Reviewed by Carl Delprat
Those Wild Rabbits (How they shaped Australia.).
By Bruce Munday
2016, 259pages, Paperback, $39.95
I was once informed via a TV documentary that 98% of all the wild rabbits in the Northern Hemisphere were killed and eaten by carnivorous predators and supplied the food chain with a constant supply of renewable protein. With such a high death rate, the wild rabbits only hope for survival was to breed at a formidable pace that could ensure possible extinction would be kept at check. Bruce Munday’s informative publication describes the consequences what happened when such a productive species is released into an unrestricted environment.
I found Bruce’s fascinating book packed full of information, statistics, photographs, and historical accounts His style is relaxed and friendly. Enormous amounts of facts are delivered in a pleasant and easy to read delivery, that carries the engrossed booklover from chapter to preceding chapter at an unexpected rate of pace. This is entertaining and informative reading at its best.
Living in this current suburban coastal clinging environment, any mention of threat from rabbits would appear to be comical. Once a year chocolate versions arrive in our houses and floods or droughts affect vegetable retail sales … but not rabbits? Besides, they hardly ever appear on a modern day menu. Some children keep them as pets, but they are not a popular choice, the interaction between a rabbit and a child is rather uneventful. However, this fluffy round-eyed creature arrived in the fledgling colony as an introduced novelty and disrupted an emerging Australia for the next 150 years by continuously eating the heart out of it.
Each page of this book is filled with facts, for instance in 1927 when the rabbit scourge was unsettling the nation, suggestions were made (because they were noted for their superior meat) to import and set free French and Belgium varieties. The intention was, by breeding these types of rabbits, future generations would be adequately supplied with an abundant supply of staple protein. During the First World War the British Navy became so fond of our rabbit they could have consumed ten times the quantity, if it had been available. Between 1717 and 1918 fifty million frozen dressed rabbits were sent to Britain. Skins became a profitable venture and twenty tonnes (450,000 skins) were auctioned each month in Melbourne. The rotting carcases became a breeding ground for sheep blowflies. However, the supply was endless and some estimates put it at about ten billion.
The rabbit plague was akin to the mining sector; both disrupted the environment and violently changed the landscape and each in turn boosted our primitive manufacturing industry. Rabbit control set a demand for steel fence posts, galvanised wire netting, rabbit traps, steam-powered machines designed to plough up rabbit warrens, commercial poisons, poisoners gasses, foxes, feral cats, and trappers. Many opportunists saw this pest as a source of national wealth and employment, and so often trappers made sure they were enough survivors left behind for next season.
The rabbit scourge crossed the continent. Pre-federation states operated independently, South Australia built a stone fence with a timber awning; elsewhere wire mesh became the chosen material. Many huge fences were built which in time were bridged; often by drifting sands caused from soil erosion.
I would love to further quote directly from this informative book however … that would be stealing from Bruce’s intensive research and he deserves to have it fully appreciated first hand straight from this book. Yes, this is the sort of a book that should stand alongside a household’s library collection. The research and exertion placed in it’s formation make Bruce Munday’s work well worthy of a prime position on any book shelf. Not often does one come across such an excellent delivery on a subject specific to Australia’s foundation, 259 pages full of facts and figures and certainly great historical and cultural value.
About the reviewer: Carl Delprat is a prolific storyteller. His home is the Australian coastal city of Newcastle, New South Wales. Find his books at: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/CarlDelprat