Cartoonist Larry Pickering in the newspaper The Australian summed up Australia's mood just after Skylab peppered a great patch of the west Australian outback.

A fence repairer looked at a gaping crater in the flat landscape and mused to his sidekick, "these bloody bunnies ain't gettin' any smaller Bert."

It was more than half true. Thanks to NASA manipulations and gyrations to the earth, there is every chance that the disintegrating Skylab smashed holes in one of Australia's great engineering projects - its 2,000 mile long rabbit-proof fence.

It was built across western Australia 60 years ago to stop rabbits that were devastating eastern Australia's pastures from chewing out the south-west corner - the only bit of arable land in the million square miles of stone, dust and minerals that make-up western Australia.

So, just after midnight local time, thefew locals who lived on the lonely stretch of coast between Albany and Esperance heard thumps in the sky and the rushing of wind.

Ian Goldfinch, a farmer at Hopetoun, a short distance from the rabbit fence, said, "It was quite staggering actually. It came over the horizon southwest of us, very low, . . .a glowing ball which was really coming straight for us.

"I was getting very worried because it just seemed a short distance away toward Hopetoun. Then, just as it came over the coast, it started breaking up. It just shattered into a thousand bright pieces and came in a huge shower."

What was left of Skylab then apparently bounded across one of the most remote pieces of land on earth, in the middle of Australia.*tIt apparently lost speed and finished disintegrating before it got that far, dropping its last bits of metal somewhere in the Great Nullabor Desert.

A farmer in the area, Brian Wisewoold, reported finding a piece of "fabric-like metal" on his property that he believe could have come from Skylab.

"We thought it was skin. It was black and red and looked definitely like it had been burnt," he told the national radio service, the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Wisewoold said the piece resembled cardboard and had fibers in it. He said he found the piece on his property at Jerramungup about 150 miles northeast of Albany on the track the crashing Skylab took.

It could be days before Australian officials can get hold of bits of Skylab - if they ever do. Reports of sightings immediately after the space station's demise indicated two things - many Australians in the district intend to take souvenirs and the pieces that made it across the coastline are scattered over one of the world's most remote deserts.

One of those who could claim pieces if he finds them is Gordon Seiler, manager of the Noondoonia cattle station, near Balladonia.

Seiler and his family say they heard and saw Skylab fall. "From all we heard," he said, "I'd say there'd be pieces of it on the ground not far from us here.

"We actually heard the pieces going over the homestead. "What we could not see, we could hear as if pieces were windmilling through the air.

"It was not very high at all and even when we could not see them any more, there were sonic booms for about a minute and it shook the house.

There were no reports of injury or damage to property, according to the Western Australian State Emergency Service in Perth.

In a symbolic sense, western Australia was an appropriate place for Skylab to crash. Australia was also a key communication link in the NASA space program, with several ground communications stations.

And Perth, the capital of Western Australian state, made a special contribution to the early space effort when astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth.

The then mayor of Perth got every citizen to leave all their house and office lights on, impressing Glenn so much that he christened Perth "The City of Light."