I was thinking about how beneficial rabbits where during the Depression. They gave an alternate food source and income to a number of people during those harsh years of the 1920s and 1930s.
In the book, “A Shamrock beneath the Southern Cross” by Pamela M. Marriott are memories related by my second cousin, Brendan Crowe, he said that “he left school in 1939 and went to work for his neighbours, who were very good rabbit trappers. The family had 700 acres of hilly country. Brendan had the job of going around and picking up the rabbits left by the trappers, and carrying them on a pole.
Borthwicks (the meat works) were buying rabbits at that time and came round in a truck six days a week. On Monday mornings there were 250 pairs of rabbits to be picked up.
Trapping was hard work. The neighbours used to set about 12 dozen traps. They would be in the paddock at daylight and perhaps got home after dark.”
After the introduction of rabbits to Australia the animals quickly multiplied in the arid conditions and soon became a pest to the farmers. By-laws were introduced in order to control the spread of the rabbit. The following two articles touch on how, for two of our ancestral relatives, the by-laws on rabbits became personal.
My great, great grandmother’s brother, John O’Connor, lived in Goroke near Edenhope, Victoria. In the “West Wimmera Mail” was the following article, “Edenhope Police Court, Tuesday 8 January, 1901. (Before Messrs Jas Rowan, P M and J T Edgar and J G Kerr, J’s P).
J W T Anderson, rabbit inspector, separately prosecuted Daniel Carracher, John O’Connor and John Mulraney, under Vermin Destruction Act for failing to take necessary means to destroy all vermin (to wit, rabbits) on their respective properties. The inspector gave the usual formal evidence of service of notices and dates of visits, and stated that he had another witness to corroborate his statements. Carracher stated that he had taken every reasonable step, having laid poison at several times (as the inspector admitted), but claimed that it was impossible to destroy all vermin, because supplies were furnished from the neighbouring land. He owned one-half of a sand patch which was a natural harbour for vermin, and as fast as he killed them they arrived from elsewhere. O’Connor indicated that he had done reasonable work, Mulraney pleaded guilty, although he said he had done a lot of work. The Bench said they had but to administer the law, and fined each in the minimum sum of 2 Pounds, 7/6 costs.”
My grandfather’s second cousin, Albert Edward Pye, kept and raced greyhounds in his retirement.
The Courier Mail, Brisbane, Saturday 24 September 1938, page 4. “Rabbit Freed – but on a string. Lismore, Friday – Convicted in the Lismore Police Court on a charge of aiding and abetting in the liberation of rabbits, one Albert Edward Pye, a retired police sergeant, was fined 10 pounds by Mr Hawkins, P.M. The prosecution was launched by the Tweed-Lismore Protection Board.
Evidence was given that a woman, against whom a charge was held in camera, and Pye were using the rabbits as “kills” for greyhounds, Pye said the rabbits could not escape, because a string was attached to their loins.”
The following is my tale about two little rabbits that came into my life for a couple of months. Molly and Polly.
A dozen or so years ago, my sister arrived home from her place of work with two rabbit kittens, so young that their eyes were not yet open and their ears were still small and laid back against their heads. She brought them inside, nestled in their den’s bedding. She worked for a paper Mill and the company had it’s own nurseries for growing trees. One of her colleagues had dug out the rabbit hole in the nursery and dispatched the mother rabbit, but gave my sister the rabbit kittens.
Though cute and adorable, I was not impressed to have baby rabbits in our Unit. How were we going to feed and raise wild rabbits? That problem was left to me to solve as my sister left for work the following day, and I, not working that day of the week, had to make a decision about the rabbits. So I went to the vet and purchased rabbit formula and a teat.
The teat was attached to a test tube, we soon discovered that the rabbits did not need much milk formula and when they weaned themselves it was a case of drinking the milk one day and then a complete stop the next. Once weaned they ate rabbit pellets, grass and, of all things, geranium flowers!
Now, just let me say that when the rabbits arrived that we owned three cats at that time. But we did a very good job in keeping the Moggies ignorant of their new flat mates. The first few days I could sit on the couch with tiny bunnies wrapped in their bedding against one thigh and curled on the opposite thigh slept one of my cats. At night the bunnies, whom we named Molly and Polly, slept in the cat carry cage closed in the bathroom, so that they did not become a midnight snack for our male cat.
Molly and Polly grew quickly and were soon running and skipping about the living room. It was amazing to watch the abandon with which they leaped and spun in the air, ambushing each other around the cat carry cage. They discovered the low window ledge behind the curtains and raced along it – in behind one curtain and out the other – chasing each other and skipping about the room – just like a couple of puppies or kittens. I remember that our male cat came in the cat flap from outside during this play interval and he was stopped in his tracks when he spotted the rabbits (Did you see that? and he immediately looked ready to pounce) and we quickly packed the rabbits away.
At feeding time the rabbits would clamour over us and even jump up onto our shoulders; they could leap from the floor up onto the bed and their antics never failed to delight us. We obtained a disused guinea pig hutch from a friend in order to move the growing bunnies outside. I was surprised at the result of the bunnies first introduction to the outdoors. When I placed one of the rabbits in the cage she went berserk with fear on suddenly finding herself in the open wide world of the back yard – so used of her cage or the confines of a room. But they soon settled into the small cage, however, we had to bring them inside to spend the night in the cat carry cage, so that they would not be harassed to death by the cats.
It soon became obvious that we could not keep Molly and Polly as keeping the bunnies and the cats separated was becoming impossible, therefore after about eight weeks we made the decision to release the bunnies into the wild.
We decided on a piece of natural bushland near a walking track and with the bunnies in a backpack headed to the place we had decided upon. Quickly one of the rabbits took off and we thought that that was going to be the way of it, leaving us without a backward glance, but when called by name she returned and sat at our feet. After a while, when we judged that they would be okay and we headed home.
Unfortunately, on that first night of the release of the bunnies, a thunderstorm closed in and unleashed its fury; with pelting rain and thunder and lightning. The guilt and anxiety I felt at having made the decision to abandon Molly and Polly on that day was enormous. We never did see those two beautiful bunnies again and I can only hope that they survived to enjoy a natural free life.
A post script to this story – as I am writing this my sister has just informed me that Molly and Polly’s mother was not dispatched on that fateful day in the nursery – my sister’s work colleague later admitted to her that he did not have the heart to kill the mother rabbit and he released her.
Maybe, like Albert Edward Pye, we could be accused of “aiding and abetting” in the release of rabbits.
This recollection of Molly and Polly is a wonderful memory of how animals can teach us about unconditional love.