Rabbits are a well recognised feral problem today, but we aren’t the only generation to recognise them as a pest, as this postcard image shows. The the exact location of the Australian Sheep Station is unknown – perhaps it was close to Sydney, perhaps it was somewhere back of Bourke! Whatever the case, rabbits were a problem all land owners had to deal with.
Rabbits first arrived in Australia when the European colonists arrived – with the First Fleet. They did not immediately become a problem though. These early rabbits were bred as food, and were kept in enclosures. Although Tasmania began to have a rabbit problem as early as 1827, the mainland rabbit population was well maintained and safely caged. Many fine houses in the colony had rabbit enclosures, and by the 1840s even the ‘common folk’ were keeping rabbits. The problem arose, it appears, when in 1859 Thomas Austin released 24 rabbits on his property in Victoria. He planned to use these rabbits for hunting purposes, but they did as rabbits do and multiplied. Other farms followed Austins lead, releasing rabbits into the wild and it was widely thought that the introduction of rabbits could do no harm. Within 10 years though, this was proven to be a massive miscalculation and 2 million rabbits could be shot or trapped each year without having a noticeable effect on their population.
The image above shows just one of the many rabbit control measures which have been used in Australia. Shooting was an early control measure, but really only worked to keep already small populations of rabbits under control. Poisoning remains the most popular of the conventional control methods, and as these carts show, was quite a popular method in the early 20th century too.