mostly made with an iron pipe frame and strung with Cyclone wire mesh they were hung on metal hinges. They were sturdy, easy to operate and looked impressive if painted.

Hugh Barnes drove the mail and freight trucks in the 1940s and 50s. There were gates on the Great Northern Highway at the Rabbit Proof Fence and station boundaries, which were named by their distance from Wubin. The ‘fourty-two’ was on the boundary fence between Whitewells and Mt Gibson, 42 miles from Wubin.

'They were heavy Cyclone-type gates, always the same. They had a chain and hook and were often damaged by people running into them.' Hugh Barnes, 2006, interview by C. Nicholson

On later gates, Weldmesh replaced Cyclone netting. It was more rigid and simpler to cut and weld.


The grid

The stock grid evolved with the motor vehicle as a way of alleviating the pressures of time and the inconvenience of stopping to open and close gates. Wheeled vehicles could run over a set of bars (usually old railway tracks) which hoofed animals could not cross.